As I while away a few aimless hours on a Sunday afternoon, casually picking at last night’s leftover enchiladas and allowing Netflix to auto-play a sixth episode of Below Deck, something suddenly stops me in my tracks. In the gripping Season 1 penultimate episode (I promise this article is not all about Below Deck) we see the mega yacht head chef Ben stare at the preference sheet of the incoming guests. In his chippy British accent (with one of those “I did a gap yar in Aus?” type twangs) he exclaims “I’m only looking at them on paper, but I already pretty much hate them.” The guests are vegans.
Cut to 2020 and vegans are no longer the source of disgust, the punchline to jokes, or even a counterculture. Being vegan is well and truly mainstream. And it looks like they’re about to take over the world.
According to finder.com, vegans and vegetarians are set to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025. And even for those not quite willing to go the whole hog (it’s a passable pun, let’s let it slide) 35% of British consumers say they make a point of regularly having meat-free days.
I don’t need to tell you about the burgeoning meat-free food brands storming the UK right now. But in case I do, honourable mentions go to the Greggs vegan sausage roll, Temple of Seitan in London, and the innovative products from Meatless Farm, THIS and Beyond Meat. According to the BBC, the meatless industry is forecasted to be worth £658m by 2021. And of course that massive pile of cash means the big boys aren’t far behind, with McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King having a good old go, albeit with a bit of fine tuning still to be done to create truly vegan options, bless them.
Now fashion brands are cottoning on to the fact that vegan products have the potential to bring home the bacon (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Summer saw Adidas launch sustainable versions of fan faves The Continental 80 and the Samba, announcing “Our Icons Go Vegan”. Meanwhile, other industry giants such as Nike, Puma and Under Armour are scrambling to launch their own vegan footwear, with a view to putting a more sustainable foot forward and reducing their carbon footprint (they almost write themselves don’t they?). It’s worth noting that these iconic brands are by no means early adopters though. Doc Martens will no doubt be following their progress, a knowing smirk on their face, perhaps stifling a small yawn, having launched their own hugely successful vegan line way back in 2011.
And it’s not just footwear, according to vegconomist.com, mushroom “unleather” specialist Bolt Threads has recently partnered with a consortium made up of Adidas, Stella McCartney, Kering and Lululemon in order to utilise their innovative material, Mylo™, which is made from the roots of mushrooms.
Where forward-thinking fashion brands lead, other retailers are sure to follow. And while fast fashion e-commerce brands such as Boohoo and Missguided initially saw booming sales during lockdown, in light of the Leicestershire factory scandal, how much longer will switched on consumers support low cost clothes that come with such a high price tag for society? As the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study found, one in two consumers will choose to switch or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal or environmental issues. With that in mind, surely it’s only a matter of time before time’s up is called on the unethical practices of fashion’s underbelly.
So what does all this mean? Why should we care?
It means that consumer attitudes are changing. It means that brands must keep up or shut up.
Sure, there will always be consumers unwilling to pay a premium for ethically produced, sustainable or meat-free products. But increasingly, the opposite will be true. Brands must act now if they’re to keep up with their customers. Or risk being left on the organic compost heap (I’ll see myself out).
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