Most Sustainable Leather Practices: Genuine Leather vs Faux
These days, it might not seem possible to be both environmentally and fashion-conscious at the same time. After all, we’re all aware of the protests and horror stories surrounding animal cruelty and high-end fashion brands.
But here’s some good news. For those of you who love genuine leather, your preference is a good one, because genuine leather is far more sustainable than most realize. In fact, it’s more friendly towards the environment than faux leather is.
So if you’re a stickler for real leather and environmental preservation, keep on wearing it. You’re doing nature a big favour by opting for authentic leather instead of the fake stuff.
Genuine Leather Produces Far Less Waste
Genuine leather is the by-product (or co-product) of the meat industry. In recent years, and in the name of animal welfare, there has been a push for “vegan leather”, which of course is plant-based. The problem here, though, is that taking one step forward with vegan leather to protect animals, is a step backward for the environment, because fake leather is more damaging to the environment.
Vegan leather, which is a form of faux leather, is often comprised of synthetic chemicals such as polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Numerous studies have pointed out the dangers of PU and PVC to the environment since it affects air quality, which ultimately can damage human health. To make things worse, the compounds in vegan leather aren’t fully biodegradable, meaning that they are a persistent source of pollution for the environment.
Real leather, on the other hand, is biodegradable since it’s made with organic materials. Assuming that the correct processes are used, leather will decompose without putting a major strain on the environment. So contrary to popular belief, leather is actually a natural product.
Genuine Leather is More Durable than Faux Leather
Faux leather is often quite thin, making it more lightweight and easier to work with. The tradeoff is durability. The thinner structure of faux leather makes it less “hardy” than real leather, and it’s not uncommon to hear a vegan leather product lasting only a year or so. Genuine leather is the opposite. If you take good care of genuine leather, it could last for decades, perhaps getting passed onto future generations.
It’s also easier to maintain genuine leather as opposed to faux leather. The issue with faux leather is this: it’s easier to clean with a mild detergent, but its surface makes it hard for conditioning products to penetrate it. That means you can’t protect faux leather from drying and cracking up (which happens inevitably). However, you can maintain genuine leather products with conditioners, allowing you to hold onto them longer.
Durability is one of the factors to consider when deciding to purchase a leather item. In terms of price, the faux leather jacket screaming for your attention may look attractive from a price standpoint, but it won’t be long before you’re looking to replace it. The extra cash spent on the genuine leather jacket will last you for many years to come.
Real Leather vs Faux Leather: Animals or the Environment?
The conundrum that many of you might ultimately face is whether you should buy leather that harms the environment or animals. As we mentioned in the outset, genuine leather is a by-product of animal meats, so for vegans and vegetarians, real leather would be out of the question. But vegan leather, as we’ve explained above, is not necessarily environmentally-friendly. So how do you choose between genuine leather and faux leather?
On thecut.com, an article that offered their own insights on the topic of real vs faux leather ended off with a unique flow chart to help you decide how to buy these items. Check it out below:
As you can see from the chart above, there isn’t a strict black-and-white divide as to what to wear. True, if you have a primary concern, you will probably find yourself leaning more to one side, but a compromise can be made. Of course, that greatly depends on how strong your views of animal welfare and environmental sustainability are.
Sustainable Leather: It’s Deeper Than It Looks
As time has marched on, our understanding of what is sustainable leather has changed significantly. Animal products are not always looked at as being sustainable, but it’s clear that genuine leather can be recycled without causing significant harm to the environment.