Is Cruelty-free Fashion Sustainable?

‘No animal products are used’. Is that all it takes to be a sustainable business, today?

‘We are a sustainable, environment-friendly brand. We do not use any animal products’.

Do the above sentences strike a chord with you? Does it impress you? Does it make you go: ‘hey, that’s really nice’!
I bet it does.

Anybody who decides to be a conscious consumer has some degree of compassion towards the environment and the ecosystem. So when ‘cruelty-free’ is a brand value, it strikes a chord instantly! We want to support these brands with our wallets.

But does it mean that a brand can be considered conscious and sustainable by not using animal products alone?
Unfortunately, the answer is — NO!

Being ‘cruelty-free’ is one of the many ways to become a conscious or sustainable brand.

But there are other factors to be considered here, ranging from socio-economic and cultural contexts to production methods to materials used.

Then why do brands use this narrative the most? It is likely because it is easy to advertise and convince the conscious consumer to buy the product.

‘No animal was harmed’ is a straightforward statement to understand.
I use an indigenous non-violent silk called Eri Silk for my clothing label, Kaizen the label. While Eri is a sustainable material for multiple reasons, it is the fact that it is a type of ‘Ahimsa’ silk that resonates with most people, irrespective of whether they are for or against using silk in general.

However, sustainable fashion includes issues like microplastics, circularity, the artisan community’s financial state, factory workers’ treatment, and more. Such topics must be explained to customers with scientific details, facts and figures. Businesses often need more time to advertise in simplified language to convince people to buy a product based on these values. It requires a lot of education and much more time and effort.

Circling back to animal cruelty, we have a lot of questions to address:

  • Are animal products the actual antagonists of a non-sustainable world? Or is it our mindless production and consumption patterns?Are all animal products so cruel? Or is the silk from indigenous silk-rearing communities and wool from local sheep herders much more sustainable than a chemically processed plant-based fabric?
  • Are all certified ‘vegan-approved’ brands causing no harm to animals? Or are those faux leather PU bags and shoes producing microplastics harming more animals by damaging the whole ecosystem?

The one-sided western narrative about animal cruelty regarding every animal product is more harmful than sustainable!

When reading an article or watching a famous documentary, we need to consider who wrote it/made it and which part of the world it is focussing.

Mostly, they all have a western perspective, and the work happening around the same or similar product in India can be poles apart!

Because of the popularity of this lopsided narrative on animal cruelty, there are now ‘sustainable’ events that are rejecting artisans, makers, brands, and organisations working with silk, wool, honey, or any animal-based product.

They might accept, invite and promote recycled plastic and polyester products as cruelty-free or vegan (a term that has been sadly misused nowadays).

It is excellent to choose a cruelty-free lifestyle. Still, we should refrain from antagonising local artisans, fishermen, silk rearers, and sheepherders. We can not demonise people based on their food habits (consisting of animal products) just because they do not follow the popular sustainability narrative of ‘no animals were harmed’. Animals, plants, and humans are part of the whole environment.

We can decide for ourselves what we want to consume as conscious consumers, but we need to know all the facts from multiple points of view.

Hear everyone out: the founder of an animal welfare organisation, the CEO of a brand selling vegan products, the small business owner working with local artisans in a remote village, the heirloom craftsperson, the silk rearer, the sheep herder, the indigenous communities living in forest areas.

Know the facts. Make your choice unapologetically. And don’t cancel out the ones who beg to differ.

If we stand up for a sustainable world, we must unite with our varied conscious choices with and without animal-based products.


Namrata Gohain is a sustainable fashion & crafts professional with 10+ years of experience. An advocate of SDG 12 – Responsible Production & Consumption, she runs a conscious craft-based business called Kaizen, the label. This brand works with artisan communities of mainly Northeast and East India.

She works with other organizations with a similar ethos in multiple domains, including managerial duties for merchandising, operations, creative content and brand building. An avid reader with many questions, she loves research and has a knack for continuous learning. She aims to get Indian artisanal crafts and underdog sustainable natural textiles a better market and bring the dignity of labour to the artisans of India.

Published by ecoHQ

ecoHQ is a platform advocating for sustainability and conscious consumerism in India. At ecoHQ, we help Indians make educated choices about sustainable practices through awareness, advocacy and accountability. We spread awareness about sustainable development, advocate conscious growth and help brands be accountable for responsible solutions. Our ultimate goal is educating you to make the right choices for our people and planet.

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