“I define veganism as doing what’s reasonable and possible to avoid animal exploitation.”
I’ve been a vegetarian for almost four years, and eat vegan when and where I can, but wouldn’t label myself as such – I do indulge in the odd cheese board or creamy pasta. As a lifelong animal lover, my philosophy is to try to live by choices I feel are ethical and right for me. I only buy cruelty-free makeup, I try to avoid leather, and my pets all come from rescue shelters.
I recently bought the most incredible, fits-like-custom vintage leather jacket and excitedly called my mum to inform her of my find. She replied “Leather? I thought you only bought vegan?” A sense of guilt came over me as I justified it to her, using the explanation of it being secondhand. I wasn’t directly contributing to the industry, and I was saving it from potentially ending up in the landfill. Then I thought about it for days.
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Am I as dedicated as I thought to the causes I care about? Am I a fake activist? Can I label myself even a part-time vegan if I wear leather? It was a real downhill spiral for me. I eventually brought myself back to the ‘every bit helps’ and ‘any progress is good progress’ mindset I generally live by.
But I’d be lying if I said this was the first time I’d experienced a dilemma like this. I often find myself critiquing my decisions in ways I’d never consider when looking at someone else. With the jacket saga on my mind, I decided to ask four vegans where they personally draw the line.
Emily, 22, two years vegan
For me, being vegan is about eating a vegan diet while reducing my consumption of unethically sourced products, and increasing my consumption of cruelty-free items. I try to buy clothes and makeup that are vegan. I’ll sometimes purchase items I really like if they’re not vegan and there isn’t an accessible vegan alternative.
I avoid products that aren’t cruelty-free, but when I worked in hospitality leather shoes were required. I didn’t seek an alternative vegan leather, as they’re often made of newly formed plastics (which are bad for the environment), and were far out of my budget. I think the price can be a big barrier.
I think people should be able to choose ‘how vegan’ they’d like to be. For example, when I travel overseas I still intend to fully explore other cultures, including trying local delicacies. This means I won’t be eating entirely vegan, and that’s okay! Any step in reducing cruelty is a great step.
Carly, 32, six years vegan
[I draw the line] only at essential medicine (it can’t be avoided). I try to only buy from sustainable and vegan brands including shoes (fully vegan shoes, down to the glue), and clothing (made from linen or organic cotton). Sometimes this is more expensive, so I understand I’m in a privileged position to make these choices.
I still struggle to find comfy vegan shoes that aren’t $250 or more, and I wish there were more locally produced options. There are heaps of options for beauty now, in all price ranges. For fashion, check eBay and op shops, or look to eco-vegan fibres like linen, hemp, Tencel and organic cotton.
Ashleigh, 28, six and a half years vegan
I only buy cruelty-free and vegan makeup. I might buy secondhand leather or wool. I haven’t yet, but I’m not morally opposed to it. I don’t want to support the wool industry, or factory farming at all, by buying wool or leather products new.
I also don’t care as much about consuming honey, so I won’t go too far out of my way to avoid it. I’d say I’ve consumed about a quarter cup of honey across a year. In all other areas, I will avoid non-vegan items (like candles). It’s not difficult. I rarely buy makeup and brands have become extremely accessible over the last seven years.
Jessica, 32, nine years vegan
I [avoid] animal products to the best of my ability. I define veganism as doing what’s reasonable and possible to avoid animal exploitation. Some things are not possible or reasonable to avoid, like anti-venom or some medications, but most things are easily substituted. I don’t use anything with wool, leather, beeswax, etc.
I try my best to avoid any product or food with animal products included. No lanolin, no carmine, no shellac. I feel there are many artificial substitutes. They’re often not labelled as ‘vegan’, but no animals are involved in the making – like acrylic instead of wool or PU leather instead of leather.
Once you know what to look for, it becomes second nature. Once I started seeing things like leather as actual animal skin sewn together (rather than just a ‘material’), I could no longer justify using it for myself. Other options look just as good.
For more on vegan clothing options, head here.