Telling people that your company is called ‘Vegan Interior Design’ gets a wide array of reactions, followed by a lot of questions: ‘So you only design for vegans?’, ‘Isn’t that quite easy, you just leave out leather and fur’, ‘Wool is vegan though, right?’, ‘Are you finding enough clients with that small a niche?’… Of course, every one of these is a valid question. The first answer to all of the above is ‘No’, usually followed by ‘Vegan Interior Design does actually concern us all, vegan or not vegan.’ The detailed explanation that follows usually goes something like this: Vegan Interior Design touches three main aspects: ethics, health and sustainability.
The ethical part is fairly straight-forward, the production of leather, wool, fur, down and silk is not ethical as animals are used, tortured and killed in the process of gaining any of these materials. However, the ethical issues of animal-derived products are not limited to animals alone as is the common perception. The ethical consideration extends to humans working in businesses such as slaughterhouses, shearing sheds, sericulture, fur and skin farms and leather tanneries. Unethical conditions linked to these businesses include child labour, forced labour and slave labour in the sericulture and wool industries as well as high drug abuse, mental health issues and domestic violence in slaughterhouse and shearing shed workers. Of course, these humanitarian issues are not limited to animal-derived products but many vegan materials and finishes manufacturers are taking all ethical aspects of the production into consideration. One of many examples is Vossen Towels with their vegan certified towels which are all ethically made in their factory directly in Austria, not Bangladesh or China like most other leading towel brands. By choosing the right vegan interior design products, any ethically driven person, vegan or not, can avoid unethical working conditions for the production of their furniture, finishes and furnishings.
If we put ethics to the side for a moment and look at people’s health, vegan interior design suddenly gains a whole different weight. Once removed from an animal, skins, furs, feathers and wool need to be treated with chemicals in order not to rot. There are over 200 toxic chemicals officially allowed to be used for this. Standard chemicals used in the tanning process of leather, for example, are chromium and formaldehyde which can both off-gas in the home for up to 25 years have a long list of health issues attached to them: lung cancer, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, developmental issues, occupational asthma – the list goes on. Do you really want your kids to snuggle up on a material like that? In wool production, highly toxic pesticides are applied to control mange & pests and although people are not directly exposed to these chemicals in their homes, there are always remnants of them, especially when the wool is washed with toxic chlorinated water. While the use of chemicals in animal-derived products makes sense because they would otherwise rot and fall apart, it makes them very unnatural and more importantly unhealthy for anyone. Choosing the right vegan materials therefore makes sense for anyone.
Lastly, and in the current climate probably the most discussed issue, is sustainability. The following statement by the United Nations is quite commonly known and very much related to vegan interior design as livestock is directly linked to leather production: “Livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.” Wool, fur and down production is just as devastating for the environment with some of the problems being the huge methane and greenhouse gases produced; the pollution of land and water by manure, pesticides, chemicals and run-off; decreased biodiversity; deforestation and soil erosion. Silk cultivation is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than any other fabric. The list goes on and on for any other animal-derived material or finish.
But Aren’t Faux-Leathers Just As Bad?
There are many critics out there claiming that faux-leathers, faux-furs, synthetic silk and down alternatives are equally destructive for the environment and just as bad for our health as animal-derived products. They will pull out the fossil fuels argument and yes, fossil fuels are bad for the environment, however what is not pointed out is that HUGE amounts of fossil fuels are used in livestock and animal production on top of all the other chemicals and on top of the animal cruelty. By contrast, plastic wearables account for only a fraction of 1% of petroleum used in the US. There are no official numbers for furniture and materials but it would be an even lesser percentage. Vegan materials and finishes win the health and sustainability race by far and there are many companies out there that incorporate all three aspects of vegan interior design. One of them is Sabai Furniture who make non-toxic and sustainable furniture in a family-owned factory in North Carolina committed to quality, safety and a living wage. They use local materials with 90% sourced within 100 miles of production and encourage their customers to trade in their old furniture and to repair rather than replace previously bought pieces.
Vegan interior design concerns us all and with so many options and alternatives out there, it’s time to get educated and easy to make the right choices.