Vegan Leather vs Vintage Leather – How to make the most sustainable choice

When you want to buy a new luxury handbag, but want to be as environmentally conscious as possible; the many options in regards to materials, where they come from, are they natural or manmade? how long will they last? The endless choices can at times be incredibly confusing. Tresor Vintage investigates which is better; vegan leather or vintage leather...

Vegan leather has been all the rage in the luxury industry over the last few years, seen by many as the way forward to building a more sustainable way forward for fashion and the world as a whole.It’s already been argued many times that a vegan or low animal product diet is one of the best ways to reduce our carbon footprint. And many of us want to try and carry those choices over from our plates to our wardrobes but swapping out our leather handbags for more sustainable alternatives.

So, what exactly is Vegan leather? Most mainstream vegan leathers being used by brands today are made of plastics – PU and PVC are most commonly used as their texture is able to mimic the look and finish of real leather.But there are companies who also make leather from natural fibers such as pineapple leaves, fruit peel and recycled corks. Which although is the more sustainable option of the two synthetic leathers, it’s often difficult to get these ‘organic’ leather substitutes to replicate the look and feel of a luxury designer handbag.

Many contemporary designers, such as Telfar who’s exclusively vegan leather shopping bags are a consistent sell out; do opt to use vegan leather in place of traditional animal leather, and it often does serve as a cruelty-free alternative which feels just as luxurious as the real thing.But there is a debate on whether or not vegan leather is actually all that sustainable. Whilst many sustainability experts can agree the lack of animal involvement greatly reduces it’s environmental impact. The most commonly used types are, despite clever marketing terms to make them feel more expensive, made of plastic – which not only isn’t as durable as real leather but has the potential to release toxic into the ocean and atmosphere and take years to biodegrade.

 So, what’s the alternative? Well, many vegans and environmentally conscious fashionistas have turned to the second-hand market in order to make more conscious purchases. It’s almost a loop hole – as buying leather products second hand not only avoids directly supporting the industry and doesn't contribute to the demand for animal products. It also extends the life of a product when it’s first owner has outgrown it – and since leather’s popularity is mostly down to it’s durability, designer leather handbags can last a lifetime when properly cared for.

But other vegans and sustainability experts argue that even second-hand leather perpetuates the idea that animals can be used for a fashion statement and our own use, which many believe to be one of the main reasons people actually choose to live a vegan lifestyle. Many go as far to even say that vegan leather also upholds this, as it’s designed to look and feel exactly like real leather, so even if it’s fake, you’re still upholding the ‘look’.So how can I make the best choice for the environment? Well, it’s pretty clear that there’s no right or wrong answer or whatever you choose there’s criticism for either side. But we say evaluate what your personal needs are in a handbag and also what you're looking for aesthetically.

If you’re after an old classic such as a Chanel flap or a Hermès Birkin, then there is not currently a Vegan option if you want that leather look. But opting for second hand with these classic bags is usually the best option as you’ll not only pay a significantly reduced price when compared to new – but you’ll also be able to own a piece of history, access limited edition and rare pieces and extend a bags lifespan by buying it pre-loved.

But if you want to stay leather free but still luxury, then there are lots of options. Many of Louis Vuitton’s most iconic handbags, such as the Never full and the Speedy, are actually made of a specially tanned canvas which is famed for its durable properties. Chanel also offers many of their most iconic handbag styles in alternative materials such as tweed and brocade.Many other handbag brands have also made non-leather materials the star of some of their signature styles. Prada’s nylon range is so popular that the brand reissued some of the original 00’s styles earlier in 2020 using recycled nylon fibers. Gucci also offers versions of it’s iconic bags in their signature monogrammed canvas such as the Dionysus and the Horsebit.

So whatever you choose, the most important factor will always be whether or not you love a bag and will use it to it’s full potential – even if you buy something with the smallest environmental impact if it’s just sitting at the back of your closet then it’s a waste. So buy what you love, and if you can, buy pre-loved!