With a wealth of luxury faux alternatives available in today’s market, shoe lovers can obtain the quality footwear they desire without incurring the usual environmental and human health costs.
Vegan leather is an animal-friendly alternative to real leather, derived from synthetic materials. No cow, sheep, goat or any other animal is killed in order to make vegan leather shoes, and for most people, that’s a good enough reason to choose it over the “real” thing. Provided that we pick the right maker, it also boasts the added advantage of being far more eco-friendly and sustainable than conventional leather.
Elizabeth Olsen, founder of the luxury vegan shoe brand Olsenhaus, says, “The only difference is the materials—one uses a dead animal’s skin preserved in toxic chemicals; the other is made from a mixture of natural and manmade materials that are better for animals and the environment.”
Twenty times more energy is used to create a leather hide than what is required for synthesized material. Conventional leather tanning involves treating animal skins with large quantities of toxic chemicals, including mineral salts, lead, cyanide and formaldehyde. This process wreaks havoc on our environment and the people that work in or live near tanneries, where chemical exposure can cause sickness or even be lethal.
Olsen cautions that just because a shoe is vegan doesn’t mean it’s been made in an eco-friendly way. She uses natural and manmade materials such as linen, cotton, cork, wood, imitation leathers and recycled faux suede in her vegan shoe line. To assess the quality of vegan leather shoes, she advises, “Shoppers can feel the material and look at the grain to see if it’s faux; with faux, the grain will show a repeating pattern. Also, look for labels noting materials either inside or on the bottom of shoes.”
Olsen notes that an online search for vegan fashion will yield everything from adult couture to baby clothes. Several websites and blogs report on the latest vegan products. She especially likes GirlieGirlArmy.com for vegan lifestyle and fashion.