Vegan leather pros and cons

Vegan leather pros and cons

{ Some of the leather and vegan leather things I use on a daily basis: Urban Ears headphones, wristband on my watch, Will’s vegan shoes, my grandmother’s handbag, RayBan Sunglasses case }

I have postponed writing this post so many times because I feel that whenever I dig into researching vegan leather pros and cons I’m left with more questions than answers. I still can’t make up my mind about it. I have no idea whether I’m pro or con vegan leather. Let me explain why.

Leather is a by-product of the meat industry and I have researched extensively the consequences of our current meat production and it is absolutely horrifying. If you’re interested in learning more I’d certainly recommend watching Cowspiracy – I don’t agree with all the points the movie is making, but it does ask some very valid questions that I think we really need to consider.

Just as there are problems with the meat industry, there are equally huge amounts of problems with the leather industry, because you see; the thing about leather is; the livestock industry uses up huge resources of energy, water and land and produces high levels of methane. It requires a lot of chemicals and various processes to change a hide into beautiful leather products and a lot of these are not environmentally friendly. Furthermore, the chemicals are dangerous for the people in the production and so there’s a whole human rights and workers wellbeing question to be asked as well.

There are more environmentally friendly production methods such as using vegetable dyes and recycled leather and I love the quality of good leather products; they are durable and I’ve had many of my favourite leather bags for years and they only get better with time. I’ve talked about the pros and cons of leather before and it still resonates with me that if you eat the animal you should use the hide. But as I’m vegetarian and don’t eat a lot of dairy either, I thought it was time to look into some alternatives.

There are different kinds of textile alternatives I’m personally pretty excited about Pinatex®, which is a leather like material made from pineapple leaves waste. However, PVC and PU are the ones that resembles leather from animals most and also the ones that are most commonly available, so the pros and cons list are based on these.

The pros

  • Vegan leather is cruelty free – no animals were hurt in the process
  • There’s been no toxic tanning process
  • Vegan leather (also known as pleather) is quite affordable
  • Vegan leather can be made in some qualities and colours leather can’t provide 

The cons

  • Vegan (synthetic) leather is essentially plastic; it’s a microfiber that’s made from petroleum = oil, which is a non-renewable resource.
  • To transform oil into vegan leather requires chemicals,
  • Depending on where the products are produced there can also be a concern for the people in the production of vegan leather.
  • Synthetic leather such as PVC is not breathable – think sweaty, stinky feet.
  • The quality can vary making vegan leather less durable.
  • PVC and PU can’t biodegrade. It breaks into smaller and smaller (plastic) pieces.
  • Vegan leather doesn’t give as leather does (which for me is a big con when it comes to shoes)

The alternatives you should look for and the questions you should ask

So, leather is bad, and vegan leather is bad. Are we never supposed to buy new shoes again you might ask? Well, the most sustainable choice obviously would be not to. But, a girl’s gotta have shoes, right? Here’s what I do when I look for shoes these days:

  1. I ask myself whether I really need them – painful question I know.
  2. I stay away from PVC and PU – because no one needs more plastic in their lives.
  3. Can I find any made from any of these materials; especially Pinatex®
  4. Which material is going to be most durable for what I need the shoes for? I still lean towards good quality leather boots for winter, but my sneaks can definitely be made from cotton.
  5. If choosing leather shoes, I make sure they are vegetable tanned or made from recycled or upcycled leather products.
  6. Are these good quality? Will the vegan or the leather shoes last me longer? – Durability is so important in my eyes.

What do you think about vegan leather? Do you swear by it as an alternative to animal leather? Or are you like me, a little confused about what’s the more sustainable choice?

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Hella Lynggaard

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