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let's talk... vegan leather

hey friends…

before we embark on our journey to learn more about vegan leathers

let’s start with transparency

i am a product developer by trade

in bags, small leather goods, tech cases, and footwear

long story short, i have a 15+ year history of making dope shit with leather, faux leathers, and textiles

i am biased

my bias is towards leather

i’m not against leather substitutes

but i definitely prefer natural leather for many reasons

not only the natural beauty of leather

but also its long lifespan and durability

that being said

i have also personally given up eating beef and pork over the last few years

i've also drastically reduced my dairy consumption

that was a personal decision i made for my own health

i eat vegetarian and vegan dishes fairly often as well

i am weary of meat-like alternatives

same as with materials, i am very weary of alternatives for leather

taking all of that into account, let’s explore…

being more conscious of what we purchase is the purpose of capsule wardrobing

if we can be more eco-friendly, that is a bonus

vegan leather and plant based leathers are increasingly popular as a way to be more eco-friendly


goods made with leather alternatives should be something we at least consider adding to our capsules

capsule wardrobing in itself is a eco-friendly consumption practice

lowering your overall consumption reduces your overall waste

also, we encourage buying and selling gently used items

when purchasing new items, buying high quality goods

and when your tastes changes

donating those high quality goods to friends, family, and/or charity so they can be reused or recycled

so what is a sustainable material?

it's such a buzzword and honestly, extremely overused

let’s explore what a sustainable material actually is

the purpose of sustainable materials is to reduce or eliminate the depletion of natural, non-renewable resources; reduce or eliminate harm to the environment; and, eliminate socially irresponsible, and unethical labor practices

sustainable leathers for accessories, footwear, and even jewelry, are divided into three categories:

- animal leather

- vegan leather

- plastic-free vegan leather

all of these with different levels of sustainability

first, let’s discuss animal leather

with the trend of millennials and younger folx consuming less animal meat and dairy

you would think the consumption rates would drop dramatically enough to disrupt leather production

but they have not

the majority of the united states still eats the types of animal meat that yields leather skins

and consumes animal dairy

so with that said, the meat and diary industries are going nowhere anytime soon


animal hides are not the main purpose of raising these animals, they are a co-product of an already unsustainable industry

sadly, animal hides will end up as waste if not used by the leather industry

but the leather industry is no superman

they aren't coming to the rescue

the leather industry yields billions of dollars yearly

bovine hides are a huge export for the united states

most hides used for european, south american, and asian leathers are purchased from the united states

if made into quality goods, they can last for years, possibly generations, before they end up as waste

that durability does add tremendously to the sustainability of leather

let's level set

the meat, leather, and dairy industries are terrible for the environment

this is fact

there is no disputing that

how to make natural leather more sustainable?

limit the amount of leather good production to only the skins produced by the meat industry

using ethical practices to finish the leather for use by socially ethical tanneries

as the meat consumption reduces, so should the amount of available skins

unfortunately, that may increase the cost of leather…

le sigh

but it will be better for the environment

unfortunately, another hitch

there is no direct way for a customer to know if natural leather is finished ethically

you can tell a bit by the price

ethical finishing is more expensive, therefore goods tend to be more expensive

and you can ask the brands directly if their leather uses ethical tanning methods

hopefully they tell the truth

chrome finished leathers are the most popular

these tend to be used in lower priced leather goods and mass market leather goods

chrome finished leathers are very harmful to the environment

chromium is used to finish the leather and creates an incredible amount of harmful waste

hard to avoid, but you can be mindful

a layman’s trick to find out if a leather is finished naturally or synthetically, is to smell the leather

i know


but leather should actually smell like an animal, not like chemicals, rubber, or metal

or without a smell at all

it should have a smell

leather should also wear in over time

it should age gracefully

if years have passed, and your product shows no signs of wear and tear

it’s probably finished using less sustainable methods

to solve this dilemma

and frankly to counteract the loss of market share caused by the influx of vegan leather

several brands have partnered with leather suppliers to make leather hide processing more sustainable

many tanneries are now audited by the “leather working group” and meet a standard for energy, water use, emissions, chemical input, and traceability of their supply chain

even non-vegetable tanning are moving to more sustainable tanning methods

using less chrome and heavy metal reduced or heavy metal free

my suggestion?

invest in high quality vegetable or responsibly tanned goods

also, to follow your capsule wardrobe parameters and principles

if your leather goods are properly maintained

your items can last practically forever, and be reused by multiple parties, which sustainable, right?


the second option

(which is so popular that i’m writing a whole article about it, is…)

vegan leather!!!

duh duh duh


leather like material not using animal skins has been labeled, in the last few years, as vegan leather

a few years prior, this was called faux leather, a few years prior, it was called something far less attractive


the vegan leather industry is slated to be as large as the natural leather industry within this decade

like faux fur, you will not be harming animals

there are other concerns, however

if your top concern is harming animals, then vegan leather is completely fine

if your top concern is not harming the environment or a mix of the two

well then

houston! we have a problem!

similar environmental issues exist in vegan leather as in natural leather

so if we save all of the animal skins, great


the mere creation of vegan leather using plastics and chemicals to mimic the appearance of natural leathers, is just as harmful for the environment


synthetic materials and synthetic material waste from clothing and accessories are a main source of plastic ocean pollution

the production of a very common vegan leather is called pvc (polyvinyl chloride) is extremely harmful

pvc is not biodegradable

pvc is made using fossil fuels

pvc has an extremely negative impact on our air, soil, and water

when you consider the negative impact on the environment


vegan leather is not more sustainable than natural leather

it’s pretty even actually

especially, if looking at leather production separate from meat production

these materials should NOT be marketed as eco-friendly, or biodegradable

beyond the chemicals, fossil fuel, metals, and plastics used to actually make the leather

for those vegan leathers on the worst end of the spectrum

the materials are cheaply made

and will end up in landfills and will emit toxins to the earth, air, and water when they begin to decay

buyer beware for low quality faux leathers

there are reused alternatives to natural leather that are also being marked sustainable

many using recycled unsustainable materials

unfortunately, unless they can be re-recycled, they are harmful to the environment when finally discarded

that being said

i personally would buy a vegan leather item over a natural leather item under one circumstance

when that leather is so heavily tanned, and treated with chemicals and plastic

that it no longer has the characteristics of leather

like a patent leather or saffiano

which is pretty much vegan leather anyway based on the amount of plastic used

and don’t beat me up in the comments

yes, some bags promoted in the 5/1 blog post are made with vegan leather

i am fully aware

if you purchase a vegan leather bag, using the principles and parameters of capsule wardrobing, it is STILL more sustainable than purchasing a fast fashion, low quality, vegan leather item

telfar and other brands promoted fit that bill

because of the environmental impact

again, please use your principles and parameters to chose the best product for you

a product that will be used for multiple seasons for multiple formulas

sustainability is not only in production, but also consumption, and waste

i'm not pushing you to avoid it vegan leather

i certainly have not

but be mindful in purchasing large amounts of low quality vegan leather products that are not durable

if you are replacing the items often and cannot transfer usage, but have to throw out

that is the opposite of sustainable, and, against capsule wardrobe parameters and principles

lastly, the most sustainable alternative

something that is being developed at warp speed at the moment…