I get the feeling we’ve all had this moment – you meet some other vegan and you’re worried they think your fake leather is real. Oh, the social anxiety!
You want to point out that your shoes or clothes are only faux, and therefore entirely consistent with your commitment to animal welfare and animal rights. But has anyone actually considered whether this is true? Is wearing fake leather compatible with Veganism?
The story of fur
Consider fake fur for a moment, as opposed to fake leather. In recent years it’s been disappointing to see fur becoming more acceptable again. I think one reason for this is that the prevalence of fake fur means that the public can no longer tell on sight if someone is being unethical/ ignorant, or simply wearing faux. As a consequence, wearers of fur are no longer publicly judged for their immoral lifestyle – the look has been normalised again.
I mention that many fur wearers may be ignorant rather than unethical because I find it hard to believe that anyone who knew what often happens in the industry would choose to financially support it. A large part of the fur industry (increasingly based in China) actually skins animals alive, and I have to believe that the only reason that people still choose to buy fur is that they are unaware of this. It’s up to vegans and their fellow travellers to spread awareness of this issue.
If you accept that the wearing of fake fur normalises the look of wearing animal pelt, and partially explains the recurrence of fur coats since the 90s, then it seems as though vegans should refrain from wearing fake fur.
But does the fake fur argument also apply to leather?
Should we as vegans refrain from using faux leather too? What effect does wearing fake leather have on the social acceptability of wearing luxury leather clothing? Let’s keep the focus on luxury leather goods for now, i.e. leather products for which animals were specifically bred and slaughtered, as opposed to cheap leather goods which are made as a by-product, and hence are part of a different debate.
Unlike wearing fur, wearing leather is so universal that people don’t even notice it; the public doesn’t even think of leather as animal skin. This is an important difference. People are uneasy about fur because it looks like it came from an animal, it’s traditionally worn by rich elites, and it involves the harming of cute animals, and to the average hard-of-thinking imbecile cuteness is a moral factor.
The same does not apply to leather. And here is the crux of the matter: wearing leather is currently so universal and normal, at such a deep level, that a few vegans avoiding wearing faux leather would make absolutely no difference to its social acceptability. The best thing that can be done for now is to fund awareness campaigns that remind the public of where leather really comes from.
If at some point in the future wearing leather becomes controversial, and not a universal behavior, then there might be an argument to avoid faux leather. If it gets to a point when people are really conscious of what leather actually is, and only a minority of shallow fashionistas wear it, then it will be important not to inadvertently normalise the look by wearing the faux version. But that’s a long way off, so for now, it seems to me pretty acceptable to wear fake leather. Here’s to hoping this will change one day soon.