Real leather vs. imitation leather

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many vegetarians and especially vegans do not like to and actually refuse to use leather products and wear leather shoes. They go for shoes and other products made from imitation leather and such instead.

While canvas, and also hessian, for bags of all kinds is certainly a good choice and a green and ethical option and waxed canvas makes good waterproof bags and can even be used for footwear artificial leather of any kind is, to all intents and purposes, plastic regardless of what name it may bear and thus NOT green and environmentally friendly at all. In a way it is like replacing wood with plastic as has been done for many years already and see where that got us.

The only other option is the use of real rubber, that is to say latex, from the rubber tree, for footwear, like our wellington boots of old were, or wooden clogs.

Skai, which is an imitation leather and one of the most common ones, is a polythene (or even PVC) coated cloth and thus oil derived and nothing more than plastic in but a different form. And that, unfortunately, while being animal cruelty free, is environmentally very unsound.

Clogs – wooden entirely, as in the Netherlands and other places – or wooden sole with upper, originally leather but could be waterproof canvas or even latex rubber, probably are the only options, if one wants to be cruelty free shoes and boots without using plastic material and does not want to have bast shoes as the Russian peasants used to wear.

I really hate to disappoint those that think that artificial leather can be environmentally sound and eco-friendly. As it can only be derived from an oil base it does not compute.

While artificial leather, etc., may be “cruelty free” in that it does not involve animal skins, it is, as already pointed out, a cloth coated with some plastic material in a leather effect and thus a burden to the environment. Even if the plastic layer should be derived from recycled plastic artificial leather still has an enormous environmental footprint especially as it is non-recyclable at the end of its life. It is a bonded material similar to advertising banners and truck tarps.

Things often are made out to be much easier than they are when products are presented to people who want to do things a certain way. You can have cruelty free leather-like products yes. But they come at a cost to the environment and so does leather and the production of it, I know, and not just the animal that has to die for it. Tanning, especially the modern methods, can pollute the air, water and land if not handled properly, as nowadays harsh and dangerous chemicals are involved all too often.

There are alternatives such as vegetable tanned or even brain tanned. No one today tans anymore with urine but that would be, once again, an option. The waste product of it could simply be used as a fertilizer afterwards.

There are always two sides to a coin and, as is often the case with coins two, one side is prettier than the other.

© 2013