Why I Don't Wear Vegan Leather

Pelechecoco recycled leather jackets

I've been meaning to write a post on vegan leather ever since Pam Anderson went on French television talking about it. She and I obviously have very different views on plastic, and animal products too- I tend to think secondhand animal products are less harmful than faux alternatives. This isn't to say you shouldn't wear vegan leather, or that secondhand options really are less bad. In fact, last week I briefly considered a pair of Line & Dot pleather leggings at Buffalo Exchange after seeing Gigi Hadid wear them. I looked like one of the Nelson twins in "Can't Live Without Your Love and Affection," but that is neither here nor there. 

If the idea of animal products inherently bothers you, I respect that. I read Arne Naess' Deep Ecology. I believe in the intrinsic value of all living beings too, and I appreciate and want to care for animal life. I'm not sure I buy into the whole "leather and fur are a meat byproduct" argument anyway (an estimated ten million tons of industrial meat discards end up in landfills each year). Aside from the horrors of sourcing raw animal hides, the tanning process incorporates chromium, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia, exposing factory workers and nearby soil / water to carcinogenic mutagens. Each ton of hide produces 20-80 cubic meters of contaminated wastewater. Leather production is also associated with the depletion of rainforests, clearcut to make room for new cattle ranches. Though biodegradable, treated leather produces methane and may leach hazardous materials, such as toluene or benzene, into the environment. Additionally, vegetable tanned leather produces more greenhouse gases than chrome tanned.

Vegan leather isn't great for the environment, either (nor is faux fur, aka fuzzy petroleum, for that matter). To illustrate: vegan leather is like Kanye West- promising, but perhaps evil (actually I met Kanye twice at Silencio and he was really well-spoken and nice. He got my name and the next day I had an invitation to his fashion show after-party with my friends. It was fun!). Unless manufactured using a closed loop system, synthetic particles discharged as waste harm both animals and humans. Polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane, and polymer composite microfibers release microplastics into waterways every time they're washed. Such materials are often highly combustible, more likely to be treated with flame retardants, and downcycled. Up to 35% of the raw materials used to manufacture PU are from sustainable sources, yet at the end of its life cycle, polyurethane is generally incinerated, not recycled. PU is a higher source of nitrous oxide and hydrogen cyanide than PVC when burned, while PVC incineration produces dioxins. These make their way into the food stream and are now present in animals on a cellular level. To reduce these dangers, some companies are developing kelp, cork, electronic circuit board, and pineapple-based vegan leathers or plant-derived PU. For now, though, synthetic faux leather- manufactured by covering fabric in plastic- produces harmful phthalates and is subject to progressive deterioration via hydrolysis.

The consensus among experts is that for durability, breathability, comfort, and strength, leather is one of the best options available today. In the EU, tanneries comply with strict environmental regulations and rules governing public health and safety. This does not lessen the cruelty of the leather industry, but it does make products traceable, free from dichromate acid or chromium VI. Some brands, such as Deadwood or Pelechecoco, reuse vintage pieces to produce new garments (a mere 26 gallons of water are used to produce 100 reworked jackets, chemical and cruelty-free). Others source organic leather and use natural tanning processes, providing consumers with a passport of the cow's life and provenance. After researching my options, I decided vintage was more sustainable for me. I don't have a moral issue when it's pre-owned, and secondhand leather simply lasts longer than anything faux I've tried. Besides, have you seen the slaughter and exploitation perpetrated by oil extraction and the new clothing industry? Why should I exploit other living beings, when perfectly useful garments exist secondhand? Others will make different choices (waxed cotton is one option). Maybe I'll change my mind someday too. At the moment, though, I wear a secondhand down coat, secondhand and cruelty free wool and alpaca, and secondhand leather shoes. Weirdly, I'd never consider a secondhand fur jacket, although my down coat has a fox collar. I guess most furs remind me too much of my cats? I'm open to any other suggestions you have!



Paris to Go

20 comments:

  1. I think about this a lot. With no conclusions. But it has prevented me from running out and buying more off late. I have liked lots of bags and shoes this year but could always talk myself out of it when I think of the supply chain.

    Somehow, I do think of you as a case who doesnt have to justify your leather usage. You are not the one with 16 pairs ( me ) or 6 bags. You take so little out of necessity.

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    1. Thank you for the sentiment :) I might have less net but I think there's more turnover in my wardrobe than many others lately. The more I think about sustainability the more my head whirls. There are no good answers and it can seem like no options are ever truly guilt-free or clean. I think this is why my clothes are so unsatisfactory at the moment, and I'm paralyzed to buy new stuff.

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    2. I'm okay with leather...I don't like synthetic products. They seems to smell so gross and retain odors. Give me cotton any day!

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    3. That is what I'm worried about- the smell! I'm so sensitive to smells and I think it would bother me. It seems like they would get sweaty too.

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  2. Great post. I just want to add... Real leather usually lasts longer if well cared for. So it requires less buying.

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    1. Hi Chiara! I definitely agree. Less consumption seems, to me, to be the most environmentally friendly way!

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  3. I agree with the lifetime-spam of the leather. My fabourite handbag is a 40-something year old given to me by my mother. People still offer me good money to make it their own, and the bag continues to keep looking great.

    Furthermore, I am a great fan of a good leather jacket. I've had mine for 8 years (I am 28, so for me this seems long), and it is still a great favourite. It takes me from long long summernights on a terras to an extra layer of isolation under my winter coat when its cold. It is molded to my body, and I imagine many more happy years to come).

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    1. Wow! That is wonderful! Ok maybe I should consider this leather jacket thing. Since I run so hot, I'm considering selling my coats and just keeping my trench coat with a jacket underneath. Good to know this was such a good investment for you!

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    2. Ariana,

      How do you wash your trench ? I know you will have to water proof the cotton after you do. Beeswax ? Is it easy to do at home ?

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    3. I scrub it with a flour sack towel, soap, and water. I washed it in the bathtub once in cold water and used beeswax after. Zero Waste Home has a good post on using beeswax. I do that on my boots too, it's easy at home and less messy and smelly than waterproofing spray in my opinion.

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  4. I've struggled with this over the years. I try to buy used from thrift and consignment shops but it's not always possible to find what I need. Thanks for your research on this and the fact that there's no right answer. We just need to be mindful and do the best that we can with the knowledge we have.

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    1. Beautifully said! I'm finding it harder and harder to shop exclusively at thrift stores as I get older, but I still want to be thoughtful and conscious of what I'm buying.

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  5. Hello Ariana
    I'm vegetarian and trying reduce animal products, I think that is the right, but the most difficult are shoes and jackets. I have one faux leather and one real leather and I can't decide, I think we have to choose thing for defender.

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    1. It's such a personal decision! I agree shoes are super difficult, I haven't had success with faux shoes in the past, and leather is so much more comfortable. But it's becoming less easy to find secondhand leather shoes that are decent.

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  6. I'm waiting for lab-cultured leather, scheduled for release in 2017 by Modern Meadows. Plastic shoes make my feet sweat, then soggy socks make my feet super cold. They don't feel healthy.Natural fabrics for uppers can be an option, but really more for warm weather, and soles are still a challenge. Traditional espadrille soles from twisted cord is good at the beach, but not practical in the city (it frays easily)or wet weather.Leather can last for decades, be repaired, is good in all kinds of weather. I agree with you that when there is so much conflicting information, less consumption seems like the best alternative.
    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-10/15/andras-forgacs-modern-meadow-leather-wired-2015

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    1. I love espadrille soles too, these new lab cultured materials sound amazing. It's true, leather warms to your feet and gets more and more comfortable and lasts so much longer. A comparable cruelty-free material is desperately needed.

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  7. sorry, forgot to sign last comment, I'm zuperserena

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  8. You can get environmentally-friendly vegan leather-- I'm excited about Bleed's cork products:
    https://www.bleed-clothing.com/index.php/shop/specials/montado-black-edition/korkjacke-damen.html

    As you mentionned, leather is INCREDIBLY toxic. You're killing animals, obviously, but also humans: https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/10/08/toxic-tanneries/health-repercussions-bangladeshs-hazaribagh-leather

    Additionally, leather is wasteful: do you know how much water goes into making a pair of leather shoes? About 8000 litres. http://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Hoekstra_and_Chapagain_2006.pdf

    We have have to make our own ethical and consumption choices, but leather is not sustainable. I agree that second-hand is the way to go if you really want leather, but supporting vegan alternatives (no, not cheap PU "pleater) is the best option of all!

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    1. What a gorgeous jacket! Thank you for sharing. I think it's great to support vegan alternatives, but I do like worrying less about the embedded energy in secondhand, plus it keeps already produced clothes out of landfills. Everyone has different priorities though!

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