Yes and no. Traditionally-made velvet is made from silk, so it is not vegan. New methods mean velvet can now be made from other materials, including vegan ones such as cotton, linen, and synthetics, and non-vegan ones, such as mohair and wool.
When non-vegan materials are used, velvet is vegan. When animal-derived materials like silk (silkworms), mohair (goat), or wool (sheep) are used, the production of velvet can cause harm to animals and is not vegan.
Because it could be either, you should assume a velvet product is not vegan unless it is clearly stated on the label or the manufacturer’s website either that it is vegan or that it is 100% synthetic.
What Is Velvet?
The term velvet actually refers to the structure of the fabric and how it is made. This is why it can be made out of different materials – and why it is sometimes vegan and sometimes not. The resulting material has a tufted, plush texture which is soft and luxurious.
It is used extensively in fashion and furnishing to give a luxurious feel. In particular, velvet is used in shoes, skirts, and blazers. When made out of cotton or synthetic materials, it is quite durable, which is why it works well for furnishings. However, silk vegan is less durable, which makes it less likely to be used for furniture, which tends to be made from cotton velvet.
How Is Velvet Made?
Velvet is made by weaving yarn between two layers of backing and then splitting the fabric in two. Each side becomes a piece of velvet with the short pile that gives it its unique texture.
Traditionally, this was done with silk, but it is more common for cheaper materials to be used, including cotton, wool, and synthetic materials like polyester. Most high-street velvet products are made using these because silk is expensive, but they could still be wool or mohair, so always check the label.
Is Velvet Sustainable?
The material used to create the velvet defines its sustainability. Unfortunately, many vegan fabrics are synthetic, and petroleum is used when creating them. This makes them highly unsustainable, since this is a limited resource and not biodegradable.
Some other materials, such as lyocell rayon or organic cotton, can be more sustainable. However, even these materials may be treated with chemicals in the process of creating velvet, so nothing is perfect.
Verdict: Should Vegans Buy Velvet?
Vegans can buy velvet when it is made from vegan-friendly materials, such as lyocell, organic cotton, or polyester. However, polyester velvet is unsustainable, as is that made using cheaper rayon fabrics such as viscose or modal. Where possible, we recommend shopping around for recycled or sustainably-produced velvet.