Since the beginning of 2020, it seems we’ve all been in a perpetual state of shock, figuring out new coping mechanisms, and trying and failing to avoid the news. This year has not been easy, for anyone. But it’s important to note, there have also been some victories in 2020. And it’s more important than ever to acknowledge wins wherever we get them. There have been some victories for climate justice, with the COVID-19 crisis motivating countries to push back harder against climate change (more on that here). And in the fashion and beauty industries, real progress has been made too, for both the planet and animals.
This year has inspired many consumers to be more thoughtful with their purchases. There have also been scientific breakthroughs, and innovative new developments making it easier for companies to use vegan and eco-friendly materials. Celebrities and influencers have embraced vegan fashion and cruelty-free beauty more and more. And some of the world’s top luxury brands have turned their backs on using animal skins for fashion.
In case you missed any of this, let’s look back over some of the biggest sustainable, vegan fashion and beauty events of 2020.
The Fur Industry Went Down Fast
We started the year with Anna Wintour, aka Vogue editor-in-chief, high fashion royalty, and (former) fur lover, stepping out in a Stella McCartney sustainable faux fur coat. McCartney said at the time that Wintour’s coat choice was a “loud message to the industry that change is here.” And, it seems, she wasn’t wrong.
In February, Global Brands Group, an apparel management company that licenses major brands, announced a ban on fur. The move saw Calvin Klein, AllSaints, Juicy Couture, Kenneth Cole, and Jones New York, among others, join the fur-free fashion world. (It’s worth pointing out that before 2020, Versace, Gucci, DKNY, and Burberry were among the high fashion brands that were already fur-free.)
Then in April and June respectively, two more major blows came to the industry. First, luxury parka brand Canada Goose announced it would no longer use virgin fur in its jackets. Then, French multinational personal care and beauty brand Sephora announced it would no longer sell mink fur eyelashes. In August, luxury department store chain Nordstrom announced it was also going fur-free. And Stockholm Fashion Week also made the same call.
In September, Mike Moser, the former CEO of the British Fur Trade Association, spoke out against the industry, labelling it “anachronistic” and “out of date.”
After Moser’s comments, things began to take a more sinister turn. A link between minks and COVID-19 mutations prompted countries to close down fur farms for good. In Denmark, government-ordered culls resulted in the slaughter of millions of mink. The move spurred the world’s biggest fur auction house, Kopenhagen Fur, to announce its closure. The Netherlands also fast-tracked a ban, which was initially planned for a phase-out by 2024, due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
France also announced a ban on mink fur farms by 2025, but for animal rights reasons. Claire Bass, the executive director for Humane Society International UK, applauded the French government for ”taking a stand against immense suffering.”
Exotic Animal Skins and Alpaca Wool Also Fell Out of Favor
Crocodile and snake skins have also long been a popular choice in the fashion industry. But just like with fur, 2020 saw some major brands turn their backs on using exotic animals for fashion. In May, Mulberry passed a ban, after conservation experts advised the luxury brand that the exotic skin trade was a zoonotic disease risk.
In September, after a decade of animal rights campaigns, PVH Corp (parent company of brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger’s parent company) finally passed a ban on exotic animal skins too. A spokesperson for the fashion and lifestyle giant said the move was part of its “long-term strategy to drive fashion forward for good.”
In January, following pressure from Italian animal rights group LAV, Versace announced an outright ban on the use of kangaroo skin in its luxury leather collections.
Kangaroo leather, known as K-leather, is lightweight and versatile, making it another popular choice for many designers. But mounting pressure from animal rights groups is changing this. In February, British label Paul Smith followed Versace’s lead and also passed a ban.
Animal rights exposés also saw many brands reduce, or eliminate, the use of alpaca wool.
In June, Esprit, Gap Inc, and H&M Group cut ties with a major producer after an undercover investigation revealed abuse. And UK high street giant Marks & Spencer announced it would begin to phase out the material. In July, Uniqlo passed an outright ban on the use of alpaca wool in its clothing. And in August, Valentino became the first luxury fashion brand to follow suit.
Vegan Leather Made Progress
The first two months of the year were significant for the vegan leather industry. In January, H&M launched its new Conscious Collection, featuring vegan leather products made with wine byproducts. In February, London-based sustainable brand Luxtra announced a new range of mango leather handbags. And tennis icon Serena Williams announced the launch of a new vegan leather range in her S by Serena collection.
In April, a study by Infinium Global Research revealed the market is on track to reach a worth of $89.6 billion by 2025. And, encouragingly, a growing awareness around the environmental impact of traditional leather was listed as a key driving factor. (Leather tanning emits high levels of toxic chemicals into the environment, and production also relies on resource-intensive animal agriculture.)
Companies changing the face of leather include biotechnology specialist Bolt Threads. The company has created Mylo: a vegan leather made out of mycelium (the roots of mushrooms). In October, it announced that four major labels would have exclusive access to the material. These include Adidas, Lululemon, Kering, and Stella McCartney.
In a statement at the time, Dan Widmaier, Bolt Threads’ CEO, said: “We are thrilled to be working with partners who recognize that we are in a race to develop sustainable solutions to conventional technologies.”
Fashion Brands Started to Embrace Sustainable Initiatives
In addition to the above, a few major brands rolled out new collections and initiatives with a focus on sustainability and recycling this year.
In September, British retail giant ASOS announced its new circular fashion collection featuring recycled materials. And in November, an H&M store in Stockholm began piloting a new clothing recycling program. The in-store recycling system, Looop, spins old fibers into new items.
A statement released at the time by H&M reads: “The launch of Looop isn’t just a glimpse of fashion’s future. It’s a reminder to treat all clothes as a resource.”
While this is undeniably positive progress, it’s worth noting that ASOS and H&M both still actively participate in the heavy resource-intensive fast-fashion model. Both brands must significantly scale back the amount of clothing waste they create to have a real impact on the planet. For more information on learning how to assess the validity of big brands’ bold green claims, find our explainer on greenwashing here.
Vegan Sneakers Were Everywhere
In the sneaker world, vegan materials have become a major trend. Balenciaga kicked the year off with the Zen Sneaker, made with 100 percent polyurethane. Then Nike stepped it up with the launch of its Space Hippie line. Made with recycled trash, the line of sneakers had the lowest carbon footprint of any other shoe released by the brand.
In the summer months, major sportswear retailer Adidas launched the “world’s most sustainable shoe” with Allbirds. It then started to slowly turn its classic leather shoe collection vegan. It released new recycled polyester versions of the Samba and the Continental 80.
In July, Roger Federer joined the trend. His vegan sneaker, released in collaboration with Swiss running brand On, was dubbed “The Roger.” In the same month, French footwear brand Veja launched vegan sneakers made with corn waste (leftovers from the food industry). And Jaden Smith teamed up with New Balance to launch the new Vision Racer. The musician’s design features surplus textiles from factories and synthetic leather.
In more great news for vegan sneaker fans, Reebok announced the launch of its first plant-based design, the Forever Floatride GROW, in September. The shoes are made with algae, eucalyptus, and castor bean-based materials, as well as natural rubber.
Celebrities Jumped on the Vegan Beauty Trend
In the beauty world, celebrities were all over the vegan, cruelty-free cosmetics and skincare trend. Selena Gomez was among them; she launched her new brand Rare Beauty in Sephora in September.
The actor and singer-turned-entrepreneur wrote on her Instagram in August: “For the past few months, you’ve all been asking… and we’re proud to share that our products will be 100% vegan and cruelty-free. Like you, we love and care for our animals too.”
In the summer, pop icon Rihanna launched cruelty-free Fenty Skin (a follow up to 2017’s Fenty Beauty). The Hills’ Lauren Conrad launched self-titled vegan brand Lauren Conrad Beauty. And Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys announced a new partnership with vegan and cruelty-free beauty giant E.L.F.
For more celeb beauty launches, check out our roundup here.
More Progress Was Made on Ending Cosmetic Animal Testing
The last few years have seen major progress on ending animal testing, and this year was no exception. One of the biggest milestones happened in February, when iconic personal care brand Suave, owned by Unilever, announced it was cruelty-free. The move was significant, considering one out of two American households buys a Suave staple (like shampoo, conditioner, or soap) every 14 seconds.
More than 40 countries have full or partial cosmetic animal testing bans, and soon, Mexico could be joining them. In March, the Mexican Senate passed a bill banning animal testing for cosmetic purposes. Anton Aguilar, the executive director of HSI, Mexico, said at the time: “This brings us one step closer to ending unnecessary animal cruelty in the cosmetics industry.”
In August, Colombia went one step further and fully passed its ban on cosmetic animal testing. The new law will take effect in four years. Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, thanked the government for “leading the way in Latin America.”
While it’s been a tumultuous year, positive progress has been made, in both the fashion industry and the beauty world. With hope, 2021 will bring with it even more compassionate change, as well as a calmer ride for us all.