Stylish and Sustainable: The Best Vegan & Cruelty-Free Hair Accessories for 2023
Whereas the concept of eating animals very clearly evokes strong associations with animal well-being, veganism, animal cruelty, or meatless Mondays, the impacts of hair accessory production are a bit more nuanced. What is considered cruel? And, what makes a vegan hair accessory, anyway? It’s certainly not a straight line.
There are a lot of products in this world that are created at the cost of animal, planetary, and human suffering. These costs are often indirect, externalized effects not accounted for in the production of a conventionally produced item. Such costs might include the environmental impacts of confined animal feeding operations (and untold animal cruelty), carbon emissions from plastics manufacturing plants, or cancer rates among workers spraying conventional pesticides on crops.
Hair accessories are physically small, so their impact is not always considered among these hot-button issues. Often, we think of them as benign, as having no impact. But, their creation still requires resources, people, and the environment to produce.
At KOOSHOO, we’re working hard to create vegan and cruelty-free hair accessories that support and give back to our planet and those who call it home.
We’re also steadfast in our commitment to rigorous certification programs, ensuring better working conditions for people and sustainable production that makes our world better; not worse.
But what makes our products vegan and cruelty-free, anyway?
Here, we’ll break down the ingredients we use in our products and packaging to show you, focusing on three things:
- Organic cotton over silk
- Fair-trade rubber (and why that's important)
Why isn’t silk vegan-friendly?
One of our most beloved hair accessories is our throwback scrunchie, made of pillowy soft, organic cotton. But, we do get asked fairly regularly if we’ll ever make a scrunchie out of silk. The short answer? No. (This, despite knowing that they are quite popular and soft on hair.) Why don’t (or won’t) we?
Silk is a natural fibre after all, and we love natural fibres! Except…silk is complicated. You see, we’re committed to being a vegan-friendly company and that means choosing materials that do no harm. After all, our mission is to uplift all stakeholders; we consider animals - and insects - among those.
What makes silk not vegan and why wouldn’t it be cruelty-free?
Silk fibres are produced by the silk moth. The fibres are actually what the moth caterpillar spins as its cocoon, to bundle up for its metamorphosis into a moth. Silk is its home. Unfortunately, in order to extract silk fibres for textile production, the cocoons are boiled to separate the silk fibres from the worm. Yes, the silkworm is still in the cocoon when this happens. And it’s not just one worm that is required to make silk. We were shocked to learn that it takes upwards of 3,000 silk moths to create one kilogram of silk fabric (in one reference we found, 5,000 moths are killed to make one silk kimono). The scale of this is staggering: globally, the textile industry destroys up to one trillion moths per year.
You might think, “Caterpillars are just insects,” and you’d be right. But, it feels completely unnecessary to be killing silk moths for fabric, when other fibres exist that require no sacrificial caterpillars and that achieve the same effect. In our quest to make cruelty-free hair accessories, we must consider all beings.
What about peace silk?
You may have heard about “peace silk” as an alternative to traditional silk harvesting. This is silk that has been extracted from the cocoon without the silkworm being harmed. We think this is definitely a step in the right direction, and we’ve even tested peace silk to see if it would work for our products.
Ultimately, we’ve chosen to stick with plant-based textiles because Peace Silk is coarser than regular silk (the strands are shorter due to being cut to release the moth) and we believe we can achieve better softness with other plant materials.
Instead of using silk, we apply a special, natural wash technique to our organic cotton (the “scrunch” part of our Scrunchies) that leaves a silk-like finish. You still receive a luxurious product for your hair, and no metamorphosis needs to be interrupted.
Cotton: vegan, but not always cruelty-free
Conventional cotton is the most heavily sprayed agricultural crop on earth. Globally, upwards of one-quarter of all pesticides are used on conventional cotton. Those pesticides and insecticides inevitably end up in water tables, harming animals and humans that depend on those water sources.
Of course, conventional agriculture is not just detrimental to water quality. We now know of incredibly high incidences of cancer among workers in those cotton communities. In one study, researchers found cancer incidences were higher among conventional cotton farmers in Uzbekistan. While this study focused on only humans in only one location, we can fairly assume that if humans are dying from pesticides, so too are mammals and insects. This is unnecessary and we want to be part of the solution to the problem.
All of this is why we’re committed to supporting organic cotton growers.
Why we use organic cotton
It’s not to say that no insects are killed with organic agriculture either, but because organic growers adhere to stricter rules and regulations when it concerns pesticide use, there is far less impact on insect populations through organic growing practices. And, by opting for organic growing practices, humans are also spared the devastation of health impairments more commonly seen with pesticide-laden agriculture.
While we think of charismatic megafauna when we think of a term like “cruelty-free,” (cows, pigs, whales, etc) it’s more than that: it’s the needless harm and suffering brought to all organisms. Insects are living, breathing organisms too, and we need them to make the world go ‘round. It’s important to consider their health when we’re making decisions about what (or what not) to put in and on our bodies.
By choosing to exclusively use certified organic cotton, we are supporting sustainable farming practices that do no harm to local flora or fauna.
How we grow our food and other materials makes a difference for planetary and people health.
Fair Rubber: why it matters to certify materials
You might not think that “cruelty-free and fair rubber” would go hand in hand…and neither would we until we embarked on this wild journey of trying to make a plastic-free hair tie.
Did you know? Most natural rubber is harvested from Southeast Asia and Africa. The vast majority of this is used to produce the world’s automobile tires.
Because of this high demand, the region has seen a dramatic increase in deforestation. Deforestation causes a whole ecosystem cascade, including truly tragic impacts on wild animal populations.
You can see why it might be worthwhile to source our rubber that hasn’t been harvested at the cost of a denuded or monoculture forest.
KOOSHOO was borne out of a formative trip to Borneo, where its founders met with locals there and learned about the impacts that the western world’s plastics were having on the communities locally. On that same trip, they took a short flight to visit orangutans on a reserve created by Birute Galdikas, a famous biologist (from Vancouver, Canada, where one of the Kooshoo founders hails from). During the flight to the preserve, they passed over what was then a pristine jungle.
That same stretch has been wiped clean and transformed into monoculture palm and rubber tree plantations.
How natural tree rubber can change the hair accessory industry
This left an indelible imprint on them, reinforcing the notion that what we consume through our material choices has an impact, often worlds away. As business owners, we have a responsibility for changing this paradigm.
We’re really proud of the fact that KOOSHOO is the only hair tie company in North America using Fair Rubber Association-certified natural tree rubber. What does it mean to be certified through the Fair Rubber Assocation?
“The Fair Rubber Association not only ensures workers receive fair wages and safe working conditions, they also see that their plantations are certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council (more on that below).” You can read more about our commitment to fair rubber in our post, “Why Natural Tree Rubber Can Change the Global Hair Accessory Industry”
By only working with suppliers who are certified through both the Fair Rubber Association, we can ensure cruelty-free standards for our plastic-free hair accessories.
Packaging: avoiding deforestation one pack at a time
It’s not just our hair accessories that are manufactured using cruelty-free and vegan ingredients and methods. This extends to the packaging you see when you purchase a pack of hair ties, a twist headband, or some of our organic cotton scrunchies. From the beginning, it was important that our packaging - like our products - send a message to our customers. That message is?
We respect our forests and all species that depend on them.
To help be a voice for the trees, we’ve committed to sourcing Forest Stewardship Council-certified (FSC) recycled paper for our packaging. What does FSC-certified mean?
The mission of the Forest Stewardship Council (established in 1994) is to promote sustainable forest management solutions. To achieve their mission, they - and any entity using the FSC label - abide by a series of 10 principles and 57 criteria. These principles include recognizing workers’ rights and employment conditions, respecting Indigenous communities, management planning, and many others.
Sustainable forest management is critical to putting an end to deforestation and displacing endless wild species. Our post from International Day of Forests will give you more information about FSC and organizations that are making a difference around the world.
And in case you were curious, yes, our Natural Rubber trees are also FSC certified!
Removing plastic from products and packaging
If you’ve ever received our products in the mail, you’ve no doubt seen our plastic-free shipping envelopes. If you’re a retailer, or you’ve placed a larger order, we likely shipped your goods in a recycled content cardboard box and sealed it with paper-based tape. To read up on our commitment to plastic-free and recycled-content packaging, check out our posts on Ponytales:
- Plastic-free Packaging and Shipping - A Must for the Future of Fashion
- Get rid of single-use plastics in fashion, once and for all! KOOSHOO's search to Eliminate Plastic from our Packaging
Let’s talk about the dyes…
All KOOSHOO products are coloured using low-impact, non-toxic dyes, to ensure waterways, where they are produced, are kept clear and clean. Aquatic flora and fauna deserve a peaceful, healthy home too.
But how do low-impact dyes relate to cruelty-free hair accessories?
Simply put: the textile industry uses a lot of dyes, most of them full of toxic substances and carcinogenic agents. In this one industry alone, up to 200,000 tons of dye find their way into the environment every year. These chemicals inhibit plant growth and enter the food web as they make their way downstream. While it might not seem significant, these chemicals can bioaccumulate in phytoplankton, fish species, and eventually reach humans, causing harm and illness.
This is not a party we want to join! To reduce our impact on our shared waters, we work with dye houses that are certified through OEKO-TEX and GOTS.
OEKO-TEX is an international trademark with stringent standards for product safety and sustainability, ensuring no use of harmful substances. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) provides us with reassurance that our manufacturing partners are not only protecting freshwater supplies but also the people working to create our plastic-free hair ties and accessories.
How can you play a role to promote cruelty-free and vegan hair accessories?
To learn more about these, and other ways we’re committed to doing business the right way, we encourage you to read up about our sustainability journey (always a work in progress).
And, we would love your help in advocating for a better world. Here are some ideas for how to do just that:
- Look for certifications the next time you buy a product. OEKO-TEX, GOTS, and Fair-Rubber Certified are all excellent industry standards.
- Learn more about fair trade in the textile industry and why it is critical for long-term sustainability.
- Share this blog with your friends: we were surprised by how few people knew the realities of silk production. Once you know, it’s easier to make better decisions.
While we’re working hard to reduce our impact in all areas of our business, we know there is always room for improvement. That’s why it’s so important that we hear from you. If you’d like to know more about any of our sustainability practices, or if you have questions about cruelty-free or vegan hair accessories, please drop us a line.