Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leather vs. Vegan: Who is Greener?

With Earth Day fast approaching, and everyone’s “Green” issues hitting newsstands and doorsteps, there seems to be quite the controversy stirring. At its center is the ultimate debate between the staunchly cruelty-free and the not—are animal products green? Truly, when the argument is boiled down, what we are questioning is the sustainability of animal by-products vs. synthetic materials.

Fact, animal by-products originate from a natural source—namely bovine (depending on the country). Fact, synthetics are man-made materials that are traditionally rather poisonous to the environment. But when both processes are examined, which one is better environmentally?

Recently, with the move towards just about anything eco across all product categories, there has been a move towards branding animal by-products as “green”. Case in point: the Canadian Fur Council’s latest campaign and Lucky Magazine’s April issue. However, just because fur and leather originated from a natural source, i.e. some animal, it does not make it sustainable. Far from it. Approximately 250 different chemicals are used in the tanning process alone. Chemicals that eventually end up in the surrounding eco-system and render the once biodegradable material no longer—similar arguments are made to counter the sustainability of man-made products. Traditional synthetic materials, PVC and the like, are also poisonous on all levels. Such is the dilemma with synthetics. Sure, they are cruelty-free in the traditional sense, but, upon deeper consideration, this is a harder case to make. The truth of the matter is any manufacturing process has serious problems.

But with the many changes to the marketplace, including the wider and cheaper availability of sustainable and green materials in response to greater demand, more and more designers are utilizing everything and anything from hemp canvas to faux-suede made from recycled plastic bottles. This allows a greater number of fashion brands, vegan and non-vegan alike, to move away from traditional synthetics, and more alternatives available to the vegan shopper. On top of this, there has been a greater scrutiny placed on the ethics of the manufacturing industry and, as a result, greater accountability. There is, in general, a greater importance placed on these different factors from the vegan fashion brands as there is a more holistic approach to the ethics of their company. Perhaps because they have ethics in the first place.

Conscious shopping is best. Question what you are buying and who you are supporting with your dollars. Not all vegan brands are created equal, but, in my opinion at least, they are always better than animal products.

For more interesting reading, there is a great guest blog by Elizabeth Olsen of olsenHaus at, as well as lots of information available at

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