Is Fake Leather the answer for the environment?
Tom Ford became vegan a bit more than a year ago, and consistent with his personal life choices, he introduced fake leather in the NYFW SS/2019 collection.
Tom Ford shows beautiful clothes in soft shades of nude, pale lilac and pink. The mix of delicate lace and chiffon with synthetic crocodile and leopard print fake leather makes a fabulous contrast of soft and hard. It is an extremely feminine, flattering and sexy collection, but not that obvious in-your-face-flesh-flashing-sexy we’ve grown tired of.
Imitation leather and synthetic fur have been slowly but steadily replacing natural materials in the fashion world. Designers have been adapting their collections to satisfy the growing number of vegans and animal-lovers, whose campaigns and pressure are influencing fashion consumers. Fake leather is also cheaper than the real thing, so it is a natural choice for brands wanting to produce affordable and disposable clothes for our “throw-away society”.
Stella McCartney was one of the firsts to advocate animal-cruelty-free fashion, using the synthetic material in her collections. By the way, her latest collab with Adidas; the Vegan Stan Smith, is already available in the stores, just in time for Stella’s birthday on the 10th of September.
Although fake leather is animal-friendly, is it eco-friendly?
Industries use plastic, which is made from the non-renewable petroleum, to produce PVC or PU, the two most common kinds of fake leather. To transform the oil into the synthetic material, they must use toxic chemicals. The result is a non-bio-degradable fabric which leaves a large footprint. Genuine leather is more sustainable because it is a by-product of the meat industry.
Real leather is stronger than fake leather, hence more durable. A genuine leather jacket, for instance, will last a life-long while PVC and PU are easily flaked, torn and damaged; you will hardly be able to wear a synthetic leather jacket for longer than one season.
So what should you wear?
This is an extremely tricky topic. You may think you're ethically correct when you throw away your leather goods and fill your wardrobe with plenty of imitation leather items, forgetting the severe problem of plastic polluting our planet and causing the death of so many animals. So, taking into considerations all environmental AND ethical issues, there are still some reasonable alternatives for you to look good and feel good about your shopping:
Recycled leather and fur
It is is an excellent option that allows you to keep enjoying these luxurious materials without feeling bad that an animal had to die for your new garment. And let’s face it, the real thing is sooo much nicer than the fake one; it smells lovely, it’s breathable, it gives and is more comfortable (especially crucial for shoes), it has a soft touch, it keeps you warm without making you sweat, and lasts longer.
Recycled synthetic fabrics
Brands such as Patagonia, the outdoor apparel giant and Timberland have “closed-loop” programs, using the material of discarded old items that they recycle, to produce new clothes and shoes. All Stella McCartney’s bags are lined with fabric made from recycled water bottles for example, and she uses recycled polyester and nylon in her collections. The Swedish H&M has garment-collecting boxes in all stores around the world, and they reward the customers who bring in their old clothes to be recycled. Even so, synthetic is always the result of experimentation with chemicals and dyes to obtain a variety of colours and textures.
Buy better - buy less
Because leather lasts much longer than its substitute, it’s better for the planet in the long run, to spend a bit more on one good-quality item that you won’t need to replace for a long time, than buying - and throwing away - cheap synthetic versions. You can check the Leather Working Group that rates the tanneries according to their efforts to reduce environmental impact. You can also buy vegetable tanned leather that won’t use any chemicals in the dying process of the leather.
We surely don’t want to spoil your fun, but consuming less and smarter may be the best answer. Think twice before buying and ask yourself these questions: "Do I really need that?", "Where was it produced?", "How was it produced?", "Will it last?", "Will I wear it?". The planet thanks you :)