I own a pair of faux leather pants that are a staple in my wardrobe and have been for seven years. And since last winter, I now own a faux leather pleated skirt. The skirt was part of a little conundrum I got myself into with online shopping during lockdown last December. My unintentional haul, so to speak. And since I’ve been trying to find ways to style my faux leather skirt for spring, I’ve been thinking about faux leather in general. And asking myself: Is buying and wearing faux leather bad? In this age of sustainable fashion, is faux leather a fashion faux pas? Should we be eschewing vegan leather for real leather in the name of ethical shopping? Well, turns out, according to this article in The Good Trade, the answer to that question is complicated.
Real leather comes from real cows, or other real animals. So if you like animals, and are against animal products in general, there’s that. I like animals. But I eat meat, and I’d always preferred real leather to faux or plastic. That is until I bought my vegan leather pants in 2014. The leather industry claims that since real leather is made from cow hide (or other animal hide) it’s more biodegradable than vegan leather or faux leather which is often made from petroleum-based plastic. That’s true, actually. But according to several articles I read yesterday, that’s only part of the story. A 2017 study of sustainable materials cited in this article says that, overall, faux leather has one third of the environmental impact of cow leather. Partly because of the huge effect the beef industry has on global warming.
But see, here’s the thing. Not all vegan leather is the same. The original faux leather, which we called pleather back in the day, was a petroleum-based plastic called PVC. And according to Greenpeace, PVC is the worst of the worst. These days lots of faux leather is virtually plastic free, and can be made from numerous base fibres like mushrooms, or apples, or even pineapples. This modern fabric still contains some petroleum-based product to hold the fibres together, but much less than the old PVC from years gone by. Even polyurethane (PU) leather has less overall impact on the environment than the natural leather that is a by-product of the meat-producing industry.
Still, faux leather doesn’t have the durability or the life-span of real leather. I doubt that any of us has a forty-year-old faux leather jacket hanging in our closet. But we may have a cherished, slightly battered, worn to a whole new level of cool, genuine leather messenger-bag from the seventies. Faux leather just does not have the same cachet as real leather. Much as I love them, my seven-year-old vegan leather pants are already starting to wear noticeably. In their defense, they have been worn tons of times since 2014. But I don’t see them lasting another twenty years.
So, like that article in The Good Trade said, the issue is complicated. And although I found several articles that seemed to confirm what other articles said about the environmental toll taken by the leather industry, I could not track down the original studies cited. And while each article in itself seems objective, they are published on sites that have an easily identified agenda or bias. It’s a contentious issue, that’s for sure. And I have only scratched the surface. I will say that despite the problems with some faux leather products, it seems that the fashion industry is making a concerted effort to move away from natural leather. This article from Vogue Business outlines the industry’s search for “the perfect vegan leather.”
But in the meantime, I own two imperfect faux leather garments. One is made from polyurethane, and the other is 100% polyester. Gulp. So what should a fledgling fashion revolutionary like myself do now?
Well, I guess I can make every effort to make sure my faux leather garments stay out landfill sites for as long as possible. That means finding lots of ways to wear my faux leather pieces. My pants from 2014 are already a wardrobe hero. They go with almost everything in my closet, and except for wear in a few places, still look great.
But I need to find more ways to wear my pleated faux leather skirt. Especially for spring. I styled it with sweaters and boots last winter, so today I made an effort to see what I could do with my spring jackets and footwear.
First I wore it with a boxy, violet cashmere sweater bought from Vince in 2017. I like the shape of the cropped, loose Vince sweater with the long skirt. I added my Paul Green flats from the same year. And a Cerruti jacket purchased as part of a suit way back at the turn of the century, and kind of reinvented last spring. So in this outfit, really old meets oldish meets fairly new.
Next I tried my skirt with my blue Equipment shirt from 2015 (similar). Blue shirts are back in a big way this year. Big, baggy blue shirts. I pulled on my Paige jean jacket (similar) bought the year I retired in 2013, and my blue Asics running shoes. I like the blue, blue, and blue with the black. And since I’d be wearing this to run errands, I’d bring along my old Michael Kors tote (similar).
I love the boxy shape and cropped style of my violet cashmere sweater. It’s a very forgiving sweater. Ha. Here are a few similar styles I found. I particularly love the bright pink Intermix/Celine one.
My pleated faux leather skirt is pretty new and has a ton of wear left in it. But as I said above, my faux leather pants bought back in 2014 have been worn and worn over the years, and are starting to show their age. So I did a little research this morning to see if I can repair them where the fabric has separated from its backing in one place at the waist, and where they are cracking and peeling a bit. I found one article which seemed somewhat helpful. But I think I need to do more research before I try any DIY with my pants. I love the fit and style of these pants so much that I DO NOT want to make a mistake.
I do know that after I’m finished with the pants and the skirt I can give them to Hubby. He will always find a use for them. He’s been mining two pairs of soft leather boots of mine from the nineties for years, cutting patches for canoe camping packs and bicycle seats. You name it, he can find a use for it. On second thought, I will give him the skirt. Eventually. But I think that once my pants are unrepairable I might be able to make some beautiful, soft leather patches for the elbows of a blazer. What do you think?
You know, if I had done all this research last winter before I bought that pleated skirt I might not have clicked the purchase button. I might have looked around for a faux leather skirt made from vegetable fibre, if I could find one. At any rate, that ship has sailed. And if the worst environmental faux pas my faux leather garments make is to not degrade in a landfill, I think I can guarantee that they won’t be in a landfill for many years.
That may be the best I can do.
Now it’s your turn my friends. Let’s not get into a discussion of the pros and cons of real leather versus faux leather. There are good points on both sides. Instead, let’s look at what else in our closets might be problematic. We can’t change the past. So let’s think about what we can do from here on in to give our wardrobe longevity. To make us love what we have as long as possible. Any thoughts?
P.S. The clothing links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission.