Vegan Leather?

I’ve been in the market for some leather Victorian-style boots and found some that are beautiful in their simplicity, based on actual 19th century designs. (No, I’m not quite at that level of skill to make my own. Yet.)

When I opened up one of the descriptions, I discovered that they were made from “vegan leather.” Reading that, I laughed, of course. How could leather from an animal possibly be “vegan”?

That little critter that goes by the name of Curiosity started running on that hamster-wheel in my head.

“What is vegan leather?”

So I looked it up, and found out that it’s just the current trendy branding for “pleather”, or plastic leather. PVC. In other words, fake.

That got me thinking (especially after looking it up and finding that one of the top entries that comes up is for that group that claims to love animals) of the impact of buying and using fake leather. I’m not normally into the habit of bashing on something, even if I have a strong dislike for something, but… I have to say something.

First, it’s a plastic. Which means it’s a chemical, created in a lab and multiplied in factories and sent out to other factories to mass produce other items. Often, the fake leather items are very nearly as expensive as the real leather goods. But here’s what happens. Factories produce a lot of waste. In the case of chemical companies, the waste can be extremely toxic. Granted, places that tan leather can (and unfortunately do) produce toxic outcomes, especially with the chrome-tanned leather. Toxic dumping of any kind harms the environment, where those animals people claim to love actually live. I am sure that’s not what animal lovers intended to do – save the animal but destroy the critter’s home.

Leather tends to be a far more durable product than the fake counterpart. Not only does it last longer, but it also retains the ability to be reconditioned and takes a lot more abuse than the fake leather, which, no matter how well you treat it, becomes brittle and cracks over time.

When the time comes when the leather can no longer recycled, it’s organic material. I wouldn’t recommend tossing it in your compost heap unless you know for certain that the leather is not chrome-tanned or colored with toxic dyes, but, let’s face it – the organic material will break down in a landfill far faster than the plastic leather. So the fake leather products will find their way into the landfills far earlier than a genuine leather counterpart. So how good for the environment and animalkind can “vegan leather” possibly be? And if you’re worried about the cost, consider over time what replacing the fake leather items will cost you, versus the initial cost of the real deal and a small investment in leather-care products.

I have no statistics, so I can’t quote how many tons of “vegan leather” are dumped into landfills, or how much is being produced versus genuine leather production, or which overseas production causes more harm, plastic or leather tanning. What I can say is that I, and many leather artisans like me, don’t mass produce products that are meant to disintegrate over time and force you to come back for replacements. We create one-of-a-kind items from genuine leather, putting care and love into the craft (ask an assembly worker how much they give a darn about one of thousands of plastic leather handbags they assemble) and acknowledging the sacrifice of creature that it once belonged to (in addition to many of the source animals having been used for food). One has only to look to the Native Americans of the plains to see the value in using the whole of the creature as efficiently as possible. “Vegan” leather seems to only serve to line the pockets of those who created it in a factory and have tagged it with a term that will get people buying their chemical-based product instead of genuine leather because it’s labeled “vegan”, all without spending a single brain cell questioning where it really came from and how it is produced.

I can’t help but think that an investment in one good leather item from an artisan is a much better option than in some assembly-line-manufactured, one-of-many. If you can’t bring yourself to use genuine leather, go with cotton, linen, cork. If you need something really rugged, 100% cotton duck canvas isn’t exactly the most comfortable right next to your skin, but it stands up to abuse. But don’t just buy into the hype simply because they brand it with the word “vegan.”*

Oh, and if anyone knows where I can get some reproduction Victorian boots made with genuine leather, I’d be happy to know.

*I have always had a problem with the use of the word “organic”. Frankly, everything we eat is organic, because the word simply means that there’s at least one carbon atom somewhere in the molecule. Organic farming doesn’t always mean healthier farming, but has been hijacked by marketers and ends up meaning “more expensive” for the consumer, but that’s another rant for another time…