There was a time when it was frowned upon to fake it. After all fake is never as good as the real thing right?
Well when it comes to fashion, I beg to differ. Fake fur is far superior to the real, awfully cruel stuff. And fake leather? Yes please.
Before you gasp at me in astonishment, let me explain why I would prefer to wear a faux fur jacket over a real one and my al-cheapo shoes from Payless over some expensive leather ones.
A couple of years ago I was doing parades and in-house showings for Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence. I was wearing, and effectively helping them to sell, these ridiculously expensive and extravagant fur coats. Mink, rabbit, fox – you name it. I remember putting another one on at the time and thinking to myself, ‘Hmm this doesn’t feel right…” but I quickly swept that thought out of my mind and got on with my job.
But that thought really stuck with me and it didn’t take long before I started doing some research. I was astounded at what I found.
Did you know that millions of animals each year are still skinned for their coats? Many people will argue that synthetic ‘fake’ varieties are worse for the environment but from what I read, it actually takes more than 60 times more energy to produce a fur coat from ranch-raised animals than to create a synthetic one. Yikes! After all, real furs are supposed to disintegrate pretty quickly – it is an animals dead skin after all. Not to mention the waste that is produced on fur farms, which usually ends up polluting our waterways.
Even Karl Lagerfeld, who scoffed at faux fur a few years ago, created an entire collection of faux fur for Chanel’s fall 2010 collection. “Technical advances are so perfect you can hardly tell fake fur from the real thing,” he said. And my favourite Lagerfeld quote:
“You cannot fake chic, but you can be chic in fake fur.”
Let’s move on to leather. Leather is everywhere, I know. When I first decided to go vegan, it took a little while for me to get rid of all of my beloved shoes. I had quite a collection. But the thought of wearing the skin of an animal who was killed, just so that I could wear the poor little thing on my tootsies, was enough to have me running to the op shop with a couple of garbage bags full of shoes.
That’s not to say that my al-cheapos from Payless are super eco-friendly. They are usually made from petroleum, which is not exactly sustainable or eco-friendly. However, it still takes 20 times more energy to produce real leather than synthetic and real leather hurts animals, the environment and the people who take it from hide to wearable fabric.
Here’s an idea of what happens to your leather, before it even gets to the designer: it starts with breeding and raising the animals, transporting feed, removing animal waste, powering housing and killing facilities, the use of vaccines and antibiotics, and removing carcasses and transferring pelts. At the tannery, the skins are sorted, soaked, fleshed, tanned, wrung, dried, kicked, cleaned, trimmed, buffed, dried again, finished, then transported to the garment maker, wholesaler, and so on.
Every year, more than a billion animals are stunned, hung upside-down, bled to death, and skinned in slaughterhouses. Most of the world’s leather comes from developing countries such as India and China, where the standards for animals are even lower than in countries such as Australia.
It then takes an awful lot of energy and hazardous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based, to preserve the skins and also tan them. These chemicals affect the locals who work in and live near tanneries. In India, Bangladesh and China there are many cases of disease amongst tannery workers and in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average.
I’m not saying my cheap shoes from Payless are perfect – they certainly are not. But there are lots of options now that are much more luxurious and more eco-friendly than plain old PVU. For example, Stella McCartney create absolutely beautiful, completely vegan shoes. In fact, they say on their website that, “Because of the scientific research that goes into creating these blended fibres and subsequently, their scarcity, innovative materials could be considered a true luxury rather than leather which has become a commodity.” I couldn’t agree more.
There are also plenty of plant-based or sustainable and renewable fabrics available, including cork, recycled plastic, wood, linen, hemp, cotton, bamboo, ultrasuede, and more.
My favourite shoe brands include:
My favourite vegan shoe store is:
My favourite vegan jackets and purses:
A lot of people think it’s a pretty radical idea to make the decision to stop wearing leather, but, while it took me a while to actually make the transition, I feel awesome about it. It’s not a big deal and it’s not difficult to find alternatives, despite what you might think. You can make a start by simply deciding not to buy any new items in leather and see how easy it is. I’m sure the animals will send you happy vibes to thank you. 🙂
Have you found any great leather or fur alternatives? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.