As a vegan (or even as a vegetarian) it’s a no-brainer to want to avoid leather products, regardless of how they were made and who they’re made of. It’s required for us to use sustainable materials. It’s amazing that brands are now starting to both bring out new vegan lines (see Dr Martens and New Look) as well as label their existing lines more clearly (see Topshop/M&S). But is supporting these capitalist exploits into the rise of veganism the best possible way for us to nurture a sustainable fashion movement?
Granted, at the heart of all this lies the issue of fast fashion – but let’s not bite off more than we can chew. Recap on our previous fast fashion blog post if you like! We don’t want you to be disappointed when you get to the end of all this, so we’ll say it now: the best thing to do is to stop worrying so much about what’s on trend, and wear that outfit until there’s nothing left.
But anyway, we’ll go into the knock-on effects further another time. Today the focus is more on the direct impact that your choices can have on animals (and humans).
Is pleather really better?
What’s so bad about leather then? Here’s how to shut down anyone who says it’d go to waste if we didn’t ‘put it to good use’. Firstly cows are extremely affectionate. Often compared to big dogs. Yes, they really do play fetch it’s the cutest thing! They also connect unbreakable bonds with not only humans but other animals too. Jane Goodall explains that ‘farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.‘ Cows go through extreme abuse for leather. Their bodies mutilated without pain relief and cooped up in trucks for days on end.
Moreover, leather cannot be classified among the sustainable materials. Indeed, leather is terrible for workers. The manufacturing process of leather exposes workers to toxic chemicals for hours at a time. These chemicals are used to stop cow corpses from rotting and are absolutely awful for the environment. Imagine the smell of rotting flesh waste which has been dumped in residential water systems! With contaminated water, workers are left with painful skin blisters. Is leather really worth all of this?
We’ll talk about secondhand/vintage leather another time because this can cause a lot of debate. However let’s get on the topic of pleather, is it really better? A typical ‘vegan’ alternative to leather, pleather is unfortunately not so cute. The most common are PU (polyurethane), or PVC (polyvinyl chloride), both of which are essentially plastic. PVC is made from highly toxic chemicals such as chlorine and petroleum. Neither of which are exactly environmentally friendly. The biggest problem with pleather is that it has a relatively short lifespan; it is also not biodegradable. Though it breaks down it will ultimately end up in the environment as a waste product. Plastic truly lasts forever.
Plastic pleather isn’t the only alternative out there. There’s leather like products made from the likes of cork, cotton and pineapple. However all must be considered before buying as unfortunately nothing these days is completely guilt-free. Before we waffle on about all the leather look alternatives out there. Why not check out this list of “8 Innovative Eco-Friendly Leather Alternatives”
Fur vs faux fur:
So what about fur? We all know fur is bad. Many, not just vegans, wouldn’t touch fur with a bargepole. How does it differ from leather? Probably because it closely resembles our furry friends. A leather jacket is far more popular than a fur one, agreed? Majority of animals used for fur are farmed. Typically including: rabbits, foxes, chinchillas, raccoons, beavers and lynxes. Fur farms are cruel, it’s that simple. Animals kept in very small cages, causing extreme emotional and physical stress. How do they get the animals there in the first place? Often the animals are bred on farms to live in cages, however fur traps are also used. ‘Traps don’t only trap animals suitable for fur. Up to 50% of trapped animals are discarded as “trash animals” This includes many domestic cats and dogs‘ – Vegan Peace.
We’re about to get a little gruesome so your discretion is advised. There are many different methods used to kill the animals without damaging their fur. Smaller animals are put into boxes and poisoned. Whereas larger animals mouths are clamped and often electrocuted through the anus. Commonly used on fur farms: gassing, neck-snapping and decompression chambers. If this isn’t horrific enough, not all of these methods are 100% effective. So animals might still be alive whilst skinned. We could rant about fur for days but to us there is no excuse for this kind of animal cruelty. All for the sake of a fur coat? No thanks.
Why not a faux fur coat instead? Similarly to pleather, faux fur is typically made up of polyester or acrylic fibres. Which could take up to 500+ years to biodegrade as ‘synthetic microfibers, tiny pieces of polyester, acrylic, or rayon that wash into our water systems every time we (or a clothing manufacturer) put a synthetic piece of clothing in the wash‘- Refinery. As we said, we shall revisit the topic of vintage leather and fur. However if you must buy animal products, ALWAYS buy them secondhand.
What’s up with wool?
Vegans also avoid wool, as it’s an animal product from sheep. Again, everyone can rest assured that sheep don’t need to be shorn. Our rather wooly friends don’t like their coats being taken. Let us tell you, Shaun the sheep would not be happy.
Natural sheep, like the wild Dall Sheep don’t need any help. They grow just enough wool to protect themselves in the winter and to keep cool in the summer. They will also shed their winter coat all by themselves! So why do we take their coats? Unfortunately domesticated sheep don’t get a chance to shed themselves.
To prevent flies laying eggs to turn to maggots, an ‘operation’ is performed called mulesing: large strips of flesh are cut from the backs of lambs and around their tails. Bearing in mind this is all done without the use of anesthesia. Sheep are also sheared far too early. Well before they would naturally shed their winter coats. Shearing too late would mean a loss of wool. ‘An estimated one million sheep die every year of exposure after premature shearing‘ – Vegan Peace. So next time you go to buy that woolly jumper imagine a sheep staring you right in the face saying, “please don’t take my coat I’m cold”
Silk ain’t all that:
Oh, and if any of you are boujie enough to be thinking about investing in silk undies and a matching handkerchief, then listen up. Silk is a natural fibre produced by the silkworm. A wiggly worm?! If that hasn’t put you off, then maybe the fact that silk is literally a continuous thread of solidified worm saliva will. Silk is harvested from the larvae of the silk moth: Bombyx mori. So in other words, it’s baby worms.
Sadly there are no longer wild silk moths; they are all farmed in captivity. Due to extensive farming silk moths have evolved into flightless creatures, their large round bodies cannot be supported by their now shrunken wings. Soberingly still, they only live up to one week so for the manufacturing of silk, their sole purpose is to breed. Females can lay up to 500 eggs which hatch into silkworms. The silkworms secrete a liquid from two glands on their heads – silk saliva. This secretion is the single, continuous thread known as raw silk. Once the entire process is complete, the cocoon is placed into boiling water to kill the developing moth before it can emerge and destroy it. This isn’t much of an existence if you ask us!
We’re sorry for all the doom and gloom – we promise it’s not all bad out there. Here’s what you CAN wear to eliminate cruelty and also reduce your carbon footprint. As we said nothing will be completely guilt free. There will almost always be some sort of impact. We are humans. However we can lessen that impact by wearing more eco-friendly fabrics. We’ve raved about shopping secondhand and reusing old clothing. However if you must buy new here’s a un-comprehensive list of the most sustainable materials.
Organic Cotton is one of the most common sustainable materials. It is considered environmentally sustainable and grown without chemicals. As a material cotton requires far less water than wool to produce. Extremely soft to the touch, cotton is easier to wash than wool and fast drying. However it is important to buy fairtrade cotton to ensure cotton pickers are paid a fair wage.
Linen is lightweight and durable becoming softer and stronger the more it’s used. It easily releases moisture making it perfect to wear in humidity. Absorbing up to 20% of its weight in moisture before it feels damp.
Seaweed is just cool. You guys know we love seaweed at vegums HQ. To create SeaCell fibres, dried seaweed is ground, crushed, and mixed with cellulose. The use of brown algae has been proven to remineralise the skin, activate cell regeneration, limit inflammation and soothe skin irritation. Seacell also has detoxification properties – no more fabric itch!
You’ve gotten love hemp. Ideal for organic farming, hemp grows well without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Hemp fabric is also completely biodegradable so you can’t get more natural than this. Pure plant power! Hemp has a great texture and breath-ability. No nasty bacteria growth and it doesn’t trap heat either.
Soya fabric, also known as ‘vegetable cashmere‘, is an eco-friendly, petrochemical-free material made from a by-product of soya-bean processing. It has the softness and lustre of silk, the drape and durability of cotton, and the warmth and comfort of cashmere.
Lyocell is manufactured from wood pulp – which is pretty neat! Completely biodegradable the fabric is recyclable, and naturally wrinkle-free. It is soft, drapes well, and can be washed, dyed, and even woven to mimic the qualities of silk, suede, leather, moleskin, or wool.