|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!