The Leather Wearing Vegan

photocredit: Horween Leather

Sounds like an oxymoron, and you’re not wrong. I’ve been a dietary vegan for, give or take, the last 4 years, but I usually just say “vegan”. To some that’s a false statement, as I still wear leather and consume certain derivatives like honey, but after explaining that my sole purpose is sustainability, I usually get resounding nods. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have pets growing up, but my raison d’être is to leave the planet a little better than I came into it.

I walked in my closet one day and I began to ponder “What does it mean to be sustainable?”

I know that commercial farming in a global economy is the leading contributor to climate change, with the meat industry leading the pack by a long-shot. But what about my clothing? Was wearing leather really as bad as eating meat?

The simple answer is… it’s complicated.

Leather is typically a byproduct of the meat industry, that would be thrown away if not used, but what really tips the scale is our high global demand for goods. As our consumer culture drives our purchasing behaviours, we are buying way more than we need. I am an advocate for long wearing, hardy products that stand the test of time. Leather or otherwise, if we purchase less, we demand less of the planet and the market.

Leather: Honouring Life

Leather is one of the most beautiful materials in the world; it ages gracefully, will hold up to elemental forces, and can last decades. When compared to faux leathers, often derived from the oil industry (another catastrophic force to our environment), full grain leather outlasts them all indefinitely. You can moisturize and condition leather over the years, but the same cannot be done to faux leather. Faux leather is known to disintegrate and flake, resulting in the need to purchase more goods and feeding right back into the consumerism and consumer complex.

Does this mean we should jump straight into buying only leather goods? Not necessarily. Not all leather is produced the same, as seen in the below video. Just because something is deemed high quality does not mean that it is.

Credit: Rose Anvil Artisan Leather Goods

The Consumer Product Chain

The consumer product chain is rooted in cost efficiency, bringing the products that we demand to market at the lowest possible cost, thus maximizing return.

To counteract this, consider what it is that you need, and determine what will fulfill this with the most logical sense: a cost-benefit ratio. There’s a great article that touched on the subject over at Heddels, I definitely suggest that you give it a read.

The idea of Cost Per Wear can lend a new mindset to the cost of the things we own. Not to mention the environmental benefits of reduced consumption, operating this way should lead to a cheaper lifestyle overall that has you spending less time shopping…”
– Heddels, Understanding Cost Per Wear

Because companies are selling goods at such a low cost, sometimes of questionable quality, and we continue to buy them, it justifies substandard working conditions and horrendously low wages. We need to demand more from manufacturers and the companies that contract them. 

One of the leading ways we can make an impact is through their pocket books. If profits drive their decisions to produce cheaply, both through labour and materials, it can also drive decision to produce more responsibly.

Standards of Living

With all this being said, I understand affordability is a major factor when consuming products. I don’t know everyone’s financial position but I do know that over consumption is affecting all of us alike.

Feeding into our never-ending desire to quench our consumerism, we will continue to purchase goods until the planet simply cannot handle production anymore.

Much like dietary overconsumption without consciousness is leading to obesity coupled with malnutrition, our overconsumption of finished goods is leading to compromised living conditions for those in vulnerable, developing countries. These developing nations are at the bottom of the production cycle, where the textiles are being produced, products are being finished, or raw materials are being sourced.

“Water is key for life, central to societal development. Water risks affect industrialised and developing economies alike”
– World Economic Forum, 5 Risks from Water Overuse

To produce all of this, water and energy consumption is high and byproducts can be toxic. The communities affected are usually those of lower socio-economic status and thus don’t have the resources to clean their water sources or relocate. This excess water consumption is also destabilizing our water tables and a major contributor to ecological and sociological catastrophe.

My Experience

I’ve lived on both sides of the fence; I used to buy in excess to “fit in”. Though I didn’t have a lot financially, it felt great obtaining something new and looking fresh whenever I stepped out the house. But I realized that, truthfully, none of that was important.

What matters most is that there will be a prosperous tomorrow for all and to continue a healthy relationship with myself. I was seeking outward applause to make up for, what I believed was, a lack of power in my life. Real power is making conscious decisions that genuinely empower yourself and the world.

Sure there are larger things at play, such as corporate and political interests, but our collective efforts have resulted in policy change in the past. We can do this. 

You’re worth more than just a “thing”, an object.

You’ve worked hard to earn your dollars. Purchasing anything is an investment; you’re investing in more freedom, in a specific aesthetic, in creating more energy, etc. Be mindful when parting ways with your money, your time and effort is worth way more than something that will fall apart in less than a year.