Leather is a textile of choice in my wardrobe – the reasons for this are many, but here are a few: leather wears well and has a long life making it good value for money; leather comes from (at this point in time) a sustainable source as it is a by-product of animals raised for consumption; leather breaks down and returns to the soil eventually.
On the downside, leather is expensive, it is hard to wash and the tanning process is quite worrisome in many parts of the world. What about vegan leather I hear you ask? Well, vegan leather is not leather at all – it is more comparable to plastic. The main forms of vegan leather used for clothing are PVC and polyurethane as I understand it (more information available in the article linked below). Both PVC (polyvinychloride) and polyurethane are chemical polymers made largely from synthetic ingredients (fossil fuels) and have all of the same environmental concerns as regular plastic!
Vegan leather is, therefore, something to be considered and not the easy feel-good alternative to real leather it pretends to be. Yes, it is drastically more affordable in the short term, and appears leather-like when it is new. All I’m saying is, be informed before you make a leather or vegan leather purchase. Make your decisions based on your concerns and a long-term expectation from your garments. If, for example, you are not vegan, then consider real leather – it is far more sustainable, will give you a better cost per wear eventually and will last a whole lot longer in your wardrobe or family than a synthetic piece. It is less damaging to the environment; cows are not killed to make leather jackets and shoes (they are killed for food), and when the garment is done – it will decompose (the vegan leather alternative -not so much).
If your absolute concern is that you want to be the most sustainable fashionista you can be, than perhaps opt for wool garments or bamboo, but know that all fabrics have an environmental cost and the most sustainable option is to buy less of better quality and ensure that it lasts. Buy pre-loved and adapt it, pass items on to friends and family – be resource friendly – reduce, reuse and recycle, but above all, be an informed shopper!