Leather versus vegan leather – which one is more sustainable? Which one is “better” if any at all!? This is what I want to discuss in today’s post.
I am eating a vegan diet since 5 1/2 years now, however, I am not living a 100% vegan lifestyle. Leather is one of the things I am still wearing! Yes, this is true… it doesn’t make me happy, truely not. However, my experiences with non-leather items have been pretty bad throughout the past 5 1/2 years.
But before telling more about my own experiences, I want to give a little overview of how leather is produced, how vegan leather is produced and which ones are the most sustainable ones, when it comes to the production chain!
What’s the problem with leather?
Leather is derived from the skin of dead animals, most often made from cow hide, and raising cattle contributes to a host of problems. It takes a significant amount of land for animals to graze on; they need to be fed, which means even more land and resources are used in order to create the feed.
When the animal is killed and it’s skin is taken off the rest of the body, the next step is tanning!
The process of tanning leather is incredibly toxic. Most conventional leather is chrome tanned, which results in carcinogenic chromium (VI) being pumped into the water table. While many factories in Europe and America can no longer get away with this practice, the same cannot be said of the vast leather industry in China – where most the fast fashion industry items are made!
However, leather can also be tanned used non-toxic vegetable dyes; vegetable tanning involves using the tannins that naturally occur in certain plants to transform a hide into leather. Commonly used tannins come from trees such as oak. It’s a pretty thirsty process, requiring more water than chrome tanning.
Vegetable-tanned leather is thicker and not as pliable as its chrome-tanned cousin.
What the good thing about leather?
It lasts forever! When treating it the right way, it truely lasts forever!
I have a bag from my when my mother went to university, which is 40 years old – and it still is like new. The same applies to a variety of leather belts that I got from my mother, all around 40-50 years old. My mostworn boots are made from leather and I wear them since 7 years all throughout september-april; and they are still perfect!
The items just last and last and last!
So what about vegan leather?
Vegan leather is basically all the leather alternatives that do not contain animal products. This goes all the way from 100% plastic (PU or PVC) to appleskin-leather, rhubarb leather, pineapple leather, and more. I cannot go into all the details about all the different materials here, however, I can share my experiences with different vegan leather options, most of which are either PU based or cotton based.
And just on a sidenote: that plastic based options do harm to the environment may not be surprising to most of you – it has it’s own environmental pollution problems (with plasticizers etc), between others, it takes far longer to break down and biodegrade compared to natural options, it can release micro plastics when it breaks down, and making faux leather from petro chemicals is not sustainable or renewable.
So vegan leather (at least when PU/PVC based) isn’t perfect either when it comes to sustainability. However, it does not harm animals and that is a MAJOR advantage!
Animal farming is the major driver behind global warming, it is polluting our air and our water like nothing else and the environmental impact of it became the main reason for I chose to eat a vegan diet!
Now, I would ALWAYS choose vegan alternatives over animal based alternatives – if they would lat equally long!
However, this is not the case!
As I wrote above, leather lasts forever. I am testing myself through vegan options since 5 1/2 years now and I get disappointed again and again and again. My husband bought 6 different pairs of vegan shoes in the past 5 years!!!! This is A LOT!
A lot of ressources have been used to produce those shoes, a lot of water has been used for the cotton and/or PU or PVC, and even when the shoes were made from recycled materials – it still is a lot of WASTE that we produce by throwing out a pair of shoes every single spring.
This is SO frustrating! We’ve been buying shoes from only fair and ethical brands, the price of the shoes we bought in the past years varies from 120€ to 230€ – and NONE of them lastest longer than a Winter season on my husband’s feet… all while he can still wear his leather sneakers from 10 years ago – the same he wore on our first date 😀
I’ve been experiencing the same with my vegan shoes – even if they do not fall apart to the extent my husband’s shoes does (mainly because I wear more than one pair per season so each pair is worn less overall), they simply do not look good even after just a couple of months.
You can take the picture above as an example – if those golden sneakers would be made from leather, you would be able to make the scratches dissappear very easily. However, it is a cotton-blend and there is not way to get the shiny gold back underneath the scratches.
So what is my take of vegan leather and animal based leather?
I am SO frustated!
And I do not know any answer!
For me and my husband vegan leather did not work out in the past more than five years. I am not willing to throw away shoes every single year and to buy new ones every other season. So for next winter, my husband will probably get some leather shoes again – simply because he wants shoes that last longer than a season.
And yet, we feel so bad about wearing dead animals’s skin on our feet! It’s nothing we want to support in any way. But we do not want to support a consumerism in which we throw away items after five-6 months to buy new ones either.
I personally wish for more labels that work with recycled leather. Leather that is already out there anyway – so that no animals need to be harmed and so that I can get some shoes for myself and my hubby that last us ten years – because only items that last at least that long are truly sustainble. At least this is what I believe!
And now I am looking forward to read what you think on this discussion!