Do you all realize how difficult it is to find high quality, non-leather/fur/suede/wool/silk garments that don’t evoke a vegan yoga teacher? Probably not, because I see a lot of nice Prada and Celine on parade at Parsons, but more often than not, lots of leather Zara handbags and shoes. The quest for quality animal-free goods reflects fashion’s lack of options for those with vegetarian ethics, but the wide availability and accessibility of leather in fashion also points to a larger complacency with fashion’s materials, and to overarching assumptions of “luxury” and “quality.”
Leather is known to age well. It is a durable material and serves a multitude of functions, and aesthetically, it looks luxurious (what we know as luxurious). While I have made the choice not to purchase animal products, I do realize that is not a popular consumption style, or necessarily the “right” choice for everyone. Wendy Syfret’s article for i-D magazine also recognizes the implausibility of completely overhauling the garment industry, but it does call for a more critical consumer. It would be one thing, as Syfret also mentions, if leather was produced small-batch and with integrity/ethics, however, this is simply not the case. I can guarantee that the cow that died to make your Zara handbag rarely, if ever, saw the sun.
Integrity is more easily defined than practiced. A dedicated craftswoman working against an ethos of rapid consumerism, Faustine Steinmetz’s adherence her own principles is admirable. Her work is informed by her commitment to quality and originality. Faustine’s concern with the specific materials used in her work mirrors her training in school as a designer rather than a selling point. I thought it was relevant that Faustine mentioned her selective process when it comes to using leather. Obviously, while I prefer animal-free garments, I think any change is valuable.
There are burgeoning fashion markets for vegan consumers, and there is a growing general interest in the ethics of leather use in fashion. Alternative materials such as recycled suede, glazed cotton, vegetable leather, cork, and other biodegradable fabrics exist as viable counters to animal leather. However, just Google “vegan shoes” and you’ll get an immediate sense of the lack of quality products and interest in animal-free accessories and garments. Extending Yuniya Kawamura’s “fashion as choice” rather than mandate concept, consumers should choose luxury materials that also align with their ethics, and designers and producers should work towards making those alternative materials apart of the luxury sector.