If you follow me on Instagram, you know that a few weeks ago I announced that I would no longer be featuring new leather items on my blog. I wanted to dig into that a bit and talk about why, and also share my first vegan leather shoe purchase with all of you.
Please note: I have tried to keep this post topline in regards to discussion of animal cruelty, however, some content may be disturbing or triggering.
Having dabbled in vegetarianism on and off, I embraced a fully plant-based diet in January of this year. It was sort of done on a whim, when my friend and I decided to take on the Veganuary challenge – fully expecting to return to our omnivorous diets when the month was up.
Over the course of the month, I noticed a change in my health. Having long-struggled with severe eczema, eliminating animal products from my diet resolved all of the skin issues I was having – something that the numerous steroid prescriptions from my dermatologist couldn’t manage to do. I had more energy and felt proud to be eating in a way that aligned with my values.
Along with the dietary change came some new perspective, as well. As I became more educated on where my food comes from (especially dairy, which I previously did not realize was such a cruel industry), I also grew highly sensitive to the myriad ways in which animals are exploited for the things we wear.
My decision to give up leather is primarily founded on my increasingly strong belief that animals should not die for our trivial wants, and the sense of sadness and disgust that developed at the thought of wearing the skin of a dead animal. Animals live their own unique lives, and they have just as much of a right to those lives as you and me.
I should note that I didn’t discard all my leather products as I don’t want to be wasteful – save for a leather jacket that I couldn’t stand to put on my body anymore, which I resold. So you’ll continue to see me wear the things I already own. I am also continuing to wear knits derived from animals (such as alpaca) as I continue to slowly and deliberately research and decide what materials align with my values on animal welfare, sustainability and supporting industry in developing communities.
This was also a hard decision from the perspective of looking at my blog as a business, which was a major consideration – as selfish as it sounds. Knowing that many ethical brands use leather in their products, and see it as a natural material, left me worried about alienating some of the brands I have worked with or would like to work with. Ultimately, however, I have billed this blog as one that is about wearing your values. To neglect those values in order to earn brand partnerships would be dishonest to myself, my partners and my readers.
Leather as a byproduct
Image via Pexels
Most people hold the belief that the leather we wear is primarily sourced as a byproduct of the meat industry. This is a myth that makes wearing leather much more palatable. Leather is a profitable industry in and of itself, and some of the softest leather comes from young calves killed solely for the purpose of its production. This byproduct myth also disregards the production of some of the more exotic leathers, such as crocodile.
Leather is not us “making use of the entire animal.” It is a lucrative business. In researching this post, I’ve often come across the statement that a cow’s hide is 10% of her value, making it the most profitable part of her body and worth raising just for the creation of leather. I haven’t been able to substantiate the source for that, but how sad a sentiment regardless of the percentage – a living being’s value is in its hide. And this is what is at the core of my decision. As much as the facts are compelling, it is that pit-in-my-stomach, sick feeling I get when thinking about an animal dying for my shoes or bag that led me to make this change.
I think that because of all this, we will one day view leather the way we now view fur.
“I don’t want to wear things made of plastic.”
This was me. I thought that because I cared about sustainability, I couldn’t wear vegan shoes or bags because they were “made of plastic.”
But I think, deep down, it was also an excuse because I didn’t want to change, to be inconvenienced and have to look harder for products, to have to say no to the things that other people were wearing. I’m admitting to this because I think it is important, if you have ever thought about giving up leather, to ask yourself why you really haven’t yet.
The fault in this plastic argument is that many vegan brands no longer use polyvinylchloride (PVC) in their products, instead favoring the slightly-greener-PU, natural solutions like pineapple or apple leather, and other high-tech materials. I have had some mediocre experiences with some vegan brands using polyurethane (PU), with the bag handles flaking or the material just looking fake. But having taken the time to look harder, there are brands doing great things with PU such as making it in factories where workers are paid fairly, or brands using one of the many other options to craft beautiful and ethically-made (when it comes to people, planet, and animals!) products. Also, I’ve sort of decided I’d rather have a bag that looks fake, if the choice is between that and harming an animal for fashion.
When it comes to the environment, leather is also not a great choice. That isn’t to say vegan options aren’t without their challenges. If you read here, I assume you primarily purchase vegetable-tanned leather and are aware of the issues of leather tanneries in the developing world. If you are not aware, most leather is chrome-tanned, with the waste dumped into nearby waterways because many of the nations where tanneries operate lack the environmental protection laws to prevent such dumping. In Bangladesh, the Buriganga river in Hazaribagh, Dhaka, has been classified as dead, because tannery pollution has killed the fish and plant life. More than five million gallons of toxic waste are released into the river by the tanneries every day.
The production of leather also has dire effects on the people who make our clothes. Working in, or even living near, leather tanneries increases the risk of nasal, lung, testicular, bladder and pancreatic cancers. It also has been linked to fertility issues.
Alright, so you wear vegetable tanned leather? Unfortunately, there are issues there as well. The vegetable tanning process is actually identical to that of chromium tanning – minus the chromium. There are a host of other harmful chemicals involved, and you still have, you know, the whole an-animal-probably-died-for-my-shoes-thing going on. It is great to avoid the effects of chromium…but the benefits of vegetable tanned leather end there.
There is a better way.
You might not care about animals the way I do. You might not be convinced that vegetable tanned leather is all that bad. And you might still be worried about plastic shoes. So if I don’t have you convinced that giving up leather is worth considering based on the above, let’s talk about just how stylish vegan leather is. Because I really believe that vegan leather isn’t just for people who deeply care about a cruelty-free lifestyle (even though we should all care.) It is for everyone who is looking for stylish products. I think this is an area we can all agree on.
Outfit: Jacket: Reformation (old, similar here); Shirt: Free Label; Jeans: Everlane; Boots: Bhava Studio
I recently made my first vegan leather shoe purchase after realizing my black heeled booties were incredibly uncomfortable (I stood for a few hours one day for a workshop and immediately threw them in the donate pile when I got home). I decided it was time to replace them, and so I took the plunge and ordered the Bhava Studio Patti Ankle Boot. They are ethically manufactured in Alicante, Spain, and feature a cork insole and eco-suede lining. Additionally, Bhava’s vegan leathers are free from aromatic amines, PCP, formaldehyde, PVC, phthalates, azo-dyes and chrome.
I wish there were a way for you all to feel these shoes for yourselves through the computer. Any lingering fear I had of vegan leather being “plasticky” has gone out the window. These boots are like butter. Vegan butter, that is.
They are extremely comfortable. The thick, 2-inch heel is comfortable enough for lots of walking, but they can also easily be dressed up thanks to the sleek, almond-shaped toe and front seam. I sized down a size based on the size chart, since I wear a 35 or 36, depending on the brand. They are a little snug on my foot but the length is correct, and I have a feeling they’ll loosen up.
There are so many amazing vegan leather brands I’ve recently discovered and I look forward to sharing them with all of you. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think about leather, vegan leather, (courteously please, I know this is a difficult topic), these boots or any other cruelty-free topics!
Have a great weekend. xx
Life in the Happy says
I’m so glad that you’re informing people of the cruelty that goes on in these industries. It is so sad what is happening and it’s amazing that so many people are becoming aware of the cruelty.
I don’t wear any leather at all but if I wanted to buy something leather-looking it would be a vegan leather!
Great post lovely 🙂
Thank you so much for the kind words and for reading! xx
When I first became a Vegan, 11 years ago, I also had a hard time loving leather alternatives. I didn’t buy new leather goods, but continued to wear many designer leather pieces (as a professional designer, it’s practically required) —a beloved Chloe bag, Isabel Marant leather jackets, etc—but eventually started to see leather for what it actually is: the flesh of another living being. Leather ceased to be “sumptuous” and quickly became repulsive. I gave away over $10,000 worth of goods. Today I happily use canvas/textile bags and shoes ( but am always on the lookout for sustainable non-PVC leather alternatives). The longer I’ve been leather free & Vegan, the more I realize that *we* consumers have been brainwashed into believing that “if it’s legal, it must be okay”. The truth, as you’ve pointed out, is that leather production and the manufacturing of so many goods/products/foods…is horrific for the animal and the planet. And, I’d add—for our souls. Corporations/Industries–including fashion brands– won’t change until we stop buying. Until we stop buying, we’re complicit. Thank you !!!
Thank you so much for sharing and for your thoughtful comment! I totally agree that we need to vote with our wallets, as that also encourages innovation in vegan materials.
Thank you for this wonderful post. I just discovered your blog today via Bhava’s share of your IG. I’m really grateful to have found you. I’ve been seeking ethical, slow fashion resources and have struggled with the leather problem. Your post so thoroughly makes the case for why leather is not as environmentally-sound a decision as people might think at first blush, and I have always wondered if it weren’t “okay” because it was using the whole animal, even though I don’t consume meat or dairy. The whole industry is heartbreaking and I’m so glad there are more designers making stylish vegan options and I think that it’s just as important that fashion bloggers make statements like you have. Thank you for putting it out there, and to your other commenters for their thoughtful additions to the conversation. I’ll be ordering some boots for Bhava and excitedly following you for more ethical and kind fashion inspiration! <3
Thank you so much, Jules, for your kind and thoughtful comment! It’s such a pleasure to meet you and I’m glad this post resonated with you. I was concerned about giving up leather, as I mentioned in this post, but I really believe kind alternatives are the way forward and I want to promote those as much as I can. Looking forward to carrying on the ethical fashion conversation with you in future posts! xx
This is a fantastic, well-written, and thoughtful post. I know it’s been a year since you wrote this, but congratulations on making this decision! It’s so awesome to see people living and dressing according to their values, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on your blog. I came across this post when looking for the Bhava Patti Ankle Booties, and you totally convinced me to get them!
Thanks so much Victoria! I’m glad you found it helpful, and I hope you’ll come back soon! 🙂 Always working on new content.