Let me just start off by saying that if you just want to shop some killer secondhand leather instead of reading all this shit, you can just click here.
“Faux leather”. “Pleather”. “Vegan leather”. “Eco-leather”. Every year, fashion companies spend tons of money on marketing to make leather alternatives more appealing. This usually results in them attaching whatever buzzword to their products and pretending like it’s something new and innovative.
I’ve personally gone back and forth with how I feel about leather and vegan alternatives for many years. I stopped eating meat 13 years ago and have since also switched to all cruelty-free products in my life. My stance on leather may not be something that everyone agrees with, but it’s what I’m personally comfortable with in this imperfect world.
Vegan Leather Sucks
There’s a lot of greenwashing and clever marketing going on with vegan leather so it’s easy to forget what it actually is. Vegan leather is basically any material that imitates leather but isn’t made from animals. While this sounds good, the reality is that alternative material is usually made from polyurethane (plastic).
Polyurethane is cheaper and way more flimsy than real leather. It doesn’t “break in” so it tends to be very thin and flexible. Because of this, it also tends to wear down after just a few years.
Despite the fact that plastic doesn’t really biodegrade, it does quickly wear down. After only a few seasons, vegan leather starts to crack, stretch, and tear. Unlike real leather, it can’t be conditioned or repaired. Instead, vegan leather is usually thrown out when it gets too worn and a replacement is purchased.
While you can get plenty of vegan leather from cheap fast fashion stores, a lot of high end designers are hopping on board the greenwashing train and scamming customers into paying hundreds of dollars to wear plastic. As I type this, Nanushka is selling a vegan leather “snakeskin” jacket for $1,945.
Plant-Based Leathers Still Have A Lot Of Catching Up To Do
Plant-based leather alternatives have a lot of potential, but they also have a lot of catching up to do. The two main things holding back plant-based alternatives are availability and pricing.
When researching plant-based leathers, it’s easy to find articles about them, but it’s nearly impossible to find where to buy them. Cactus-based leather manufacturer Desserto has collaborated with major brands like H&M, Fossil, and Givenchy, but only for limited collections that don’t seem to be available anymore. The only brand I can find that seems to have a somewhat steady plant-based leather line is Deadwood Studios.
Deadwood Studios has a cactus-based leather line that seems to be here to stay. They also currently have a capsule collection with MycoWorks, a mushroom-based leather manufacturer. However, Deadwood Studios has a pricing problem. Their cactus-based classic biker jacket retails for $700. That’s a crazy price when you compare it to a real leather jacket from AllSaints ($500 range) or faux leather from Zara (less than $100). The four pieces in their MycoWorks capsule range from $500 to about $2,000.
The only people buying these pieces are wealthy consumers who are trying to show off how ethical and eco-conscious they are.
The Secondhand Alternative
So now it looks like my options are unethical leather, cheap and toxic “vegan leather”, or a choice of a handful of cactus-based leather jackets that will make me go broke.
One fashion degree and over a decade of debating later, the only option that I’m comfortable with is buying secondhand leathers. It already exists so you’re not creating more plastics or causing the death of more animals. It’s much more accessible and you’re much more likely to find pieces in your price range. With proper care, leather pieces can be passed down from generation to generation.
I bought my first Saint Laurent leather jacket secondhand from The RealReal last year. It was already 7 years old by the time I go it, but it still looks brand new. I was also gifted a suede jacket from my old landlords a few years back. They had bought it in the 60s. After taking it to a leather restoration specialist, it looks brand new.
If you’re interested in secondhand leather options, check these ones out.