As many call it now, Vegan Leather, AKA Plastic Masquerading or Pleather, was once just considered a cheap knock-off of the practical and long-lasting leather alternative. Now, vegan leather is a trend that many are regaling as an animal-friendly alternative to leather. This rebranding is remarkable in a marketing sense. However, there is a dark side of this material couched in all the positive (and very sellable) aspects. Pleather is made mainly of fossil fuel products. Its popularity on the rise, and it’s short shelf life (pleather is far from durable) is wasting a natural gas resource that is already waning and rapidly packing our landfills.
Veganism and vegan culture are often made fun of in our society. Still, for the most part, the message and purpose are positive, despite the sanctimoniousness that unfortunately follows more often than not. However, with this one, a mark has been missed. Besides the landfill issue, vegan leather has also caused many farming or indigenous communities and small businesses to lose significant revenue from declining leather sales. While mass-produced leather isn’t ethical, many farming small enterprises and communities try to use every part of each animal they kill, for meat, leather, and other items, which shows that vegan leather isn’t the only community that cares. As Alden Wicker’s article, titled “Eco-fashion’s Animal Rights Delusion,” argues, it is dangerous to conflate vegan with sustainability or eco-friendliness. This perspective is because materials used in vegan fashion fall apart quickly because many companies sell products that, while technically vegan, are just plastic or petroleum products that are cheap and will degrade rapidly beyond wearability (but far from environmentally safe levels). Rayon is one such material, and it is so toxic, it is not even produced in the US, as explained on the Patagonia website. Polyurethane is the material found most commonly in pleather, and the chemical runoff created by the production of polyurethane is highly toxic. Solvents and fumes from this process can cause asthma, significant lung issues, vomiting, and severe migraines. So while vegan leather may not be sourced from livestock, it still harms the environment and the animals that live within it; they just happen to be voiceless and have less of a community advocating for them.
Proper leather has long been a point of contention in fashion, linked to the controversial company of fur and silk; the primary complaint is that cows and other livestock have to suffer for the material’s production. Unfortunately, that complaint is valid. Leather is often inhumanely sourced. Today, most leather comes from India or China, where the cattle are often forced to walk miles upon miles in terribly hot conditions. Some animals are even skinned alive due to improper stunning processes, according to One Green Planet.
Photo credit: India Yaffe – Popsugar.comReading this article, you may feel caught between a rock and a hard place. “What are we supposed to wear?” you may ask. The answer: thrift, vintage leather, or leather verified to be ethically sourced. This has many benefits: you can support local or online small businesses, no animals were harmed in the making of this clothing, and you can save a bunch of cash! I don’t believe in buying new leather (jackets, wallets, or handbags) if I can avoid it; most of mine come from friends, relatives, or thrift stores in the area. I would buy from more indigenous farming communities, but in the city, those are far and few between.