What is vegan design?

Bam-ons by ERTH Company - made of recycled bamboo

Bam-ons by ERTH Company - made of recycled bamboo

We feel like we have been using a distinct term quite a lot recently… Okaayyy, we have been using it for the time of our existence, really. And the term is: vegan design. Vegan diet might not need much explanation (let’s state it for once, and for all, honey is not vegan), but vegan design still remains a little bit of a puzzle. Ever since we started WOMB, one of the core qualities that we look for in designers that we represent is the fact that the manufactured goods are utilising materials of non-animal origin. Sometimes the choice seemed obvious, but often we found ourselves surprised and asking

Wait, what? This comes from animals?” 

“Vegan” seems, more often than not, to relate to the choice of diet, much less so to certain lifestyle choices. So how can designed products be vegan or non-vegan? Essentially, whether a product can be qualified as vegan or non-vegan, is rooted in the choice of materials. Let us take you through a few examples, some more obvious than others, of non-vegan materials, and let us suggest what could be the alternative. 

  1. Leather

    … duuuuh. We believe this one goes without saying, but a list of non-vegan materials would be somewhat incomplete without it. Now, one of the core benefits of using natural leather over PU-leather is durability and the fact that natural leather is potentially able to biodegrade (depending on how it had been processes and tanned). However, few people think about how environmentally harmful the leather tanning industry is. Even if the production is equally environmentally harmful to that of artificial leather (let’s face it - polyurethane for artificial leather is also a terrible choice down the road) we have a moral dilemma of using dead animal's skin, on top of the whole un-sustainable production pile. Therefore, we encourage you to research on other possible solutions to replace leather. There are more and more companies offering products made of cellulose-based materials, like Piñatex or leather made of apple scraps.

  2. Silk

    A lot of people are surprised with it when we point it out, but silk is not vegan. It is obtained from silkworms that undergo a complete metamorphosis, because the production requires the moment of their transformation in the cocoon. Once the cocoon is formed, the worms are being thrown into boiling water or treated with steam. There are ways that allow keeping the worms alive and still obtain the silk fibres, but it is still not a vegan product. It’s just slightly more ethical. “Fun” fact: for one kimono, 5000 silkworms are needed. Do your math.

  3. Plywood.

    It is a very versatile material that we see all around without even noticing, because often we think it's plain wood. We are not much mistaken, it comprises of thin layers of processed wood stuck together with an adhesive. Now, the EU regulates that the glue cannot be animal-based (it was banned to use glues made of bones and cartilage sometime back), but in Asia there are still no clear regulations about it. In general, there is a lot of glue out there that very possibly is made of those post-meat-production components. Especially when it smells “funny”.

  4. Wool.

    Yeah, yeah we know it’s super practical for winter (yes Hong Kong, this season actually does exist), and difficult to beat any other material when it comes to keeping us warm, but still - it is taken, often forcibly, from sheep (goats for cashmere and alpacas for alpaca wool). We have actually had quite a trouble to find a good alternative for wool (that would be free of synthetic fibers), so if there’s anyone out there more knowledgeable than us - shoot us a line!

We hope this list has provided you with some insights, and before we wrap up, we want to state one thing loud and clear to avoid mis-conceptions: we do not mean to shame anyone. Everyone has their own right to choose their lifestyle and products that they consume as they wish. If you are an orthodox vegan by diet who has never even touched as much as a drop of honey, but you still buy leather shoes - bless you, kind soul. We all make our choices for various reasons, all the better if they are educated ones. With this post we wanted to present some options, hoping that you will use make the world a more cruelty-free place.

Thanks for reading!