Let’s take a moment to unpick what ‘vegan leather’ actually means.
At first glance, it’s a smart marketing tool to describe a leather substitute which doesn’t use any product which has harmed an animal.
Seems straightforward enough.
But can that substitute still cause animals harm? How do we quantify that harm and decide, ultimately, which is worse?
Thankfully, more and more people are making serious changes to their lives because of an increased awareness of animal welfare and our environmental impact - and how these two go hand in hand. It also means this is a discussion worth getting past the labels and the headlines - and really getting to the rub.
The truth is that any synthetic product can be classified, and is often believed to be, a vegan-friendly product. Most vegan leather is ultimately a euphemism for, let’s say it like it is, plastic.
So, like it or not, many who are boycotting products that depend on the slaughter of animals switch to a product which can arguably accelerate just that, the slaughter of animals.
There is no doubt that the single biggest destroyer of plant and animal life on our planet is the industry that extracts and processes the crude oil needed to make plastic materials; they wipe out entire species.
Then we have the proliferation of the toxic materials needed to create and processes these materials and their long-term, lethal effect on life on earth.
And yes, many rightly celebrate the potential future of ‘magic bullet’ products like mushroom or pineapple ‘leathers’, and these are great - if niche - products at the moment; but they also mean we miss a chance to fundamentally question the intensive industrial agricultural practises which so harm the planet. (If you’re unsure about this, read up on what intensive avocado farming is doing to the Mexican landscape to make you question your belief that it’s as simple as ‘plant over animal’ every single time).
Animal agriculture can have an important positive impact on the ecosystem, just as plant agriculture can. Why don’t they? Because at the moment our ecosystems are only valued by the money that can be extracted from them. And as a result, be it plant or animal, money talks, and thus the planet - and all those living on it - suffer.
There is commercial gain to be had by calling something ‘vegan’. But when that label comes at such a high cost, don’t let yourself get lulled into a false sense of security.
It’s not that simple.
Vegan leather might not be so vegan after all.
A synthetic sweater, full of chemical dyes, leaching microplastics and made in a factory by unsafe, underpaid, vulnerable women can be labelled vegan.
A Shetland jumper made from locally-sourced, organic, small-scale farmed wool and dyed naturally by hand would not.
Which does animals more harm?
Here at Vivobarefoot we believe in having these difficult conversations, and opening them up for dialogue.
Our goal is for our products to be regenerative. To have a positive impact on the planet; and this is for both the vegan and natural materials we use. We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.
Will you join us?