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The Myth Of Sustainable Leather

by Sica Schmitz | Posted on September 08 2017

One of the main attempts I hear at justifying the continued use of leather in this modern, socially conscious day and age is that it's "natural" and therefore not as bad vegan leathers, which are usually made from various plastics, including Polyurethane (or PU).

This has been a hotly debated topic in sustainable fashion, and while animal leather has many known issues when it comes to polluting our environment and bodies, the majority of sustainable fashion advocates have held strongly to their stance that vegetable tanned leather is still the lesser of two leather evils. 

Those of us who choose vegan fashion for ethical reasons have found these arguments challenging to counter, with decisions on both sides being based on very little facts and lots of emotions, coming down to a divided conclusion about whether or not we should be killing and eating and wearing animals. It's been an entirely moral issue... until recently.

The Myth of Sustainable Leather Bead & Reel

Hidden amongst the over 134 page 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report by the Copenhagen Fashion Summit was a very interesting graph, giving a new perspective on vegan fashion and vegan leathers: 

Pulse of the Fashion Industry Copenhagen Fashion Summit Vegan Fashion

Animal fibers take three of the top four spots in cradle to gate environmental impact, with cow leather at the very top, 11 spots above even polyester.

This is the first time I've seen research like this. Suddenly the discussion is no longer contained to simply the ethics of using animals in fashion, but it is now shifted to the ethics of using animals in fashion, at the detriment to our environment. 

As a vegan and the owner of a vegan company, I have always recommended skipping leather, silk, wool, bone, and other animal products and fibers. But now you don't just have to take my word for it - on page 80 the report goes on to recommend:
Synthetic leather has only a third of the environmental impact of cow leather... As Kering says in its 2015 EP&L statement, different leathers can have an over tenfold difference in environmental impact based on their type and origin, how the animal was raised, and how the tanning process took place. Switching to alternative materials can directly improve a product’s footprint.

Environmental Impact of Materials

Fortunately, it's never been easier to switch to alternative vegan materials. In fact, Bead & Reel's entire shop is built entirely on alternative leather materials, like PU synthetic leather Piñatex (made from pineapple fibers), and cork, to name a few. 

Bead & Reel Pinatex Nae Vegan

If you haven't already, now is the perfect time to make the switch to a vegan closet. It's kinder to animals, and now we know it's also kinder to our environment. 

Want to learn more? Check out our Friendly Guide to Vegan Textiles and Spotlight on Vegan Leather Alternatives.

Sica Schmitz Bio


  • Henrietta: September 15, 2017

    Wow, this is some truly exciting research!
    Thank you for bringing my attention to it xx

  • Therese Bengtsson: September 09, 2017

    Sica – thanks for writing this and for bringing some clarity to this confusion I and many of my peers have been struggling with. ❤️❤️

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