In our last video, I took you inside my closet and talked about the decisions I made while doing my Marie Kondo-style clean-out. One thing I struggled with — and still struggle with — is what to do with the leather clothing in my closet.
I haven’t always shopped sustainably and I do have staples leftover from my past, including a leather jacket I feel comfortable in and love to wear. I can still picture where I was the first time I wore it, and how polished I felt in it. This applies to a lot of incredible vintage leather items, like belts, wallets and jackets.
As a fashion enthusiast, I appreciate the legacy of leather. I am also passionate about making ethical choices when it comes to my clothing. I haven’t purchased any new leather, but I question what to do with items I already own. Should I keep them? Should I sell them? What are my options if I want to purchase new pieces?
The question of owning leather is increasingly relevant as we consider the negative impacts of the meat and leather industry. The chemicals used in tanning leather put factory workers at risk and release toxic waste. Designers like Stella McCartney and celebrities like Natalie Portman have begun to produce designs made only from vegan leather. More eyes are on the leather industry than ever, and with good reason.
Contemporary designers approach working with leather in a few different ways. I spoke to a designer who said that her leather pieces are made from animal byproduct and don’t use chemicals — the most environmentally harmful part of the process — in their dyes.
She also pointed out that the animal byproducts from the meat industry would just be thrown out if designers were not using these scrapped materials.
Pleather (or, leather made from polyurethane) is an affordable leather alternative used often in the fashion industry. Some brands even market it as “vegan leather.” While I appreciate that there are no animal products used to create it, I’m resistant because of its dependence on PVC and plastic. Remember, plastic takes up to 500 years to fully decompose, and I have difficulty justifying plastic use in clothing — particularly clothing that often appears in fast-fashion venues.
Some designers are exploring innovative options that avoid both animal byproduct and plastic altogether, opting for new fabrics generated from natural materials. Mushroom leather is a new textile made from mycelium, a fiber found in mushrooms. This process is particularly exciting because it’s affordable and sustainable, using a carbon-negative process. It also imitates the look and feel of leather quite well. Kelp- and cork-based vegan leathers are some of the other options that have been around for a while.
Looking at my leather jacket, I always come back to the idea of sustainability. Part of what sustainability means is that an item of clothing can last a long time and eliminate the need for frequent replacement. Is real leather more durable than pleather or other vegan options? Does that justify its existence in my closet?
I find each of the options above compelling for different reasons. Asking them hasn’t led to a black-and-white answer yet for me, but the thought exercise has been interesting.
As we continue on this sustainability journey together, we must ask ourselves what really matters to us. Your answer might differ from mine, but as long as you continually examine your values and how your choices fit into them, you are already making a difference.