7.26.2011

Required Reading: The Waves' Sustainable Style Series

I just wanted to link Waves' series on sustainable style. I'm really excited that she's doing it and have enjoyed reading the posts up so far. Granted, I've also summoned all of the green guilt that comes with thinking about the black hole of resources we're using for copious amounts of clothing. So - I'm enjoying and despairing.

I replied to this post, where the topic of leather vs. pleather comes up with regards to environmental footprint so I'm including my comment here, since it's something that often comes up when people discuss vegans using synthetics vs something "natural"/leather.

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{specifies it's made of PU}

I'm late to respond because I had to root around a little! The last time I looked into this I recall there being a LOT of gray area, and it seems that's still the case, for a few reasons.

Pleather/vegan leather isn't all created the same. The only common denominator is that it doesn't involve animal products (which yes, takes that part of the footprint out of it; the leather industry does subsidize the meat industry so it's partially responsible for there being a meat industry or the cost for meat would be incredibly prohibitive so leather is responsible for the emissions/used resources just as much as the meat industry).

Because of there being different pleather options, versions of pleather have different base ingredients which inform their process and footprint, while leather only has a few processes that are used to prep it for manufacturing.

The differences that can affect environmental standing are (but not limited to!):

- source materials: petroleum/PVC/polyeurethane aka PU vs. recycled plastic products vs. the heard-of-but-rarely-seen bioplastics; supposedly PVC is the worst environmentally

- re sturdiness and longevity: there is a huge huge spectrum (the Mother Jones article I'm including at the end of my comment cites length of usage as a huge deciding factor with regards to what has a lighter footprint- and some of the vegan brands have gotten quite good at producing sturdy and repairable products)

Most pleather/vegan leather items don't specify what the item is made of. E.g. Matt & Nat uses recycled plastic water bottles for their bags' lining but it doesn't say what the actual bag is made of, even in the FAQs which ask if the bag is environmentally friendly. Same with Melie Bianco - no citing of the material used. Cri de Coeur does specify on each item.

Then you have brands like Melissa, who specify they are using PVC (okay, not vegan leather per se, yet a good vegan-friendly substitute) but are doing it in a 99% closed-loop way. Where okay, it's now melflex and it can be broken down to be recycled and it's 99% closed loop...but still PVC. Just that the toxins are being handled in-house closed-loop and the workers supposedly treated well so I'm assuming the process isn't so toxic that it's a health risk to them/that they're exposed to it. (I just found a flip flop brand named Ipanema that uses melflex, too - I thought it was a proprietary material via Melissa but I guess not.)

Places like Patagonia will note if something's vegan and will outline recycled content but it doesn't really get into manufacturing process, either.

I don't know if that's an accurate enough answer but some people say YES, synthetics are better environmentally, in comparison given all of the variables and some say no, better to buy leather because it lasts longer. Over the years the better vegan/pleather brands have gotten much better about making quality merchandise so I tend to lean on them more. I find myself buying Cri de Coeur/Hearts of Darkness over Payless. I've learned to look for shoes that can be reheeled and bags that are sturdy enough to carry a heavy load and can be repaired.

Obviously I support buying the better-made synthetic products that will last for a while. It reduces the animal suffering involved and likely it's at least a smidge better (or maybe no less bad) than leather itself, all things considered!

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* Mother Jones http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/01/fake-leather-really-more-eco-friendly-real

* The Vegan Collection's comparison of petroleum-based pleather vs leather environmental footprint:
http://www.thevegancollection.com/about-us

* I decided to spare you the dozen "about us"/FAQ pages I visited for varied vegan companies (Olsen Haus, Cri de Coeur, Matt & Nat, Melissa, Melie Bianco, Patagonia, etc.)

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. I've wondered about it myself, always thinking that leather will last longer (as the myth goes) and that faux = plastic = bad. I wonder if just going second hand all the time is best for me. We don't have the same stores as you do.

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  2. I've yet to wear pleather products. I'm cringing to ask this, but don't they make your feet sweat?

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  3. Thanks for the link, and thank you for the info on pleather! I feel like my head is just spinning as I'm trying to figure out how to "do the right thing".

    Teeny is right - buying second hand is probably the only sustainable thing to do. I am contemplating on a thrift-only-from-now-on pledge. It doesn't sound tricky at all, really, but then again I failed miserably with The Great American Apparel Diet even if I thought that it would be a piece of cake. Oh well. I guess I'll figure all this stuff out at some point.

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