Textile

Is vegan leather evil?

Kim Gerlach

Sustainable fashion and choosing the right alternative is a complex battlefield these days. Slow fashion has evolved into a whole industry and brands are following a green strategy. Many positive things are happening, which I truly support, but consumers are somewhat being left alone to form an opinion and educate themselves. It’s a hassle deciding to do something good.

Pineapple leather, recycled polyester, lab-grown materials and much more. It makes me wonder:

WHY DO WE MAKE IT THIS DIFFICULT TO CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT THING?

With the great example of my new leather backpack, I am outlining four crucial buying decisions:

  • 1. VEGAN IS NOT ALWAYS A NATURAL ALTERNATIVE.
  • 2. WEARING A PET BOTTLE SOUNDS SUSTAINABLE BUT IT’S KINDA NOT.
  • 3. MATERIAL INNOVATION NEEDS TIME.
  • 4. ASK YOUR GRANDMA ABOUT LONGEVITY.

1. VEGAN IS NOT ALWAYS A NATURAL ALTERNATIVE.

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When I started my journey with sustainable fashion, I discovered the whole world of newly produced slow fashion items. From organic cotton to recycled bottles, - there was a vast amount of things I had to learn. Vegan fashion slowly came into the picture shortly after. According to PETA, vegan leather is any material that has the look of actual leather without using animal skin as a source. The most used substitute is polyurethane, a polymer, a plastic. Our plastic consumption is an immense polluter of our oceans and harming all marine life. Follow me closely, because I’m making a big jump now. Here’s a fact: Our oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish by 2050, says the Ellen McArthur Foundation.

Vegan leather is not always the most natural and environmental-friendly substitute. In fact, many brands misuse the positive connotation of 'vegan’ to sell their synthetic items through a greener strategy. All the sudden, low-quality plastic boots are more sustainable because they’re labelled ‘vegan’.

2. WEARING A PET BOTTLE SOUNDS SUSTAINABLE BUT IT’S KINDA NOT.

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There are many alternatives to leather these days. Pineapple leather, mushroom leather, seaweed proteins and many more. The fact is, that most innovations have not been on the market long enough to be analysed in long-term studies for durability.

And the main reason to not yet trust these items is my personal experience. I’ve worn shoes from pineapple leather for a day and returned them. I didn’t want to wear them any longer. The material didn’t breathe and thus my feet were the stinkiest I’ve ever had. Sure, cork and such are great alternatives, but some materials just need some more time in order to be long-lasting.

Leather, on the other hand, has been keeping human bodies warm and covered since the stone ages. Since at least 3600 BC (is what Wikipedia tells me), humans have tanned leather to make them into wearables. A process that has been changed throughout the centuries but kept alive until the 21st century.

It’s durable, breathable and a great choice because of the following and final point:

4. ASK YOUR GRANDMA ABOUT LONGEVITY.

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Trust me, she’d know. Leather is simply lasting long. It’s been used for centuries and items can survive generations.

And here is a little anecdote.

I’ve just recently received a leather weekender my father used when I was younger. It’s mine now and funnily enough, also from Harold’s. Back then their logo was different and the inner lining reveals a little retro touch.  But yes, this weekender has survived the last 30 years. The sturdy material has allowed my father to take it places. And that’s what I will do with my backpack too. So far, it’s seen Sweden and Germany and will be able to be taken to Berlin Fashion Week in January 2019 and Spain for a relaxing holiday.


WHY I CHOSE HAROLD’S BACKPACK.

The cute cattle is free roaming in Colombia. The Germany label has a long history of working with the Columbian family-owned facility and they have in fact produced leather items for almost 9 decades. All items are vegetable-tanned which does not use chromium. Since last winter, I am only buying leather items that are free of chromium, a very harmful chemical used in the process of tanning the skins.

The company breathes ‘form follows function’. Most items are timeless and produced with such a quality, that I can trust the item to last longer than a decade. This is a very slow approach to fashion. A company that maintains long relationships with their suppliers, cares about the animals within the production and gives the workers more than employment. The women in Colombia are paid above average and get a fair wage.

Thank you Harold’s and Katharina from Kern Consulting. I’ve been wearing your backpack since September. I’m looking forward to make my new backpack my lifelong companion. Find this product and many others here.

Originally published December 18th, 2018 in contribution to Harold’s, a backpack brand using leather.