Vegan leather is a contentious issue. A lot of people look for vegan leather alternatives due to personal ethics or because they're uncomfortable with the environmental impact from the creation of animal leathers (from agricultural green house emissions, to chemical tanning processes and dyes). However in recent years the environmental footprint of PVC (the most common base for vegan leathers) has pushed people to search for better animal leather alternatives. Here's our thoughts on vegan leather alternatives.
I always thought of leather as the superior choice when picking between animal and vegan leathers, but when I visited a leather shoe factory a few years back and saw the animal hides hanging out to dry I had a very visceral reaction. I'm not sure I'm personally comfortable with the ethical side of leather production, although I do realize and acknowledge there's no perfect vegan leather solution either - as a lot of vegan leathers are either from petro-chemicals (unsustainable), or don't look as sophisticated (some of the stranger vegan leathers e.g. mushroom leather) as animal leather.
Replacing a natural product with a petroleum-based synthetic doesn’t solve anything. It just creates other problems, ethical and environmental. Moreover, fake (“vegan") leather products are typically of the fast-fashion kind, so the whole thing runs counter to the vegan philosophy of conscious consumption.
I personally believe vegetable-tanned animal leathers are the most sustainable option here. When you remove the environmentally damaging tanning process, leather is fundamentally a natural and biodegradable product that can last generations. I personally view sustainability through the lens of long-term wear - so I appreciate materials that manage to be both sustainable in product, and sustainable in their longevity and ability to biodegrade. That being said, the ethical implications of real leather are troubling, and I have a lot of reservations about buying new leather goods knowing the common industry practices and generally choose to purchase any leather goods second hand.
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