For many who claim to champion animal rights, their intervention stops with switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, the 'cruelty-free' life demands more and can be hard to adopt, especially if you love fashion.
But first, what is cruelty-free living?
For 29 yr old Ramaa Ramesh, cruelty-free living means living our life with as little negative impact as possible on other sentient beings (anyone who can feel pain) - including animals.
“I try and live by this ethos: being kind to animals, not eating animals, not hurting them, not using products that have animal parts or generally not 'using' animals in any way. If you take away the fancy labels and look at it objectively, killing, enslaving, exploiting and abusing are all terrible things to do. We do all of this to animals and only get away with it because they cannot campaign their own rights, what kind of people does that make us?” questions Ramaa.
Cruelty-free living does not mean giving up meat and dairy alone. One starts questioning every life choice. Often, people give up wearing fur and silk and explore alternative options.
“My quest to live cruelty-free started around the year 2010. Once I started to work and earn money, I started to question the things I bought, wore and ate,” Ramaa adds.
Sharanya Sridhar, a 25-year-old ex Googler who quit her full time job to start a vegan baking joint in Hyderabad, says, "Cruelty-free living as the name suggests, seems like the only true way to live. A life lived in harmony in this wonderful place called earth - our home. To me it's about moving away from "I" and moving towards "Us" and realising what a beautiful place we can build if we could just understand our fellow beings and learn to give ourselves a chance to simply "accept" the love they have for us and experience it instead of ignoring it.”
Animals in the fashion industry
Whether it is garments/products made from animals or cosmetics tested on animals, the fashion industry exploits non-human living beings to a great extent. For Shriya, a Chennai-based communications professional, the turning point was a documentary she saw. “There was this documentary called Earthlings that changed my very thinking and perception of the world we live in and how we treat animals. I got to understand about the gross cruelties of animal testing and other ways by which humans exploit animals for their needs from this documentary."
Chennai based lawyer, Chethana Venkataraghavan recounts, “I stopped wearing silk and leather from a young age because I disliked the fact that a commodity that was derived from the death of insects or an animal was celebrated and admired. It didn't feel right. As an adult now, I understand that cruelty-free living extends to my choice in food, cosmetics, clothes, among other things. “
Contrary to popular belief, new-age animal rights activists love playing dress up. Ramaa says, “I enjoy wearing makeup, I love shopping and dressing up, and how I dress is an important part of my image at work and my confidence. I'm delighted to share I have more than my share of everyday wear, high street clothing, some designer wear, cosmetics and even luxury perfume - all cruelty free and all vegan friendly. It's just the brands I use that have changed. “
She goes on to add, “A fashion conscious person today will be looking at their beauty products (skincare as well as makeup) and their wardrobe (including their bags and shoedrobes if they love their shoes!). The question is: how can you keep the look, style and breadth of things in your wardrobe whilst avoiding cages, coffins, screams and scars that come with using animals?“
Chethana pitches in: “I think a cruelty-free lifestyle definitely reduces the choices that you previously had, but it is possible to balance both fashion and that kind of lifestyle. It means certain sacrifices but also gives you a chance to explore different options that you previously didn't know existed - like jute sarees and ahimsa silk sarees which I wore for my college farewell instead of the traditional silk option.”
Cruelty-free Brands In India
If you decide to go cruelty-free with respect to your fashion choices, the first and easiest step would be to eliminate silks, fur, wool and leather. This does not mean you need to stay away from branded bags and footwear.
Ramaa says, “There are brands that sell beautiful cruelty-free bags and shoes in India: Baggit (everything they sell is cruelty free), Cyahi do a line of vegan bags, Sharan India do bags and wallets, Senso Vegetarian Shoes and Espelho Vegetarian Bags are all bags to look at. “
Substitutes in the market are easily available. When it comes to cosmetics, reading labels always helps.
“The journey personally has helped me be more aware about products, ingredients, methods by which they make it and test it. For instance I had no idea a glamorous red lipstick probably got its tint from crushed beetles or that the lotion I used to like had something called Lanolin which is used in a large number of cosmetics and extracted from the layer next to sheep skin that keeps the animals warm in winter. I also need to mention that cruelty-free as a term today only talks about whether or not a product has been tested on animals. I like encouraging people I know to read ingredients and ensure they move to products completely without any animal by products and unnecessary additives,” says Shriya
While certain brands might not test on animals in India, they are forced to do so in order to sell in China. It would be safe to assume any brand that sells on Chinese soil has tested their cosmetics on animals.
“However, some companies will word this cleverly on their websites by saying 'we don't conduct animal testing of our products except in the rare situation where governments or laws require it' or variations of this,” cautions Ramaa
Here’s a list of brands that are cruelty free and easily available in India:
The Body Shop
Burst of Happyness
This list isn’t exhaustive but can serve as a guide for beginners. For a more exhaustive list, do look up reliable sources online. While every product manufactured by these brands may not be vegan (some products do use milk, honey and other animal products), these brands are cruelty-free. Reading labels and educating oneself in the process is always good.
One need not sacrifice on good looks to be nice to animals that share the planet with us. There however is a cost to our vanity and it is for every individual to decide that.