Fashion's Dirty Secrets
Fashion + Veganism

Skin in the Game

My confession: I have been vegan (for both health and ethical reasons) since November 2012 and this morning – Tuesday 2 April 2019, to be exact – I received delivery of the sweetest candy pink Smythson ‘Pink to Make the Boys Wink’ wafer notebook. Made in England. Bound in cross-grain lambskin; stamped with my initials (gold): CPR. Yes – lambskin.

A tad oxymoronic, no? Cruel, even. How could I?

This, from the same 27-year-old (cis) woman who once sat crying in her MPhil supervisor’s office, desperately trying to reconcile vegan fashion with sustainable fashion, in order that I might tease out enough common threads to spend the next year of my life (and, potentially, a PhD) researching and writing about a more mindful, conscious and even graceful mode of buying – and being.

Costly Lifestyle

[I never completed the degree, as (and you may have already guessed this) my vegan + sustainable lifestyle almost cost me my mental (and financial) health… and yes, down to the wire, I was still willing to pay that price for the animals; I am vegan, you know. Reading how synthetic leather shoes can contribute to depressive symptoms – something about man-made materials obstructing the conductive systems that transfer the Earth’s electrons from the ground into (and out of) the body, apparently – almost pushed me over the edge. All that money I had spent on Stella McCartney!]

I’ve certainly watched the documentaries. Read the books and articles. Attended the talks and seminars. I’m actually quite conscientious.

I Love Beauty

I don’t buy much leather (or of anything, actually) at all. My only handbag is a mini Falabella (gifted) and my next purchase will be a vintage pink monogram canvas mini shoulder bag by Gucci. I would also really like a lilac Jacquemus Le Chiquito bag when they’re released in June.

I love beauty; it’s one of my core values. Not fashion (and definitely not fast fashion). Beauty. Craftsmanship. Art. Harmoniousness.    

And it’s so central to my sense of happiness and fulfilment.

I don’t love new or second-hand leather (or fur, silk or wool, incidentally). So why am I dreaming about investing in a pair (or two or three – they come in red, black and cream) of Saint Laurent’s Paris Minimalist leather sandals? Because I am seriously concerned about the environmental – and psychological – impact of its plethoric alternatives.

I first became acutely conscious of the effects of my buying decisions while reading Lucy Siegle’s now-iconic To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? while working for in 2016. It inspired me to pursue my ill-fated postgraduate-level studies in sustainable fashion at The University of Manchester later that same year. A key, excruciating, takeaway from that book, for me – particularly as a vegan, keen to live in harmony with nature – was that animal-derived materials are inherently more biodegradable than their cruelty-free counterparts. [Another gem was that, in Siegle’s view, opting for vintage pieces, instead, is essentially a cop out. But I digress.]

Living Gracefully

Are animal hides beautiful? Is there an elegance innate to adorning ourselves with them? In my opinion, no. Yet neither is trailing a tangle of non-biodegradable waste behind me as I move through our fine-looking world. Where’s the fun or luxury in that?

I desire to live gracefully. Straining to live my entire life through the prism of eco-veganism left me feeling exactly the opposite. Hence my personal conundrum.

Horrors moral and environmental abound in the production of both leather and its non-plant-based, faux alternatives. Unfortunately for me, though, leather remains the most sustainable option, traditionally able to replenish itself as part of a closed-loop production cycle.

The real deal biodegrades.  

I am not entirely comfortable with my decision; I do ardently wish that mushroom or pineapple leather was more of a widely-used and aesthetically-pleasing ‘thing’. Until then, I’ve heard that Christian Louboutin will create custom vegan pairs of shoes for clients. It’s just a little bit extra (and might mess with your mood).

By Charlotte Robson

One Comment

  • Amanda

    It is not a matter of leather or fake leather, you can get along just without either. If you actually cared about the animals whose skin you’re trying to justify wearing then you’d not consider paying for leather ever again.

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