Using leather is considered just as bad as using fur so why hasn’t the fashion industry fully embarked on eliminating leather and why aren’t they focusing all their forces on sourcing quality vegan leather instead? The fashion industry is becoming much more ethical but the issue of leather is a complicated one at that. Why is the move to vegan leather taking so long?
When Natalie Portman followed in the footsteps of Stella McCartney and decided to embark on a shoe line made of vegan leather, she was met with utmost disaster closing shop after a few months only. Natalie Portman’s vegan leather line, was created with the best of intentions as Portman simply wanted to create an affordable animal-friendly line of shoes because it was something she personally looked for and she felt there was some shortage in the market in that regards. That was back in 2008.
Had Portman debuted this collection today do you think that would’ve made a difference? I think it would! The fashion industry today is on a drive towards sustainability and all brands are adopting eco-friendly measures; a number of brands have taken a stand against the use of fur and have banned it from their collections. Brands such as Burberry, Versace, Gucci, Michael Kors, and Stella McCartney among others.
Another step taken by Chanel this time, was to ban the use of exotic skins in their products. Many conservationist groups criticised this step and for them the use of calfskin and lambskin is much worse than using exotic skins which they feel are more sustainable than other types of leather. The first vegan fashion week, however, is another positive step in the right direction. It took place in February of this year in Los Angeles to promote cruelty-free fashion and to encourage and inspire more brands to follow suit.
If you’re a person who believes that animals shouldn’t be used for their meats and skins then the choice is obvious for you in terms of eliminating leather. However the alternatives are limited and many believe that vegan leather is basically plastic. But leather is so embedded in our lives that it’s hard to untangle ourselves from it, the only way to encourage people to ditch their leather is to appeal to their sense of humanity. Just think of how animals are getting abused and killed for their skins. Calf and lamb skins are more valuable than their meats which means that they’re being farmed solely for their skins; many luxury brands own farms to safely secure their needs. No need to imagine the horrors there!
However, it’s not just an animal’s rights issue, it’s also an environmental issue given the fact that leather requires the process of tanning that softens the leather and makes it easier to craft. Tanning requires the use of chromium which is an environment hazard that not only causes many illnesses but also gets dumped in the form of liquid, sludge or solids. Vegetable tanning on the other hand, is an eco-friendly alternative to regular tanning.
Recent solutions to solve the problem of leather is a trend called waste-to-leather or waste-to-fabric, where many startups are addressing the problem of waste and turning it into viable wearable options that are 85% biodegradable. The shoe company Veja used cotton canvas that was waxed with a corn-based waste lacquer that feels just like leather. Modern Meadow is one of the most promising because they grow leather in labs that looks and feels so close to real leather. Bottom line; if you feel the need to do your part then you should know that vintage and upcycled leathers are your best options. Otherwise look for leather that has been vegetable tanned, preferably cow leather and believe it or not but exotic skins – despite their hefty price tags – but they’re among the most durable and sustainable of leathers. Go figure!