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 Very.co.uk 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

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