Second hand leather or vegan leather? That is the question!

The other day I was confronted to a very specific dilemma: “Second hand leather or vegan leather?”. Indeed, I was texting with a friend of mine who asked me for vegan bags recommendations. I shared with her about my absolute favourite brand Matt and nat. However she apparently could not find what she was looking for on their Website.

As an alternative, I suggested she goes for a second hand leather bag and she mentioned would rather avoid purchasing animal skin. She seemed a little surprised when I mentioned leather as she knew I was vegan.

Would you also react like her? I asked because I noticed that this contradiction is often raised in the vegan / eco Community. What is the best: buying second leather or buying new vegan leather?

I would say it depends on your own values! Keep reading to find out about both sides’ arguments. 

Why go for vegan leather ? 

For some, opting for vegan leather is a clear choice that aligns with their commitment to cruelty-free living. The thought of using animal-derived materials, regardless of whether they’re new or second-hand, is simply unsettling. In their eyes, supporting the production of vegan leather is a way to avoid contributing to animal exploitation and suffering.

Moreover, many individuals in the vegan and eco-conscious community prioritize environmental sustainability. They recognize that the production of traditional leather, even if it’s second-hand, still involves significant environmental impact, from the rearing of livestock to the tanning process. By choosing vegan leather, which is often made from synthetic or plant-based materials, they believe they’re making a more eco-friendly decision. They think that they minimize harm to the planet.

Additionally, advancements in technology have led to the development of high-quality vegan leather alternatives. Those closely mimic the look and feel of genuine leather. This means that consumers don’t have to compromise on style or durability when opting for vegan options.

If you wanna learn more about vegan leather options, you may read this blog post. 

Why prefer second-hand leather?

For many individuals, the choice to opt for second-hand leather stems from a combination of environmental concerns and ethical considerations.

Firstly, selecting second-hand leather items supports the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle. By purchasing pre-owned leather goods, consumers are extending the lifecycle of these products. They are preventing them from ending up in landfills. This approach aligns with sustainability goals by reducing the demand for new leather production and minimizing the overall environmental footprint associated with leather manufacturing processes.

Moreover, some individuals view second-hand leather as a more eco-friendly option compared to new vegan leather alternatives. While vegan leather may be free from animal-derived materials, its production often involves synthetic materials that can have their own environmental impacts, such as the use of petroleum-based plastics and chemicals. If we choose second-hand leather, we use no new resources for production, we reduce our carbon footprint and lessen the strain on natural resources.

Ultimately, the preference for second-hand leather reflects a desire to make environmentally conscious choices while staying true to ethical values. 

After reading those pros and cons, it seems obvious to me that we need to discuss one concern. What is the real impact of vegan leather on the environment? So, I pushed my research. Keep on reading to find out! 

Is vegan leather eco-friendly? 

The environmental impact of vegan leather varies depending on factors such as the materials used, the production processes involved, and the end-of-life disposal methods. Here are the series of questions you want to ask yourself to review the sustainability of the vegan leather product you might want to buy.

How sustainable is the material?

We make vegan leather from a variety of materials: synthetic polymers like polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or natural materials such as cork, pineapple leaves (Piñatex), mushroom leather (mycelium) or even recycled plastics. 

The environmental impact of these materials varies. For example, synthetic vegan leathers come from petrochemicals and may contribute to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions during production. 

On the other hand, natural alternatives like Piñatex or mushroom leather may have lower environmental footprints but still require resources for cultivation and processing.

How sustainable are the production processes? 

The manufacturing of vegan leather involves various processes: chemical treatments, weaving or bonding, and finishing. These processes consume energy, water, chemicals and contribute to environmental pollution and resource depletion. 

However, some manufacturers are implementing more sustainable practices, such as using water-based or solvent-free coatings and reducing energy consumption through efficient production methods.

Besides, the production of vegan leather generates waste and pollution. Chemical treatments and dyeing processes may release harmful substances into the environment if not properly managed. The disposal of synthetic vegan leathers at the end of their life cycle also contribute to plastic pollution unless they are recycled or disposed of responsibly.

Is vegan leather made to last?

Good news: high-quality vegan leather products can last for many years with proper care, reducing the need for frequent replacements. 

Second hand leather or vegan leather? My position

I would rather go for the second hand leather because we use no new resources to produce the item. It is more eco-friendly as a result. It also does not go against my cruelty-free values. Indeed I consider that we can’t laughter an animal twice!

However, I can totally understand why some vegans do not share my opinion. Sometimes, the simple view of dead animal skin disgusts the person and I can’t argue with that.

Have you ever been in that position? Weighing the pros and cons of a product, hesitating between your values?

Cover picture by Lance Reis