Definitive Guide To Curating A Cruelty-free Closet

Seriously, grab a highlighter and your stationary (if you're fancy like that). You’re gonna need to take notes.

By: Amber

We’re assuming, because you’re here, you get it — this isn’t a Birks, incense-burning, hippie thing. If not, know this: having a cruelty-free closet sans fur, leather, wool, silk, shearling, and down is possible for the aesthetically-inclined (like us), especially as the likes of Givenchy, Isabel Marant, Lanvin, Altuzarra, and Saint Laurent are embracing vegan leather — one step at a time. Converting to a cruelty-free closet is nothing more than making the commitment to not support the diabolical slaughtering of animals for your next #OOTD shot. Simple. Think of Stella McCartney — she’s built her luxe brand on not using leather, fur, or animal skins in her accessories (did you even realize this?). Unfortunately, she still includes silks and wools in her collection but we’ll take that up another day.

Now, we’ll be the first to admit overhauling a wardrobe is no joke. It takes time, commitment, and a lot of strategy. But don’t worry about the latter. That’s all broken down for you below. But we do want to get this out there: going cruelty-free is not going to be easy, it’s not going to happen overnight, and it’s not going to be (all) sunshine and roses, k? But if wearing something that’s the result of an innocent animal being tortured, mutilated, or slaughtered unnecessarily makes you sick to your gut, then it’s a no-brainer. Plus, you get to go shopping!

Also, have to make this clear before we get into the step-by-step transition process: one of the hardest things to give up will be leather. Even if you’re not say, a big moto jacket wearer. Why? Shoes and handbags, the workhorses of any wardrobe. A quick look at this (make sure you’re not eating anything before you click) will definitely help, but the reality remains that despite some of fashion’s biggest players jumping into the pool, currently there is a very poor selection of faux options that can rival leather’s luxe vibe, its durability, or its status factor and isn’t horrible for the environmentFor an industry that’s always two seasons ahead, fashion is majorly behind consciously-speaking.

Okay, amazing — you’re still with us. Honestly, even with the challenges, building a cruelty-free closet really is a great step towards a more ethical wardrobe…well, life for that matter. Good thing is the industry is actually slowly moving toward embracing that there’s simply no reason to kill animals to be a modern, well-dressed woman. And the way to get more and more top brands/labels on board is to curate vegan wardrobes. After all, it’s a business and businesses operate on supply and demand. Money is an universal language.

Come on, let’s get into it.

Take your time

Before you start converting to a cruelty-free closet, understand that this will be a slow and steady transition, not an over-the-weekend makeover the way it might have been for your diet transition. We know it’s hard; you want to be 100% vegan like last year and each day you wear fabrics and materials that have been made from animal products you feel more and more like a hypocrite. Don’t stress yourself out and force yourself to give up that guilt. As long as you don’t buy any more clothes that use animal products, you’re not supporting the part of the fashion industry that exploits and kills millions of animals every year, okay? You’ve already taken the most important step by choosing to transition. #progressnotperfection

Realistically, when converting to a cruelty-free closet, it will take at least a season (or 90 days) to see a noticeable difference. But to perform a complete overhaul, budget six months to a year. Or even more. That way, let’s say you have a 40k/yr salary, you have $800 to $1,600 minimum to dedicate to this overhaul (this is calculated by spending 5% of your monthly income on shopping, which we all can commit to, yes?).

Even if budgeting isn’t an issue for you – maybe you’ve got savings from #girlbossing it or a millionaire SO who loves to spoil you – transitioning and curating wardrobe is a process that requires meticulous planning and a lot of thought. Don’t rush it. Embrace the process. By jumping in too deep too fast, you might overwhelm yourself.

Get familiar with vegan fabrics

Education is always the optimal starting point when building a cruelty-free closet. The more you know, the more power you have, and that goes for anything in life, really.

Your first task is to get familiar with what vegan fabrics and materials are so you can efficiently avoid the ones that are made with animal skin, fur, hair, etc. You want to get so good that when you start shopping, you can size a label up in five seconds or less to determine if it’s something you’ll want to take into the fitting room. Certain words will become triggers and you’ll know to immediately set the item back on the rack or scroll down the screen.

No worries for you. We’ve created a convenient dossier for you that explains everything. You can print it out or save it to your phone to reference when you shop. DOWNLOAD GUIDE HERE.

Create a personal fabric profile

Now that you know what key words to look out for when scanning labels (and description boxes when shopping online), it’s time to create a list of the vegan fabrics you prefer to build your cruelty closet. With the exception of cotton, canvas, and tencel, vegan fibers are all synthetics, which are known to not feel as nice as natural fibers. Consider fit and feel — the way the fabrics lay on your silhouette as well as the way it feels against your skin.

The best way to attack this mission is to go into shops after brushing up on all your terminology and spending a long, potentially exhausting afternoon in and out of dressing rooms. This is how you’ll effectively determine what you like, what you love, what you don’t care for, what will be absolutely cast off. By the end of a couple shopping trips, you’ll be able to build a personal ranking system for vegan-friendly fabrics so you can prioritize what to shop for during future shopping trips.

Determine what is vegan in your current closet

The great news is that cotton is vegan as it’s made from cotton plants (duh). That means most t-shirts and denim (sans embellishments like leather, etc.) are totally vegan-friendly. Great thing about cotton? It’s not only a fabric you’re probably already familiar with, but it’s also made of soft, natural fibers. That means it’s comfortable and your skin can breathe in it.

Check all the labels in your closet. If you find anything that reads “100% cotton,” it’s a keeper.

Now of course, if you’re like us and naturally have a more sophisticated or smarter style aesthetic, or need to because of the field you work in, a wardrobe that consists of tees and jeans isn’t going to work. A great semi natural material is tencel, which is made from are made from plants but chemically processed. BTW, an amazing brand who uses tencel wonderfully is Reformation. Some of their pieces can be pricey, but if the piece adds value (versatility and cohesiveness) to your wardrobe and you will get lots of wear out of it, then your cost-per-wear equation will be low, and therefore, it won’t be as expensive as it seems. Besides, isn’t ethics worth splurging for?

Once you’ve determined what is already vegan in your closet, separate it from everything that is made with at least one animal product. For the next few months, try to incorporate as many of the vegan pieces into your daily looks as possible. Shoes and handbags are probably going to be the areas where you still wear non-vegan materials. If you have a rather sizable collection of vegan clothes already, then use them as a capsule collection and exclusively wear those pieces until you can strategically add vegan clothes and accessories to your closet.

Create an inspo board

Because high-quality vegan clothes and accessories can be so expensive, you might not be able to rebuild your wardrobe a quickly as you like. This is where a mood-board comes in handy. This will basically be a compilation of your “to buy” pieces.

We love to do this on Pinterest. We make secret boards filled with the items that we know we want, but can’t currently afford. Pinterest is a great tool to use because not only will everything be organized and available to you on the go, but if you pin the photos of the items from online, you will be able to go back and find them easily when you’re ready to purchase them.

The best part is, depending on how long they stay on your “to buy” board, they might be on sale by the time you decide to add it to your wardrobe. Uh, score.

Peruse shops to see what’s out there

It’s always good to see what’s available. This way you can annihilate the stress and anxiety that’s probably been building since you mentally made the decision to convert to a cruelty-free closet. It’s one thing to have all your top and backup fabrics sorted, and another thing to know where to actually find clothes made with these fabrics. It’s a nice boost of reality when you go into department stores or online e-retailers and shop around to see what you could potentially buy. This is something you can do while you’re working on building your budget to do your first round.

Add before you purge

Your passion is raw and burning. Your adrenaline is going. In a hurry to convert to a cruelty-free closet, you might want to just get rid of all the clothes that you’ve realized are sadly not vegan. But this isn’t practical, especially if you don’t currently own a lot of vegan clothes. It’s important to add before removing because you’ll want to make sure your wardrobe is still adequate and quantitative enough to suit your lifestyle.

You could even make a rule for yourself like: for every vegan piece you add, you purge one or two non-vegan pieces. This prevents you from creating wardrobe holes while in the process of transitioning, which could potentially be tragic. However, if you have any non-vegan pieces that still have tags or that you haven’t worn in months or years, feel free to purge those by means of donating or putting them up for sale on eBay or Depop.

Select barrier pieces

The next step in curating your cruelty-free closet is to select barrier pieces. These are the items that you know will be the hardest to give up, therefore will be last in the purge queue. For us, it wasn’t one specific item. It was leather — our biker jackets and luxury designer heels that just weren’t all that wearable. We knew these pieces would be the most difficult to give up not only because of our penchant for leather, but because we’d invested so much money in them.

Selecting these barrier items is great because without setting them aside, you might give them up too soon. When you give up the hardest items prematurely, it can set you back with anxiety and frustration. By doing it in the reverse, so reserving them to be the last things you purge, you create a situation where you’ve already purged so much that finally letting go of these last few barrier items won’t seem so traumatic. They’ll be like the icing on the cake. By the time you get to them, you’ll be so over them because you’ll have such fabulous new things in your cruelty-free closet. We promise, it will be liberating.

Create a capsule cruelty-free closet

If you have a good amount of money saved to go on a shopping spree, then this is a good idea. It won’t necessarily work if you don’t have the budget to go on an initial shopping haul where you can stock up on vegan essentials. If you have a life with diverse activities that each require very specific styles of clothing, then building a capsule might also not be the right path for you when transitioning as capsule wardrobes are small and work best when all your clothes can be worn for the majority of aspects of your life. This is just one option. However, it will be a good idea if you have a decent amount of vegan clothing already and don’t need to add much to have a fully functional wardrobe. And don’t worry if your current closet situation doesn’t allow you to go capsule now; you can always build a capsule wardrobe after you first transition.

So why a capsule vegan wardrobe? The short and sweet answer? Convenience and ease. While you transition to a fully cruelty-free closet, it’ll be helpful to have a collection of versatile items that can be mixed and matched effortlessly to create outfits suitable for all aspects of your life. This way you can put most of your focus and energy into strategically planning out the reconstruction of your wardrobe.

When designing this mini edit, aim to have between 12-24 pieces. This is including outerwear, shoes, and key accessories like scarves and handbags. If having a couple dozen pieces freaks you out, then don’t feel bad about skipping this step. Some need variety, some not so much or can at least sacrifice it for a while.

Replace your essentials

The first pieces you should replace are your essentials. These are the key items that make up your current wardrobe, the clothing pieces and accessories that you grab frequently and have the most significant impact on your daily looks. These core pieces represent your personal style aesthetic as well as fit in with your lifestyle perfectly.

Don’t confuse them with basics. Unlike basics, your essential pieces can be statement pieces, wild prints, pops of color, whatever you like. The key is that they’re pieces you will go to consistently and often. For example, an essential can be a pair of leopard print loafers or a tuxedo blazer with contrast lapels. These pieces are versatile and season-less, but don’t necessarily fall into the category of basic. The reason to do this step before replacing basics is because you wear your essentials more often than your basics. Also, if the majority of your current essentials are not vegan, then you can experience a sense of lost identity without wearing them. This way, you can feel more like yourself if you choose not to wear them anymore.

Choose 4-6 essentials (the quantity will most likely depend on your budget and what you can find that suits your style and is vegan) and replace them. You can do this in one haul, or over a few shopping jaunts. You can also aim to find nearly identical pieces to your current essentials, or you can design a palette of new essentials.

Swap out your basics

Next in building your cruelty-free closet, you should swap out your current basics for ethical basics. These are important because they are the foundations to many of your outfits. Remember how I told you cotton is a great fabric because it’s not only vegan, but it’s natural? Well, here’s even greater news: most basics can be bought in cotton. In fact, you might be able to salvage all your t-shirts and denim.

Jersey is another fabric that is extremely wearable and is great for basics. It’s not only popular, but it also comes in a variety of prices, so there’s definitely affordable jersey out there for you. Still, keep in mind that with any synthetic fabric, you’ll want the highest quality version. If you can find a cotton-jersey blend, all the better.

Buy an investment piece or two

True, “investment” doesn’t really work in terms of clothing because if resold like a traditional investment, you wouldn’t get more than what you paid for the item. In some of the best resale cases, the purchaser will actually only get a percentage of what was paid. Instead of thinking of the monetary form of investment, think of these pieces as investments in terms of value that it adds to your wardrobe, not your waller.

Because these are well-made, high-quality pieces, you will not have to replace them often. So with proper care, the CPW (Cost Per Wear) will eventually dwindle into a few dollars or even cents.

Consider a sturdy carry-all handbag that you can bring every day or pair of well-crafted shoes with go-to potential to be your investments. You can also choose a basic like a perfectly-cut LBD, a statement piece like an embellished jacket, or even just a piece that you want to buy once every decade or so, like a pair of good rain boots.

Purge pieces you won’t miss

Now that you’ve got a few essentials in your cruelty-free closet, enough basics to get by on, and an investment piece or two, it’s time to get rid of any items that are purely unnecessary at this point.

Think about what you haven’t worn in a while. Also think about the pieces that irritate or bother you when wearing them. You’re going to eventually get rid of these pieces anyway, why not chuck them now?

If you have a few pieces that are hard to part with because you paid a lot of money for them, then you have a few options. If the piece is light worn, then selling it on sites like Depop and eBay are great. If it has a fair amount of wear to it, then giving it away to a friend, sister, cousin, or co-worker is a great idea. Anything that your close friend or family won’t appreciate can be donated to charity or to certain brands who recycle clothes creatively, like H&M and NIKE.

Add in a few statement pieces

These are the fun ones to shop for. While these pieces are less about practicality and more about adding a “wow” factor to a look, don’t sacrifice form and function.

They should still add value to your wardrobe, meaning you will get plenty of wear out of them to justify their prices and also, you should genuinely love them, no exceptions or excuses.

Statement pieces come in different forms. In other words, a statement piece is relative to the wardrobe it’s being added to. For example, for someone like me who has a 95%-neutral wardrobe, pieces in soft muted colors like a blush-toned pair of sandals would be considered one of my statement pieces. A faux snakeskin clutch is also something I consider a statement piece.

Replace-item-by-item until complete

After you have your essentials for your cruelty-free closet, basics, investment pieces, and a few statement pieces, you can just replace the remaining pieces in your closet item by item. For example, let’s say you have a leather biker jacket that you’ve been keeping as a barrier item. Replace it with a similar style that uses vegan leather. If you have a down parka, replace it with a winter coat that doesn’t use an animal product to insulate it.

Going piece-by-piece is great for your budget. If you’re spending 5% of your monthly income on rebuilding your wardrobe, then you can swap out at least one, but maybe a few items every month.

Settle on ‘your’ brands

A brand palette is a great tool to have that will streamline your future shopping trips and keep them from being something you dread. You probably already have an abstract list of favorite stores in your head. But by taking the time to consciously create a manual of sorts for yourself, you will be much more organized.

Creating this list doesn’t mean you exclude all other brands from your cruelty-free closet. This list is simply your go-to brands. A good number to strive for is 4-7 brands. These can be totally vegan brands like VAUTE, or shops like ASOS that carry collections of vegan-friendly items and has an Eco Edit.

After you have a solid list of your key brands, you can assign roles to the brands. For example, you could say Matt & Nat will be your go-to for bags, American Apparel for basics, Reformation for trendy statement pieces, Stella McCartney will be your go-to for luxe investment accessories, bags and shoes. You’ll want to assign these roles because while one shop or brand might offer great denim that is 100% cotton, it might also carry lots of other products that are made with animal products. At this point you may find that you need to add another go-to brand because you’ll want to have a go-to spot for every kind of clothing item or accessory in your wardrobe.

Once your list is complete, really take the time to learn as much about the brands in your manual as possible. It will be helpful to know their production methods, how often they restock, which items in their collection are limited editions and which will be permanently available. If it’s an online shop, it’s vital to know their shipping rates, return policies, and the way they size their clothes.

Take your time when creating this guide and don’t think you have to do it all in one sitting. Also, don’t be afraid to alter your list as time goes on. Maybe you initially thought one particular brand will be amazing for you, but upon ordering from them and repeatedly getting poor customer service or realizing the quality of certain items aren’t what you thought. It’s totally cool to swap this brand out with another more qualifying brand.

Bottom line is, the more energy you dedicate to creating your brand palette, the more utility it’s going to add to your shopping life.

Guys, remember there is no such thing as a perfect vegan. Don’t be intimidated by transitioning because you think you have to dump everything and redefine your identity overnight. It’s all about the journey and getting to a more ethical and sustainable place one step at a time. #progressnotperfection.

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**Disclaimer: The word cruelty-free has been used in this post as a reference to animal cruelty (only). There are, of course, other ways in which the clothes you buy can be made with cruelty. Please note that if you wish to have a completely cruelty-free wardrobe you must buy clothes that are fair-trade, and are sourced and made ethically. For more, please read more of our stories on this topic.

So, you HAVE to let us know…was this helpful? What do you think of this transition process? Are you in the midst of transitioning to a cruelty-free closet? Thinking about it? What are your main reservations/hesitations about a fully cruelty-free closet? Let me know your current thoughts in the comments section below. We’ll be popping in so we can continue the conversation…or get it started…or you know what we mean.

P.S. If you’re serious about transitioning, but have ZERO idea where to start (it’s overwhelming, believe us, we know!) peruse the edit below. We’ve curated a nice selection of pieces that will be ideal for your transition capsule.

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