Deciding which materials you should and shouldn't buy from an ethical point of view can be a bit of a minefield. The real versus fake leather debate is one of the most controversial of these decisions. At 69b boutique we sell both, and this is why.
Veganism is on the rise, and vegan leather or 'pleather', made of plastic derivatives, has grown in popularity as a result. If your only concern is the welfare of animals, this seems a bit of no brainer. However faux leather has its downsides too.
Faux leather is usually made of a type of plastic. A well-made faux leather product has great longevity and, unlike its real alternative can be easily cleaned and maintained. However in the fast fashion industry it is often made from virgin PVC which is highly toxic to make, not biodegradable and often ends up in landfill. The mix of plastics and glues that go into the construction of the product means it's difficult to recycle, and if it does end up in landfill it can take thousands of years to decompose. This process releases methane, and increases the product's carbon footprint.
We stock shoes and bags from Matt & Nat, a Canadian brand who don’t like hurting animals and also care about the welfare of the planet. They use biodegradable PU (polyurethane) and PVB (polyvinyl butyral) which is made of 100% recycled windshield glass resin to produce durable, sustainable leather alternatives. They also work with sustainable materials like nylon and rubber, and are testing the use of fruit skin fibres.
Real leather is a by-product of the meat industry and is made from cowhide, which makes it tough but flexible and durable. Leather is one of the oldest materials made by humans, alongside cotton.
Leather can be dyed using plant-based tannins like leaves and bark, a far less harmful process. Leather that is tanned using vegetable dyes is a highly sustainable material that, if looked after properly, can last for years. As long as no other chemicals are used in production it can be composted at the end of its life.
However, mass produced leather is often treated and dyed with chromium, a heavy metal that can cause pollution to water ways and soil. It is also seriously detrimental to the health of the workers in the tanneries.
And it's not just the chemicals used in the mass production of leather that can have negative environmental effects. Mass-produced leathers (particularly in fast fashion) come from cows that have been reared on huge cattle ranches in the Amazon. Large areas of the Amazon rainforest are cut down to provide grazing, causing irreversible changes to the biodiversity of the Amazon and permanent damage to the soil.
We stock gorgeous real leather bags from Kate Sheridan, a local brand using cow leather that is a byproduct of the food industry, and vegetable tanning techniques. The majority of their leather comes from France, and is tanned in Italy. They also offer a free repair service, meaning your bag will last for years.
Whether you decide to pick a leather alternative or to go for the real thing, we believe that buying quality products that can be loved, cherished and used for many years is the most sustainable option.