NOT ALL VEGANS ARE BORN EQUAL.
I wanted to write a piece on how to be true to your vegan beliefs while still expressing your inner fashionista. In the past, veganism has gotten a lot of stick and there’s a stereotype that all vegans go around wearing tie dye and hugging trees. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those things, although I’m no fan of tie-dye, I can understand need to be at one with a Great Oak! My point is that vegans come in all shapes and sizes and they want to express that individuality in their fashion purchases. They are only similar in the shared belief that animals should not be used for any purpose… and it doesn’t stop at what’s on your dinner plate, it applies to fashion too.
Thanks to a long-running PETA campaign, the wearing of fur has been a taboo since the early 90s. Lots of famous fashion brands have released press statements that they’re going fur-free, such as Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Versace, Gucci, Michael Kors, Armani, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs to name but a few.
For the general public though, while they’ve recognised that skinning a cute furry animal for fashion is wrong, they still continue to wear other animal skins. People have no qualms about purchasing and wearing UGG boots made from the skin of a sheep or “luxury” leather gloves made from the chemically treated slink of an unborn calf, cut from his pregnant mother’s stomach at the slaughter house. Nor do they give a second thought to the animal that lived and breathed in this same skin before it became a carry thing for your bits and pieces.
How is wearing leather different to wearing fur?
LEATHER CAN GO FUCK ITSELF TOO.
The vegan leather industry is set to be worth $80bn dollars over the next couple of years, probably for the same reasons that eating a plant-based diet is on the rise; people are waking up and realising that animal agriculture is unsustainable and since the majority of the leather comes from cows that are raised for beef and dairy, it renders the leather industry unsustainable too.
The leather industry is not a byproduct of the meat industry. Cowhide isn’t used because those profiting are concerned about waste and feel they need to use every last part of the cow. The skin of a cow is the most profitable part, accounting for 10% of her total value. It can be more lucrative than the meat industry. To that end, leather is a co-product of the meat industry and therefore is at least equally responsible for the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. This is why, if you’re vegan, leather should be avoided just as much as meat and dairy.
LEATHER DOESN’T COME FROM WHERE YOU’D THINK.
People comfort themselves when they think that their leather shoes were made using the skin of cows that had been slaughtered for meat. Like, it was only going to waste any way, wasn’t it?
The truth is, we don’t actually know where our leather shoes have come from. After all, a garment labelled ‘Italian leather’ only means that the garment was made or finished in Italy. A lot of leather actually comes from India. In case you didn’t know, what happens here is that cows have to endure gruelling trips across the country on foot with no food or water, collapsing and having their tails broken, chilli rubbed into their eyes and being beaten to make them stand and continue the arduous journey. The reason they have to walk so far, is to enter states where slaughter of sacred cows is not illegal.
Once they get there, they’re often slaughtered with blunt instruments or even skinned alive, in front of each other. All of this pain and suffering so that someone can have an overpriced handbag to make themselves feel pretty.
It’s not just the animals that suffer, the workers suffer too. The hides have to be treated with toxic chemicals, because let’s not forget that it is the skin of a dead animal and without that lovely leather smell, it would basically smell of rotting flesh. These chemicals can burn and disfigure the workers, who are often children.
Furthermore, a lot of the leather used in fashion is not from cows at all, especially if it originates in China, it is often from cats and dogs and the western shopper is none the wiser due to mislabelling.
The best thing you can do as a consumer is to boycott leather. There’s nothing more powerful to fashion labels than voting with your dollar.
The good news is that avoiding leather doesn’t mean missing out on your favourite trends. Just like there are vegan alternatives for meat and dairy products, so too are there for designer leather bags.
It sickens me that for years, I was led to believe that seeing the words “genuine leather” embossed onto a miniature cow skin hanging from a shiny new handbag, was a good thing. And it sickens me that an animal gave their life, no, had their life taken from them, for some shoes that someone will absent-mindedly toss aside because they’re bored of them.
The society we live in nowadays, thanks to high street stores, means that clothes are so inexpensive, that you could afford to throw them away and buy a whole new wardrobe every few weeks and this has altered the mindset of the modern day shopper who changes their leather handbags almost as frequently as they change their proverbial knickers.
It goes without saying then that opting for vegan leather shoes and handbags is the more ethical stance; no animal has to suffer and the negative impacts that are caused by agriculture have been avoided.
The problem is, that in many vegan leather goods, manmade materials are often used in place of animal products, which means that they contain plastics and other non-biodegradable microfibres which do not break down and will end up and remain in our ecosystem.
SO, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?
One way to combat this is to look for brands that use recycled materials. I spoke to Yen, founder of Paguro Upcycle. Paguro is the latin for Hermit Crab, nature’s very own upcycler, who takes a discarded shell and repurposes it. This is the whole premise behind her ethical, vegan company. All of their products use recycled materials, from inner tubes, tyres and military tents to oak barrels, bike chains, construction nets and plastic bags.
A PASSION FOR SUSTAINABLE FASHION.
The company was born after Yen discovered some talented artisans developing artistic creations from unwanted manmade materials and she wanted to showcase their designs.
The entire vegan and cruelty-free production process takes place within the Salatiga workshop in Indonesia, where they can ensure that each product is finished by hand to their exacting standards. They follow fair trade principles and the work is having a profound positive impact on the local community.
Each piece is a classic design that’s sure to always be on trend. The materials are chosen for their longevity and are built to last a lifetime, after all what could be more durable than a truck tyre?
They make sure to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible by sourcing all the materials within a 25 km radius of the workshop. And all of their packaging is 100% recycleable.
But the biggest benefit that Paguro’s products have over other leather alternatives is that they’re taking materials that are already in existence and diverting them from landfill, rather than adding to the manmade materials already in abundance in the world.
You can visit Paguro’s Amazon store HERE.
TIPS FOR CONSCIOUS FASHION.
I’m certainly not perfect and don’t always buy recycled clothing and accessories and nor do I even stick to my own rule of “don’t buy it if you don’t really need it”. But I try and that’s what being a vegan is all about. But if you want to adopt a more environmentally friendly wardrobe, here are my tips…
- Ask yourself if you really need it. If you can live without it, then live without it.
- Look for items that have longevity. Don’t buy something that is going to go out of fashion next season.
- Look for items that are good quality. The better the quality, the longer it will last and you won’t be continually discarding worn out items that end up in landfill.
- Look for ethical brands that follow fair trade principles.
- Look for brands that source and make the products nearby, therefore reducing the carbon footprint.
- Look for brands that use either recycled materials in their packaging or whose packaging is fully recycleable.
Paguro Upcycle ticks all of the above boxes. You can visit their store HERE.
Let me know in the comments if you have any further tips for shopping in a more eco-friendly and ethical way.