Being vegan isn’t only about not eating animal products, but also not using animal products.
As I mentioned in my first article, the ethos of vegan-ism is to avoid the exploitation of and cruelty to animals. Anything that causes unnecessary harm or death to another sentient being is to be avoided. This includes the fabrication and use of leather, cow-horn and products that are tested on animals, such as cosmetics.
Not to worry, there are many vegan alternatives available in Rwanda to replace these!
When it comes to leather, there are many different options for shoes, handbags, belts, etc.
Some Made-in-Rwanda options for handbags are the wonderful kitenge bags you can find at any market stall. These come as weekend duffle bags, backpacks, handbags, etc.
I’ve also recently found out about pineapple leather! Dokmai had a pop-up with some products made from this pineapple leather and their site states that they can make almost any design using this vegan leather, rather than the cow leather they usually use. Uzuriky makes their shoes and sandals with man-made leather and fabric. Other vegan leather alternatives include products made with the popular African textile, bark-cloth.
Many, if not most or all, of the shoes in the markets around Rwanda are imported plastic or faux leather from China. While there are different environmental concerns about plastic and the pollution from shipping these products, they are vegan… even belts can be found around town made from a thick canvas or other fabric, or vegan leather.
Cow horn as well is not vegan.
While it is just a by-product of the meat industry (as is leather in Rwanda – many other countries raise animals specifically for leather), it is still part of an animal. Cows here are not being killed solely for their horns, but purchasing the cow horn still contributes to their harm.
There is some beautiful brass jewelry made in Rwanda. Many of the same styles of jewelry you can find in cow horn, you can also find in brass and there are so many beautiful sisal earrings and necklaces.
Many beauty products are not tested on animals and more and more companies are moving away from animal testing each year.
There is a cruelty-free logo in the shape of a little rabbit you can find on products, usually near the UPC code, that ensures the product wasn’t tested on animals. There is also another logo that shows if a product is vegan (usually in the form of a ‘V’, or plant symbol), meaning it has no animal or animal-derived products in it. For example, Azzi (sold on the Kasha website) is a great example of a locally-made Rwandan vegan nail polish.
Paying attention to your products and choosing ones that are cruelty-free and vegan ensures that no animals were harmed to make your lotion, lipstick or deodorant.
Veganism typically covers three main areas: animal welfare, the environment, and health.
Being vegan for animal welfare means you do not want to cause harm to another being. Our bodies do not need animal protein to survive and there are many plant-based sources that give us everything we need! Many top athletes and bodybuilders are also vegan (more on this in future posts).
Vegan-ism also helps the planet. Animal agriculture is one of the top contributors to climate change. The cutting down of trees for grazing land, the production of methane from livestock, and the large amounts of water required for these animals all add to the destruction of our planet. A vegan diet helps to reduce all of these impacts. In addition, finding made-in-Rwanda or made-in-Africa products helps to reduce the environmental impacts of shipping, and in almost all cases, the production of these products as well.
And finally, health. A vegan diet is higher in fruits, vegetables and fibre and lower in cholesterol. Many people end up losing weight after switching to a vegan diet, feel more energy and just generally healthier. Studies have shown a drop in the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancers after switching to a vegan diet. Sometimes, people become vegan not to save animals or the environment, but to save themselves.
At times, being vegan is a balance.
Is it better for me to buy this made-in-Rwanda leather belt that was made from a cow who was slaughtered for someone else’s meal, than the plastic-coated belt imported from China? It feels like it’s the animal against the environment. I do not want either so I’ll try to find a made-in-Rwanda canvas or vegan leather belt, if possible.
Balancing these three can be difficult and research is often needed to make sure your choice of product is contributing the least harm to animals, the environment or yourself, but it is doable! It just takes a little more thought, effort and attention.
For more information and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @vegan_in_rwanda
(Featured Image: Pineapple ‘leather’ products, courtesy of Dokmai Rwanda)