Friday, April 16, 2010

Sustainable Fashion: Part III Animal Rights

Yes, this is part three of my sustainable fashion (rant?) series. I am still working on putting together stats on three of my wardrobe staples (Anthropologie, Cheap Monday, and J Brand jeans ) to see how they stack up on the three issues I've discussed.

I am not going to get into too many of the details of this particular topic, as I think, I hope, everyone is familiar with Animal Rights. Also, there are so many articles and movies out there that you have many resources to go to. This is more of a personal story.

I have been a vegetarian since I was 8. It began slowly. When I was 7 my father decided that we would leave our Back Bay home in Boston and head out to the middle of nowhere New Hampshire, so that he could fulfill a dream of being a farmer. Yes, that's right folks a city guy becoming a farmer. One day this will all make for a good memoir I swear!

As a first order of 'farmer' business he ordered a bunch of baby chicks and ducks and geese and turkeys. I remember watching him set up these warming lights in the coop for them all to sleep. My sister and I were in little kid heaven- baby chicks! ducks! so so so cute. We fed them and played with them and named them. You can see where this is going.

Well, the time came when my dad decided we were going to eat the chickens and turkeys. He invited over the local (experienced ) farmers to show him how to do the dirty work of getting chicken from the coop to the plate. I remember crying and crying and just being so furious at him for killing them. I don't think I've ever experienced that kind of anger in my life ever again. In the weeks and months that followed I refused to eat chicken- at Thanksgiving I did not eat Turkey. I was still eating beef and what not, but then it clicked when I was in the lunch line at school and I overheard some other kids discussing what hot dogs were made of. Really? I was shocked- I decided I was never going to eat meat. My parents nearly flipped out- I think they thought it was a phase, they never catered to me, I guess they hoped I would just wake up one day and eat meat again. But I did not. Even after my dad gave up the farm experiment and we moved back to the city, I still did not eat meat. For most of my childhood I ate salads and bread at dinner, since they would not cook me something special.

What does any of this have to do with sustainable fashion and Animal rights? Well, now I am vegan. But this has only been since college, and I have a personal dilemma. I still wear leather.Vintage, used, and recycled leather, and gifts I have been given that are leather.

While I have never worn fur, never will wear fur, and I do not support wearing fur vintage or otherwise. I feel that some may feel I am being hypocritical by wearing leather. This is a topic that has come up several times on various online discussions I've read. Is it okay to wear fur and leather if it is vintage? or recycled?I think while most people do not wear fur, many wear leather without thinking of it as a problem. I guess if you are not a vegetarian or vegan, then it's not.

I did some research and so many things I though were okay like wool and recycled leather - are not. Or at least, they are not okay with me.

Here I though most wool was safe- some is- like the wool from the small farm I visited in Vermont that had a few sheep they used to knit their own sweaters and such - they did not participate in the practice of Mulesing to sheer sheep, which apparently due to a boycott on Australian wool the Australian government is promising to phase out.

As for the recycled leather- well the chemicals used to treat leather are quite toxic. Though there are some companies out there that bill their recycled leather as eco-leather, they do not use toxic substances to treat leather. But, you have to do your research- that is the key to everything as I am quickly finding out.

I do not want to contribute to any harm being done to animals. So how does it look that I wear leather? Am I going forth and purporting buying leather goods by wearing it and admiring leather pieces? Will other vegans think I'm just plain evil?


  1. You know, I wear used leather. I wouldn't buy it new, and I'm not super comfortable with recycled leather, but I tend to think that used is the most ethical way to get your clothing.

    Anything that supports the production of new leather, though, is not ok with me. Recycled is sort of a grey issue, but ultimately you're paying the manufacturer for leather, so I'm not cool with it. When you buy used leather, you're usually paying a charity.

    Basically, I'm alright with anything that doesn't increase the demand for new leather or wool or whatever. That's just my preference, and I have all the respect in the world for vegans who won't wear used leather either. For me, though, I'd rather buy a used pair of shoes in any material than a new pair that might have been made in a sweatshop--and even new plastic or PVC shoes aren't totally environmentally sound, so it's easier on my conscience to buy used.

  2. There was actually a post over on Andi B. Goode's blog that brought out this question in the comments, sort of:


    I don't want to repost everything I wrote there as to why a vegan wouldn't wear leather in response to one of the commenting posters. It's just not something I can personally do, regardless (i.e. by definition that would mean I could wear old fur, too, which I can't).

    I used to wear old wool but I cut that out as well - I just think it muddies the message and makes vegans look hypocritical when I have to deal with it (I have 1 wool jacket I am still weeding out but that's essentially it - I hit a point in my...7th year or so of being vegan where I purchased wool for a year and then re-read all the info on wool and spent the next year getting rid of it again).

    That is not to say I think I have any vegan purity - I am just doing what I think the definition of vegan is and what I think is appropriate for me to represent veganity. I do know a few people who call themselves vegan and still wear wool - but, like you said, it does leave some of my other vegan friends scratching their heads in that, by definition, they wouldn't actually be vegan.

    Anyway, it's a common question within the vegan community, that's for sure.

  3. It's a tough one. I think I just need to find out what I am personally okay with - and how I can best live up to that. I really welcome your comments. Since I am just beginning to sort all this out for myself - it helps to hear what others have to say about their choices.