Is Wearing Faux Leather Promoting Animal Cruelty?


Faux or faux pas?

Vegan materials have become so advanced that if you walk down the street and spot someone with a bag that’s seemingly made of calf or snake skin, you can no longer be certain that it really is.

Unless there’s a designer logo visible that makes the material used obvious, the days of activists throwing red paint on people wearing fur coats to highlight the cruelty of their clothing choices are gone. We have animal free fur, leather, skins, wool and silk, and they look just like their animal counterparts. 

Made and designed so well that you can’t tell the difference between an animal skin and a vegan material. That’s the point right? But is wearing a material that looks exactly the same as one which comes from violence and suffering, promoting exactly that?

ethical vegan blazer leather-free bag

A vegan python style bag from Stella McCartney via Net-A-Porter

No animal lover wants to support or promote the breeding of animals solely so that they can be exploited and slaughtered. When we buy vegan materials that resemble animal-based materials, we certainly aren't supporting the continuation of such unethical industries, but we are sending a message that what these industries produce is attractive and desirable. Is that, at any level, supporting animal cruelty?

Yes, it’s likely that some people will see someone wearing a vegan leather jacket and believe it’s made from an animal, and that this can subconsciously normalise the cruelty inherent in animal materials. However, we are not silent creatures. We can and should speak out - have conversations with people, allow our clothes to spark change by sharing more information about what they’re made of, and more importantly, what they’re not made of.

The positive net effect of these conversations, of people realising they can dress well without hurting animals, can make wearing vegan materials a form of everyday activism for animals. If the general population do not see that vegan materials are available and attractive, people will continue to wear animal skins.

fox fur farm cruel cage

Image by Joanne McArthur, from We Animals

As the world continues to evolve and progress, it will become the norm to wear vegan materials that celebrate the beauty of animals and nature, rather than take from it and cause suffering. People still wearing animals will be criticised and their clothes seen as out-dated and out of touch.

This will happen as our collective awareness of the cruelty, killing and environmental destruction that is at the root of wearing animal skins becomes heightened. The more conversations we can start through our clothing, and the more we can show people that we can be as fashionable without wearing animals, the sooner this will happen. 

People don’t stop eating meat because they dislike the taste, they stop eating meat because they realise the cost at which it comes. They don’t stop eating dairy products because they don’t like them anymore, but because they don’t want to pay for male calves to be killed. The same goes for fur, leather, exotic skins, wool and silk. These materials are attractive, they are beautiful to look at, but it is what is behind these materials that is far from beautiful, that is making people choose to turn away from them.

Non-animal alternatives to these materials are superior not only because they do not come from suffering, but because they are more eco-conscious, and increasingly, better performing. This makes going without animal skins and fibres even easier - because you’re not ‘going without’ at all, just upgrading. Without them, it’s likely that less people would choose to go animal-free. 

snake eyes and face

Getty Images (via BBC)

The animals used in fashion are beautiful. Soft skinned, beautifully coloured, exquisitely patterned. This recognition of beauty is not immoral, and it is not exclusive to the way we see animals. We weave fabrics that look like the delicate flowers we admire in fields, we stitch stars onto sleeves because we so love to see them in the night sky.

Joshua Katcher, the creator of the first luxury vegan menswear label, Brave Gentlemen, often says that ‘the handsomeness of an object should be matched by the handsomeness of how it was made’. So long as our admiration and replication of the beauty of animals is just that - replication, rather than slaughtering and stealing animal skin, our  bags, shoes, jackets and purses can be beautiful.


Author credit - many thanks to vegan model and founder of Willow Creative Co, Emma Hakansson for authoring this piece.  Emma is on Instagram @hakamme