WHY I CHOSE REAL LEATHER VS VEGAN LEATHER

THE PROBLEM WITH REAL LEATHER

In the shop I made a purposeful decision not to stock vegan leather accessories.  Prior to this decision I did a lot of research on real leather vs vegan leather, vacillating between the two.  I came to conclusion finally, and thought I’d share what has shaped my thinking as I know we are all realising our purchases are directly affecting the environment.  We vote what type of a world we want to live in with our money, but how do we know what to vote when the terms are obfuscated by marketing messaging?

Leather in recent years has come under much-needed scrutiny.  Greenhouse gases from overconsumption of animals (on our plates or in our closets) is a massive contributor to global warming.  Worst of all, however, is the human cost.  The leather industry often exploits poor communities by paying them unfairly and not providing safe work conditions.  Also, the tanning process itself results in toxic byproducts.  In certain countries, these chemicals are frequently dumped into rivers contaminating the water of the villages employed by the leather industry.  Side effects from chromium toxicity are terrible- skin ulcerations and reactions, gastritis, even kidney and liver damage and lung cancer to name a few.

So, yes, leather should be questioned.  I am just not convinced vegan leather, darling of the eco-friendly fashion movement that it is, completely holds the answer.

THE PROBLEM WITH VEGAN LEATHER

I’ll just say it, vegan leather is plastic.  It is essentially polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride produced from toxin-releasing fossil fuels.  I’m not hating on it, I see a lot of appropriate and helpful uses for it, but before we say we are saving the planet in our pleather joggers, I do think we need to see past the euphemism.

Vegan leather has a remarkably short life, and it wears poorly.  You might get a good year before peeling and flaking will put you in the market for something to replace it.  Once you do, you’ll have to throw it away for it biodegrade…in 400 years.

REAL LEATHER vs VEGAN LEATHER

Unless you go vegan in the kitchen, going vegan in the wardrobe isn’t really reducing greenhouse gases.  If, however, you are an omnivore that loves a good steak from a happy grass-fed cow, using the hides that are a byproduct of that dinner seems sensible.  You’ll also get longer wear from real leather vs. vegan leather.  When you take care of it, real leather grows in beauty as it ages.

Real leather is also bio-degradable where vegan leather is not.

side view ethical leather laptop case

ETHICAL LEATHER

The great thing is some leather companies are seeing the problem and challenging traditional practices.  They are doing everything they can to produce an ethical leather. They pay their employees proper wages, treat them like human beings, and by clean up the tanning process used.  Bringing in vegetable dyes rather than chromium to treat the leather cuts out the health risks involved.

One of these ethical leather producers is my accessories supplier- Amsterdam-based, O My Bag.  What I love about them is that they don’t trade style or quality in the name of eco-consciousness.  I went through a lot of samples of iPad and laptop sleeves that were vegetable tanned, but terrible in terms of protecting your gear.  Or worse- they would protect your things but were ugly.  Okay, maybe not worse…but I couldn’t do it.

ALTERNATIVES TO ETHICAL LEATHER

  • Vegan leather/or not

If you are unconvinced and can’t do real leather, consider another truly eco-friendly vegan solution is to mainly choose textiles that aren’t mimicking leather.  Rather than a vegan leather (again- plastic) laptop sleeve- go for a waxed canvas or sustainable cotton one. I say mainly, because I realise there is a time an a place for vegan leather.  Shoes and boots (which, I suppose are a subset of shoes…) need a durability and protection that fabric can’t give.

alternative to leather accessories

  • New textiles

New materials are being developed.  The brand Walk With Me takes scraps of leather, combines them with a natural latex to make an entirely new textile.  This recycled leather is a rubbery, slightly harder material than actual leather, but I have high hopes this will become more used as an alternative.

  • Addressing overconsumption

As always- it doesn’t matter if you are choosing ethically and eco-consciously if you are over consuming. 

If you have three nice bags laying in the back of your closet, please don’t buy another one.  I’m sure a good leather conditioner will breathe new life into it as it did my mother’s vintage Frye boots (honestly, I squealed with glee when I realized they were salvageable).

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