This is always a touchy subject in the vegan community. Opinions are divided. Some swear off leather like it’s the devil, others are a little more loosey-goosey about wearing it. So… is wearing second-hand leather vegan?
Whether wearing leather is vegan or not depends greatly on what you understand by vegan. For some people, being vegan means not eating animal products. For others, veganism is more than a dietary preference. It can also mean that you don’t (or try not to) do anything which threatens other living beings or the environment. That can extend to refusing to use products tested on animals, avoiding any clothing made of animal origin, as well as trying to reduce their waste and overall negative impact on the planet. Surely wearing a dead animal’s skin is not vegan. Is it?
This is my personal opinion, however unpopular it may be: Yes. It can be, if it’s second-hand. But before I explain why I believe this, allow me to make a side note.
The two types of vegans
It’s important to know that vegans are of two kinds. Normal people and fanatics. With the risk of insulting the entire internet, this is something that needs to be said. Normal vegans are people who try to do their best but do not burn anyone at the stake for not sharing their views. They do not insult others for their choices, do not promote hate and do not judge harshly at the first sight of failure. Fanatics, on the other hand, are a whole different species. You are either living exactly as they believe is the correct way, or you are a horrible human being and deserve to be punished. Needless to say, they are toxic and the main reason why everybody makes fun of vegans. They cannot understand that nobody in the history of mankind has ever had their beliefs changed by criticism and aggressive discourse. They lack respect for personal choice and fail to understand that everything is nuanced. For them, life is either black or white, your choices are either good or evil.
It saddens me greatly to find how many genuinely sustainable people are shamed and insulted for not living up to the insane standards of these fanatics. One recent example is Youtube’s FullyRawKristina, a longtime advocate for raw veganism and an absolute example of living a vegan lifestyle, who was given major backlash for having the audacity to post a picture of herself wearing a pair of leather boots. Holy fucking shit, people are insane. She has received hundreds of messages from followers insulting her, telling her that she is an impostor, that she should delete her account and that she should be ashamed of being alive. One person actually wrote her that she should kill herself. This is insanity. She has since made a video about this. In my opinion, she should not have to explain herself to idiots. Where do I even start?
First of all, nobody is perfect. Secondly, you are not the devil for daring to own a pair of leather shoes. You can still be vegan if you have a leather bag in your closet. You are still vegan if once a year you cave and eat a fucking egg. People need to relax. This is a lifestyle, not a cult. There is wiggle room. Having a vegan lifestyle (or any other lifestyle that supports the wellbeing of the planet) means doing the best you can to do as little harm as possible. You are not expunged from the vegan world if you own something that’s not labeled as vegan. Let me explain why I believe this.
Supply and Demand
Personally, I consider that wearing leatherand supporting the leather industry are two very different things.
You support the leather industry by buying new items and giving your money directly to that industry. Wearing leather, however, can happen in several different ways. Perhaps you have a lot of items in your house from before you decided to go vegan. That’s fine, you don’t have to get rid of them if you don’t want to. Maybe you still buy leather but from thrift stores. That’s also a good option. Wearing leather and buying new leather is not the same thing. If you’re familiar with the concept of supply and demand, I’m sure you already understand why.
Whenever you buy a new product off the shelf you create a demand for that product. Whether it’s a pair of leather boots, a mixer, a carton of eggs or a shampoo bottle, another item needs to replace it. A new item needs to be created to fill the place of that product you just bought. As long as we buy, as long as we create demand, the items will keep being produced and the supply will continue. Applying that logic, every new leather item you buy creates a demand for more leather items to be made. If we keep buying new leather stuff, animals will keep being tortured and killed for their skin. This is why I do not support the leather industry. I do not encourage anyone to buy real leather from stores that sell new products. I haven’t purchased one single new leather item in probably a decade. Yet I wear, own and still buy leather. How? Second-hand, of course.
Buying leather from second-hand stores does not support the leather industry in any way. It doesn’t create any demand for new ones to be made. You see, they’ve already been bought once. The damage has already been done. The supply-demand loop is closed. No matter how many pairs of leather boots, leather handbags or leather belts you buy, there is no more demand created here. If you were to buy them new, then yes, you would create a demand. But buying second-hand doesn’t.
The reason I still prefer leather is the quality. Leather is infinitely better in quality. I don’t care how many people say “there are a million faux-leather types that are super good quality”. Not one I have tried so far can compare to the real deal. All ecological leather breaks down in a few years tops, if not much sooner. I have leather shoes which I’ve been wearing for more than 9 years and they are still in great shape. I know we don’t like the idea of dead skin and what goes behind the scenes in order to create real leather, but let’s not kid ourselves about the reality of this aspect. Leather is durable and superior in quality. And quality trumps quantity. That means that instead of one pair of leather shoes that would’ve lasted you for decades, you must now buy several pairs of ecological leather. You produce more damage to the environment, and therefore to the animals, by buying more pairs of vegan shoes, than if you would simply buy the leather ones. The production and transportation process of fake leather is just as toxic to the environment as for real leather. Especially if it’s the one made from plastic. You produce more demand, use up more resources, create a bigger carbon footprint and create more waste by opting for new, ecological leather than real, second-hand leather.
Not only is buying second-hand a way to have good quality shoes, bags and coats, but you actually prevent those items from ending up in the landfill. You are giving them a second life. Remember the R’s? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? This is in perfect alignment with that. If second-hand shops don’t sell all their merchandise, it ends up in the landfill. There are tons and tons of perfectly good clothes and shoes that end up thrown away each year, simply because they are not in style anymore. So the way I see it, with every pair of leather boots I find at a thrift shop, there is one less new pair of shoes taken off the shelves from another store. There is one less demand created. And one less pair of perfectly good shoes ending up in the landfill, creating more waste.
Many people, when they decide to go vegan, throw away everything they own which doesn’t align with this newfound lifestyle. They literally throw away clothes and shoes that are in perfect condition, simply because they are made of leather, wool, silk or fur, items that they previously bought when they weren’t into saving the planet and couldn’t be bothered to care. If you’re trying to save the planet, throwing out good clothes isn’t the answer. I know that veganism and low-waste are not the same concept, but ultimately, being vegan is about being ethical towards nature, animals and life in general, right? Being wasteful is most definitely not ethical. So before you throw out half your wardrobe, remember that those shoes cost an animal its life. It also cost the people who made it their time. Most of them work in terrible conditions. Throwing them away simply because you consider leather evil is a complete waste of that animal’s life and a shame for the effort put into making the items. Wear them out. Getting rid of these items also creates demand. If you need to replace that leather coat with a new fake leather coat, you are making things worse. Don’t think for a second that eco-leather doesn’t have a negative impact on the planet. It does. Its production also does, so does the transport to the stores. Own up to the fact that you used to not be vegan. And that’s fine. You can give yourself permission to wear them out. Wear them until they break, then you can throw them away.
However, for many people, wearing leather, wool or fur after going vegan can be disgusting. For others, it’s simply unacceptable to be vegan and still wear leather or any other animal product. That’s understandable, and I wouldn’t expect you to continue wearing them. If that’s the case, try donating all the items you don’t want anymore to friends, family or anyone who wants them, instead of sending them to the landfill. Wearing leather or not wearing leather is a very personal choice. And nobody should be treated badly because they do it. Personally, I’m not grossed out by leather, so I don’t have an issue wearing it. Nevertheless, I refuse to participate in or give my money to the leather industry for ethical reasons. I am very comfortable with buying second-hand leather and I wouldn’t judge anyone who does the same, just as I wouldn’t judge anyone who doesn’t want to wear it anymore.
So, if you are a vegan who would still wear leather, but you’re afraid of the backlash that may come with wearing it, try to rethink this issue from a different perspective. Supply and demand is important. Not sending stuff to the landfill is important. Not supporting the leather industry with our money is important. But if you want to wear leather, rest assured you can thrift it and still be vegan. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. You do you.