Can Vegans Wear Leather?

The topic of being able to wear leather as a vegan is a hot-button issue in the vegan space. Some vegans are against wearing animal leather for any kind of reason and some people who call themselves vegans think wearing animal skin is ok under certain circumstances. These are the same “vegans” who eat honey and ride horses. I call those people, “plant-based.”

Leather is used to make all kinds of products, not just clothing and shoes. It can be very expensive to replace. Because leather lasts a long time, some make the argument that it’s ok for vegans to continue wearing or using animal leather products that they bought before going vegan. It might seem like a more sustainable option than getting rid of all your leather goods and replacing them with vegan alternatives.

The transition from a non-vegan lifestyle to a vegan one can be quite bumpy, especially if you have limited income or are in a situation where you simply can’t be 100% vegan. 

Veganism is not about perfection or following some strict rules from the Vegan Masonic Order. It’s about not contributing to animal suffering and changing how you treat and view animals. 

You don’t need to make your entire life vegan overnight if that’s just not doable for you right now. When transitioning into veganism, just do your best and go at your own pace. But your end goal as a vegan should be to eventually live a 100% vegan lifestyle. It’s not because us old vegans want to be uptight and gatekeep veganism, it’s because veganism is about respecting all living beings and that means not using, wearing, or eating animals in any way shape or form.

Animal leather is not vegan, so you should be working towards replacing all of your leather goods with vegan alternatives. Start with what is easy for you to replace. If you can’t buy vegan replacements for your leather items right now, do it when you can afford to. 

Vegan leather is much cheaper than animal leather. You can find vegan leather shoes and accessories at any mall or department store and you can also order vegan leather clothing, shoes, and accessories online. There are sales pretty much every month either IRL or online, so replacing your leather stuff does not have to destroy your bank account.

It might seem more sustainable to keep your leather items until they’ve worn out, but continuing to use animal products when you’ve decided to go vegan is promoting the use of a sentient being as a commodity. An innocent animal suffered greatly for that leather. Do you really want to continue promoting that because you don’t want to get rid of your leather items just yet?

Just like eating a dead animal isn’t vegan, wearing a dead animal isn’t vegan either. Since veganism is about animal rights and ending animal suffering, wearing leather is promoting the continued suffering of other species. 

The same goes for buying second-hand leather rather than vegan leather. Sure, buying a second-hand animal leather item is going to leave less of a carbon footprint than buying a new vegan leather item, but it’s also saying that it is ok to use animals for our enjoyment which goes against the core values of veganism. Someone who sees your leather item will think it’s ok to continue wearing and using animals. This is the kind of mindset we as vegans want to get rid of, not promote further. You can buy second-hand vegan leather items instead of animal leather ones.

There is a common argument that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, so it doesn’t create additional suffering for the animal and is ok to use. It’s even “honoring” the animal since you’re not letting any part of that murdered being go to waste. 

Yes, the skin of animals that are killed for their meat is sold to the leather industry. But according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, over 2.29 billion cows, calves, buffaloes, pigs, and goats are killed every year by the global leather industry. The leather industry is massive so the hides of animals killed for their meat are not enough to meet the global demand for leather. BILLIONS more animals are slaughtered. Not very vegan is it?

There is also another common argument that animal leather is more eco-friendly than vegan leather. This chart from the Higg Sustainability Index is a helpful guide to see which textiles emit the least to most greenhouse gas emissions. You can see that producing cow leather emits more than twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as synthetic leather.

When you factor in the environmental damage caused by farming millions of animals for their leather, the air and water pollution caused by processing leather, the water pollution caused by dying the leather, as well as giving workers in the leather industry cancer and putting them at high risk for other serious health issues, leather is not eco-friendly at all. Vegan leather is not great for the environment, but animal leather is actually worse.

In a scientific article by Science Direct, it states:

“Although the leather tanning industry primarily utilizes the waste from the meat industry, it also involves the usage of many chemicals to convert the raw material into finished product. Thus, leather industry consumes resources and produces pollutants which are toxic and hazardous to the environment…Altogether, one metric ton of raw material yields only 20% as finished leather product and more than 60% as solid and liquid waste including the highly carcinogenic heavy metal ‘chromium.'” 

If you really want to avoid buying PVC leather for environmental reasons, there are many eco-friendly vegan leather companies that are making vegan leather from stuff like mushrooms and bananas. Eco-friendly vegan leather is much cheaper now than ever before. Brands like Pinatex and Desserto are working with major fashion brands like Zara and H&M to make affordable, eco-friendly vegan products.

You can also buy eco-friendly vegan leather goods from smaller brands that are also fair trade and treat their workers well. Hozen has a great collection of vegan, sustainable, and fair-trade fashion.

Unless you’re a dominatrix with a dungeon full of leather BDSM gear or a biker daddy, slowly replacing your leather stuff with vegan alternatives shouldn’t be that difficult. When deciding what to put on your feet, or anywhere else on your body, choose from one of the countless cruelty-free options available. There’s even vegan BDSM gear if that’s your thing!

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Fashionista. Film-maker. Digital nomad.

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