Can Leather Bags Be Ethical and Eco-Friendly?

Vegan v Leather

Over the years, I have had many people ask where I source my leather from (you can find out about that here) and if I would consider making vegan leather bags and becoming a more sustainable business. As always, I meet all questions and suggestions with an eagerness to discover more. 

 

I have always preferred natural products over anything man-made. I grew up on a farm, so I guess that where I first developed a love of nature and our natural surroundings. I also felt I had a good understanding of where leather comes from and the processes we use to turn a hide into a handbag, but I knew little about the vegan leather industry until recently.....and this is what I discovered.

 

Sofala Turon River

This is me on the bank of the Turon river with my sister (I'm the one in the red jumper). We've obviously spotted something floating down the river....or Mum has yelled point at something to make the picture look more exciting :)

 

Faux v Real leather

 

So what is Vegan leather (also known as faux or synthetic leather and, formerly, pleather)?

Nowadays, there are quite a few fashion brands all over the world making vegan bags, it's not difficult to find them, it's also not too difficult to find a great variety of designs and styles. My pal Stella McCartney is a trail-blazer and innovator in the world of vegan leather products. She has shown us that you can create beautifully designed bags, even developing her own material Eco Faux Leather™, which uses vegetable oil rather than petroleum oil).

However, it’s a bit more difficult when you are trying to find a bag that is vegan and also ethically made, eco-friendly and sustainable. 

Many major vegan leather brands claim their products are made of ‘eco friendly’ PU (Polyurethane) microfibers, used because their ‘feel’ is similar to that of leather, and it can be imprinted with grains that mimic suede and natural skins. But make no mistake–there is no such thing as ‘eco friendly’ PU.

It wasn't until recently browsing the world-wide-web for inspiration and came across a number of handbags with health warnings….yes HEALTH WARNINGS. They said something along the lines of ‘the chemicals used to produce this bag may cause cancer’…What the! Don't believe me, then just take a look at the pic below.

Cancer warning on vegan leather bags

Eluxe Magazine says, "that in the production of microfiber-based synthetics, textiles and polymers are often layered together and compressed several times through metal rollers, then submersed in a coagulation solution to solidify. This chemical process requires excessive levels of toxic substances like dimethylformamide, which has also been linked to cancer and birth defects, and acetic acid, high doses of which can damage skin and eyes.

Despite these eco-horrors, many eco-warriors find vegan leather production even worse. For example, the manufacture and incineration of PVC-based synthetics produce one of the most toxic chemicals known to man: dioxins. Found in almost every single modern human’s body, dioxins promote developmental disturbances and increase cancer risks tenfold". 

Since plastic-based synthetics don’t fully biodegrade, they produce micro-particles that are ingested by animals and thus enter the food chain at all levels: even Arctic polar bears have been found to have dioxins in their bloodstream. When it does break down, vegan leather releases phthalates—initially added as a softening agent—which subsequently enter the food chain and the atmosphere, causing breathing problems, breast cancers, hormonal disruptions and birth defects."

So the question is;  by buying vegan leather...are you helping the environment too? The answer is...no.

Then, are we helping animals by choosing a bag that is not made of leather but microfiber instead? Yes, of course you are…well maybe. Many animals are farmed for their meat, the leather we use is a by-product of meat industry. We do not carry bags made of 100% vegan leather, we only carry bags made of real leather. We care about animals, the people and the environment. Our range is inspired by colours, materials and natural textures of real leather. 

And also...something very important! We design limited edition women's accessories and handbags that are made by happy people, we aren't into mass-production. All our bags are hand-crafted by skilled artisans. We use off-cuts and minimize waste where possible too.

So while purchasing a vegan leather bag, may make you feel good by knowing that you are supporting a brand that cares about animals, spend an extra minute trying to find that item that really ticks all the ethical boxes.

 

Tan Leather Handbag

 

Want some more info? 

https://eluxemagazine.com/magazIne/what-the-heck-is-vegan-leather/

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/the-dark-side-to-vegan-leather-is-far-from-ethical-20170314-guxkn4.html

 

Shop Nikki Williams Handbags

 

May 30, 2018 by NIKKI WILLIAMS

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