These last couple of months I had the opportunity to talk with vegan people, who quite drastically believe in this cause. I should say that it is always a pleasure for me to discuss and argue about hot topics like this one, as I can confront and question my opinion.
How can we consider that vegan leather is better than leather? How can we think that plastic and chemical fabrics in general are better than leather overall? Why people believe so? Why faux leather or pleather are not good alternatives to fur or leather for our shoes and stuff?
There is a believe in the “vegan world” and especially in the mind of the newcomers that “vegan” equal ethical, sustainable, eco-friendly… but it is not that easy, and solely partially true.
To be clear, I am not going to say that killing animals for our pleasure and fashion sins is legitimate and alright. And of course, the tortures of those fur animals we can hear about are outrageous and disgusting, but I hardly accept the statement that “vegan fashion is right” either, or let’s say is perfect like some brands or people try to make us believe.
I will attempt to explain why.
What about the lasting quality of the product? Some of the vegan garments we can find today are surely “vegan” but are not built to the same standard of quality than some “normal” garments stamped “nothing”. Then it appeared to me important to question the waste it can create after all. Can we consider fair for the environment to make clothes which no any animal has been killed for, yet clothes filled up with chemicals which will end up in fields rapidly? So it seems to me that vegan fashion tends to focus on the cute fur animals and not so much on the people who make the clothes and provide the fabrics.
Can the wellbeing of animals can become more important than the workers behind the scene and the environment? Thus, to be understood vegan is not the same story than sustainable or environmentally-friendly.
At this point vegan fashion give me the impression of being a marketing artifice that many brands use today to attract customers…
But let’s focus on vegan shoes for a bit, as for the rest of the outfit we can buy natural fibres. Many good initiatives are on the market or are coming, and they are assuredly vegan and ethical like the vegan shoes Veerah, made out of apple peels, which I think is a brilliant idea but vegan-friendly does not mean “earth-friendly”, and it is what let me sceptical.
Most fake leather or pleather are made from plastic or materials of the same kind. But the worse is that the most frequently used are PVC and polyurethane which are two of the nastiest.
The other issue we can point with fake leather (that I mentioned already above) is its short lifespan. It goes to trash so much faster that our old traditional leathers.
You remember those shoes that lasted 10 years (with some help of the shoemaker of course), and this coat your mother loved, and you not so much, that she still has in her wardrobe… this is over, it cannot happen with fake leather!
And the icing on the cake is that this leatherette which you could keep maximum one year and a half because it was all damaged already… This leatherette, itself will never die, in other words go back to earth. This leatherette will be a waste and will hurt Earth forever. Because PVC is not degradable so basically it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and this to infinitely small pieces.
Some of you while reading might object that PVC or polyurethane are not the only options to create alternatives from “traditional” leather because you can use in addition to apple peels, pineapple waste as well as cotton or cork, but it is still rarely used and these plastics, just mentioned, are the most widely used.
Alright, this is about the PVC products, but did you think of rayon, acrylic and polyester, which your last t-shirt is 100% of, because you wanted to replace silk and those fabrics are a good cruelty-free alternative. Plus, it is touted by PETA, so it is for sure that you are doing something good for the wellbeing of animal life. Yet you are still harming creatures, but those ones are less soft and less visible – it is the creatures in the oceans.
Let’s explain how those materials are made. “To make rayon, you have to crop a big number of trees or bamboo, shred and churn them into small pieces, dissolve the wood bits in a soup of carbon disulphide, then send these barrels of viscous glop to a factory to be spun into semi-synthetic fibres.” The labours who are often unprotected and so exposed to the smokes released during the process frequently suffer from nervous system problems and have a high risk of stroke and heart illness. Moreover, in order to increase the risk for the labours, human-beings and ecosystem in general, factories in countries like India or China discard the polluting residues straight into the water streams.
So at first sight, those brands might look friendlier to fur animals but many of them do not do anything to protect wild animals and oceans which may be endangered. These petroleum-based fibres contaminate marine species. Surely those species might not be the cutest, and you have probably not heard about them, but they are still animals – and should one type of animal predominate on another one?
This article could go on and on as I am doubtful about these vegan label slapped onto clothes, and because I have seen too many “new vegans” giving privilege to a PVC pair of shoes thinking it is a good gesture for the planet.
However before to finish, I think one last thing needs to be mentioned. Many brands might theoretically be vegan, but it is still fast fashion with a suspect origin and a cheap garment made somewhere in Asia which will shred by itself and be thrown away after a year or so and finish on a land field somewhere – we do not know where. Something plastic is not ethical or eco-friendly so it is not vegan as vegan should be. Brands which use this “vegan label” in those circumstances are simply trying to make even more money by fooling their customers.
Apart of that, unfortunately for the moment no any kind of leather is truly “green” or cruelty-free. An industrial tanning process is harmful for the workers and the environment. Nevertheless, if you are really into leather one of the best choices from my point of view would still be a “traditional” good quality leather product, from a company which try to be as cruelty-free and eco-friendly as possible, and with an appropriate care, it will last for a lifetime.
But, my best option, if you cannot resist would be to think second-hand animal products, and if you don’t like 100% the shape of it (and it is not a bag) do some alterations or go to a tailor to make it done.
And remember always quality over quantity, and the most important it is to make a change one step at a time, we are not perfect but to try is already a good thing 🙂