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Years ago, finding a high quality leather footwear alternative was rather a large challenge unless you were happy to purchase a pretty cheap plastic version that often left your feet in a sorry state. However, finding any other decent sustainable material was almost impossible.

Fortunately times are a changing and due to amazing advances in fabric technologies thankfully vegan shoes have come a long way, to the extent that nowadays it is often impossible to tell the difference between a good quality faux leather and the real thing.

One of the most popular misconceptions of faux leather is that it is not breathable, not eco-friendly and is comparatively cheap. Nowadays most leather skins are in fact far cheaper as most are sourced from the developing world where regulations regarding leather production, effluent and environmental policies are virtually non-existent. Currently many Italian produced faux leather’s and suede’s cost considerably more than most real leather skins and are of a far superior quality.

There are now many companies experimenting with recycled PET plastic so it won’t be long before recycled faux leather’s take the stage. Currently only a few footwear brands produce footwear using sustainable materials and these are predominantly faux suedes but one of the microfibre faux suede alternatives to look out for is Dinamica.

This fabric although currently expensive, is breathable, made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottletops and has the look and feel of real suede yet unlike its’ real suede counterpart, can get wet, be cleaned and does not watermark. Due to it’s incredible durability it is used in the auto-industry by both Jaguar and Mercedes Benz for their high-end interiors. Louis Vuitton are also now using Dinamica faux suede and although they do not present it to the media and shout about it, it is exciting that the luxury market is now willing to experiment with more sustainable materials and leather alternatives and is a sure sign that this incredible material could in fact potentially, one day replace real suede.

Ultimately, in order to give up one’s leather wearing antics it is paramount that shoes do not compromise their comfort or style. In order for faux leather and suede materials to forge ahead as replacements, businesses must realise that they cannot survive on their ethical merits alone. Like any other business, they will have to continue to produce goods that are well designed, good quality and competitive within the mainstream footwear market.

The leather versus suede debate is a challenging one. Although petro-chemical based products are not the answer long term, as more recyclable options come to market we will have to seriously reconsider the environmental cost comparisons.

• Without tanning, animal hides would begin to decompose immediately; tanning is the process of adding chemical preservatives to the skins and hides to ensure they do not biodegrade.

• Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water; a cow can drink up to 127 litres of water a day.

• On average, one cow hide will provide 18 pairs of leather shoes and each pair of shoes is accountable for the use of over 1.4 million litres of water.

• Vegetable tanned leather is less easily biodegraded than chrome leather due to the differences in the tanning stages.

• A third of the grain we grow is to feed farm animals.

• 25% of the world’s land surface is given over to grazing more than 1.25 billion cattle.

• Currently one third of the world’s land suffers desertification through; clearing forests for grazing; overgrazing; over-cultivating croplands to feed farm animals (as well as people); poor irrigation techniques.

• The ammonia and nitrates from farm animal urine and excrement leaches in to the ground and surface water, polluting wells and rivers.

• An estimated 225 environmentally damaging and toxic chemicals are used in leather production. These chemicals have been linked to various cancers, asthma and numerous other diseases.

• 90 per cent of global leather is chrome-tanned.

• Many synthetic leathers are made from cotton-backed polyurethane PU (polyurethane) looks like PVC leatherette, but is kinder to the environment. However, many cheap synthetic leathers are often made from PVC which contains chlorine, a toxic chemical that produces dioxin during its manufacturing process.

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Written by: Beyond Skin


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