Both the Economist and the Guardian have proclaimed 2019 the year of the vegan, citing not just the booming business of vegan food but also the record numbers of people swapping meat-heavy diets for plant-based ones.
A quarter of Americans aged 25 to 34 years old now identify as vegans or vegetarians, according to poll numbers. And more than 250,000 people across 193 countries signed up to live herbivorously for “Veganuary,” a nutrition challenge that began five years ago.
The trend is percolating through retail, too, according to Charlotte Yau, content marketer at Edited, a retail analytics firm based in London and New York City. “Vegans are looking to incorporate this lifestyle into their wardrobes and are shopping for alternatives to leathers, wool and skins,” she wrote in a blog post this month.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Germany are the primary markets investing in vegan products, Yau said. At the end of January, Edited found a “significant” 75 percent increase in products described as vegan in the U.K. year over year (YOY). Across the pond, American interest grew by 11 percent, albeit with a larger assortment compared with other markets. Germany, the global leader in meat-free food and drink product and development, experienced a whopping 131 percent increase in its vegan product offering YOY.
Other burgeoning markets to keep in view? France and Denmark. Edited spotted a 12 percent uptick in France’s vegan products YOY, which it expects to increase now that the country has its sights on becoming the capital of sustainable fashion by 2024. “With Paris focused on innovations for sustainable materials and sourcing, we can expect to see their investment in vegan products thrive over the next five years,” Yau said.
As home of the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the largest ethical fashion tête-à-tête in the world, Denmark won’t be a slouch in this department, either. Indeed, the Danish market racked up a 320 percent upsurge in products described as vegan.
In particular, Edited has noted a “considerable shift” in vegan-friendly shoes in the U.S. market. While cruelty-free kicks made up only 16 percent of new arrivals last year, they accounted for 32 percent by the end of January. Retailers like Free People, Lulu’s and Steve Madden have been “busy updating their footwear assortments with pleather and faux suedes,” Yau wrote. In January, J.Crew dropped vegan flip-flops in a broad array of colors.
In terms of total assortment, British footwear and accessories saw a modest growth from a combined 15 percent in 2018, to 16 percent in 2019. “This shows an apparent gap in the market for retailers to test the water with alternative fabrications,” Yau said.
Though Marks & Spencer launched a 350-style animal-friendly shoe line in January, the department store was “quiet” about it, marking a lost opportunity in communications.
The luxury sector is slowly but surely embracing animal welfare, with designers such as Burberry, Chanel, Gucci, Versace and, most recently, Victoria Beckham denouncing fur and/or exotic skins. “This cohort sets an example for the rest of the industry to follow and operate on developing materials with a low environmental impact,” Yau said, noting a 41 percent drop in women’s fur arrivals for January YOY among Britain’s high-end purveyors.
But despite consistent growth, retailers are still scrambling to find vegan alternatives that work, particularly with wools. Being kind to animals has its benefits, however.
“Vegan alternatives allow you to buy into animal print trends while keeping your costs down,” Yau said. “All the while you are getting eco-friendly brownie points!”