Wearing Me Thin: The Ethics of Vegans and Leather

Posted by on Sep 24, 2012 in On The Street | 0 comments

credit: flickr user Mark J P.

Shoes that last forever.

A few days ago, I was making the rounds at the shoe store when I came across an especially fetching pair of seasonally appropriate, visually interesting, coral peep-toe Miu Miu heels… the type of shoe that would make any sartorially-minded female swoon with jealousy. Except: they were made from 100% Italian leather.

Now, any average person would consider this to be a boon, as we traditionally equate leather (especially Italian leather) with luxury, quality and comfort. Since antiquity, animal skins were pretty much the informal dress code, and leather is still regarded as the epitome of opulence. Leather car seats, calfskin gloves and nubuck handbags are the type of attire worn by the rich and desired by the masses.

But what about people like me, the odd species of homo sapiens who call themselves “vegan,” who eschew leather for the sake of cruelty? Ethically, it makes sense: after all, cows and calfs have their skin boiled off their bodies along with being slaughtered for their meat. Environmentally speaking: not so much. Though the process of prepping leather for wholesale usage certainly isn’t kind to the environment by any stretch, “man-made” shoes aren’t doing us any favors either.

“Vegan” shoes are often made through processes that release chemicals and toxins into the air, and once disposed of, take millions of years to break down (think styrofoam). Harmful plastics and PVC-based shoes are extremely detrimental to the earth, while leather, being a mostly natural material, is much friendlier. Therefore, the argument becomes: do I buy vegan shoes so no cows suffer, but then we’ll all die from noxious PVC manufactured fumes, or do I buy leather shoes, feel eternally guilty for it, but save the world from noxious fume-flatulence?

Then there is the secondhand argument: is it ethical to wear shoes that someone else has worn, then donated, therefore negating the profit the original leather purveyors would have reaped when the customer bought it brand-new? The ethical decisions are enough to make a moral-minded noggin spin.

I’d like to think I’m a sensible vegan: I actually do purchase man-made shoes, feel guilty for the environment, but then feel a bit better about not wearing another creature’s skin (therefore kind of canceling out all my guilt in the end). When my mortal form has been reduced to rarified bug food, I’ll take comfort in the fact that my shiny vegan kitten heels will stay artificially pristine, till 6013… and beyond.

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