Question: Is it ever ok for a vegan to buy leather shoes made from animals?
My Answer: No & yes
“I learned that slave-labor is still rampantly used by large companies like GAP and Nike.”
If you would have asked me this question 4 months ago, I would have given a resounding and stern NO. However, since learning about sustainability my answer is much more complex. About a year after adopting a vegan diet, I decided I was long overdue to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Meaning, I should remove and no longer use any animal products in my life. This included skincare, cosmetics, shoes, clothing, accessories, home decor, etc. I started with the most obvious choice, shoes. I put my designer shoes up for sale without giving it too much thought. The first pair to go was one of my favorites, the uber-popular Valentino Rockstud pumps. I paid nearly $1,200 for them but they sold for a mere $600 and after the 20% fee Poshmark takes, my share was $400. It stung a little but I was doing it for the animals so I moved forward with the rest of my shoes.
Next up was a pair of YSL sandals. Then the ultra-coveted black and tan Chanel espadrilles. I lost so much money on these sales but again, it was all for the animals so I still felt good about my decision. I sold six more pairs after that. Then I realized I could take some of the money I had made from these sales and buy some new vegan shoes. I purchased probably about a dozen new pairs of shoes in that short 9-month window. I was feeling pretty content with myself because my new shoes were made of vegan leather and they were quite affordable; most cost $20-$40.
I learned that workers in Cambodia fighting for fair wages (which total ($160 per month) were beaten for peacefully protesting for this wage increase
Then about 4 months ago, after watching the True Cost documentary, I discovered sustainability. This was life-changing. My whole perspective changed. I decided I would not buy anything new for a whole year. I started looking into sustainable fashion, fast fashion, recycled clothing, upcycled clothing, thrifted clothing, and the impact plastics from clothing (and shoes) cause on our environment.
I learned that we consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing each year. I learned that slave-labor is still rampantly used by large companies like GAP and Nike. I learned that workers in Cambodia fighting for fair wages (which total ($160 per month) were beaten for peacefully protesting for this wage increase and their government has no interest in helping them. I learned that fast fashion brands like Forever21, H&M, Zara, Fashion Nova, Asos, etc. regularly exploit the workers making their clothing in order to save money on production costs and passing those “savings” onto you, the customer. This is how you’re able to buy a $5 t-shirt. I also learned that the fashion industry is a massive polluter and dumps millions of tons of toxic waste into our environment each year. I’ve learned a lot in this short time, yet I know it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Takeaway number one is this: the most sustainable choice we can make when it comes to clothing is to not buy anything new.
Although I have more to learn, I have two very crystal clear takeaways to share with you today. Takeaway number one is this: the most sustainable choice we can make when it comes to clothing is to not buy anything new. The second is this: the second most sustainable thing you can do with when it comes to your wardrobe is to keep and use what you already own. Even thrifted clothing should only be a second option. So as I’ve been mulling over this in the last few months I decided that I would keep some of my leather shoes that I still have a use for, but keep selling the other pairs I know I won’t be using. This gave me some pause at first, but I realized it’s the best decision I can make for myself for how I want to live my vegan and sustainable lifestyle.
After making the decision to not buy anything new for a year and before making the decision to keep some of my animal leather shoes, I visited various thrift stores in search of vegan leather shoes. It quickly became clear to me that I was going to have to buy animal leather shoes sooner rather than later. The reason was two-fold. The number of vegan leather shoes a thrift store carries compared to animal leather shoes available was largely disproportionate. For every one pair of vegan leather shoes, there were about ten animal leather shoes. And of the vegan leather shoes, only 10% of them were my size.
So I had to make a decision. Do I buy a brand new pair of vegan leather shoes and create a demand for more new products even though we’re already up to our eyeballs in clothing, shoes, and accessories? Or do I buy a used pair of animal leather shoes from a thrift store and not add to the demand or the amount of toxic waste being dumped into our environment? The more sustainable option was clearly the latter.
However, there was a small part of me that felt this still wasn’t right. When I post a look I most often than not tag the brands of whatever it is I’m wearing. But I didn’t want to start promoting non-vegan shoes. So the answer was simple, buy the used animal leather shoes but don’t promote them. I honestly feel this is the best and most sustainable solution to my problem.
I know there will inevitably be some vegans that disagree with my choices and that’s ok. In fact, if you’re currently reading this and think I’ve made a wrong choice, please share with me why you think that. Write to me and let’s have a discussion about it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 30 years of life, is that we’re never done learning. We are ever-evolving beings and life is a continuous work in progress.