Vegan leather is becoming a frequently used buzzword in the fashion industry – fast and sustainable. While often this means products are made from petroleum based materials aka. from plastic several other vegan options have been introduced to the market. Ethical leather that doesn’t harm animals is a topic of debate when you look at overall sustainability and conscious consumption.
As you know, we love a good debate at ASHIFT. So, our team sat down for another WhatsApp discussion – social distancing at its best – about whether leather or vegan leather is more sustainable and ethical overall. Today we want to share three different (or not so different at all?!) perspectives on this much debated topic with you in our favourite format.
Leather vs. Vegan Leather, what is more harmful?
The pros and cons of leather and vegan leather have been a topic of discussion for some time now. The Good Trade wrote a really good article on it! We have touched on this debate, before too, in our fabric index. For more information on the production process of leather and vegan leather definitely give it a read here!
The discussion focuses on which form of leather harms the environment the most. Some experts claim that animal leather is more harmful to the planet than the alternatives made from plastic due to the fact that animals require a high amount of resources like food and water. Leather also needs to be tanned so it doesn’t rot. Usually, harmful chemical dyes are being used when tanning leather. These chemicals not only affect the planet negatively but also workers. According to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Materials Sustainability Index animal leather harms the environment almost three times more than plastic leather alternatives.
So plastic alternatives are the best option, right? Nope, not at all. The many controversial and harmful effects plastic production has on us and our planet are not a secret. We have talked about these issues before. However, innovators are producing vegan leather alternatives derived from nature. These natural and biodegradable sources include pineapple leaves, corn, mushrooms and many more.
What does the meat industry have to do with leather?
While some more eco-friendly brands that sell leather products don’t use these harmful tanning processes, animals still have to die for the end product. Some brands use the leather as a byproduct of the meat industry, sourcing the leather from farms specifically for the leather industry, but that is not always the case. Even then, keep in mind that the meat industry is extremely harmful to the environment either way. Often it is not really clear how leather is sourced and what is going on behind the scenes. If we think of the fur industry, though, – maybe you have seen videos by PETA or Greenpeace which we will not be linking here – sometimes an animal’s sole purpose is to die for fashion.
A more conscious and sustainable way of consuming leather (and vegan leather) is to buy vintage clothes. You can find some amazing pieces at your local flea market, vintage shops or online – maybe in one of the vintage online shops we have talked about in the past. Of course, when it comes to certain items like shoes vintage shopping might not be everyone’s first choice. It is worth a try, though, if you are looking for a great coat, jacket or some stylish leather trousers.
What it comes down to and what we can actually do
While animals are often the focus of this debate it’s easy to forget about the people. 2020 has especially shown us how the garment workers in countries like Bangladesh are suffering due to the fast fashion industry. Being ethical includes looking out for the people who make our clothes, too. Ultimately, it is up to us what we deem sustainable, ethical and moral. We all have different perspectives.
On top of that, it is simply not possible for everyone to buy higher quality leather. Consumption is often linked to privilege. Not everyone has the money to live 100% sustainably and as consciously as they would like to. Others just don’t want to buy leather because of the animals. Some people love animals but would still buy leather if it is just one piece that they know will last them for a long time. Then there are people who love expressing themselves with their style and buy many vegan leather shoes to have a bigger selection. At the end of the day, we are here to inform you so you can make the most conscious decisions that fit into your lifestyle and situation.
So, what about you? Have you made up your mind, yet? What would you opt for, leather or vegan leather?