Leather as a Choice Rather Than a Mandate

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.

4 responses to “Leather as a Choice Rather Than a Mandate

  1. As someone who makes no qualms about lusting after pigskin dresses, reverse calfskin jackets and horse leather boots, I find myself agreeing with you. The fact is, there’s ton of shit out in the world. A lot of it happens to be made of skin. Not a day goes by where I walk down the street and see a garment that makes me wonder, “is that leather or cheap plastic?” My heart wishes that the latter was true. But the fact is, it’s the former. Some animal out there gave their life to become a cheap diffusion. If that isn’t injustice I don’t know what is.
    This all makes me think back to Fausine’s desire to create clothes that aren’t about “looks.” This whole “look” based spectacle fashion lends itself to is something that I blame heavily for the horrifying leather I see every day. If you are going to buy leather it should probably, you know, look like the flesh it is instead of some plastic abomination.

  2. Well done, Aimee. I really appreciate hearing your voice. This post seems effortless. I wonder why this beast called “fashion” does not provide better vegan options? What is this reality a function of? Who is driving it and why?

  3. Thank you for this article Aimee. I will admit that I have grown so immune to purchasing “leather goods” from Zara that I do not even think about the inhumanness of it. The plethora of leather goods that are on sale and that surround me on the streets, in restaurants, at work, and in class seem to make it “alright.” It is as if the abundance of these leather goods make it acceptable to purchase, wear, and use. The multitude of these leather good naturalizes the idea of using leather in fashion. The fact that so many designers and labels use leather make it seem “natural” and, therefore, acceptable. The inhumanness is washed away by this naturalization.

  4. I totally agree with your post and all the comments other people made. I believe such labels as Faustine bring awareness to the people about their consumption , rapidness and quality of it. it is very hard for people to be aware and even think about it, because they are so distant of the problems, what they see is just pretty Zara bags, and plenty of other products that has been nicely and very strongly advertised, while the reality is made invisible. We were all born in the world that have been exploiting nature for ages without any consciousness, and it makes a while for us to wake up and look carefully on what is going on around us. But i believe we have possibility to shift those norms by making a choice and educating as many people as one can. Because those norm were made by people, so it is up to us to change it and make it better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s