Part I: General Information

Posted on: Thu, 08/25/2005 - 22:18 By: Tom Swiss


The Leather Substitutes Resource Guide (formerly, the "Leather Alternatives FAQ") is compiled by Tom Swiss. It was last modified September 17, 2007. Copyright (C) 1992-2007. Please copy, share and enjoy this information. Send praise, information, flames, money, beer, etcetera to

You are encouraged to print this list out and distribute unmodified copies to your non-netting friends or local vegetarian organization, so long as you do not do so for monetary profit.

This list is only as good as the information I get. If you have comments on any of the stores, catalogs or products mentioned in this list, or if you know of other good products or sources, please send them to me! Also note that this list has been compiled over many years and some material may be outdated; if you find this to be the case, please let me know.

I've tried to give credit where it is due and include the names of people who send me information. If you're willing to be contacted about a product or recommendation, let me know and I'll include your e-mail address. Where I've quoted people directly, I've tried to indicate any changes or updates in square brackets, [].

If you send information about a vendor, if you can please include the regular phone number as well as any 800 (toll-free) number (these cannot be used by folks outside the USA).

Many, many thanks to all contributors!

Vegetarians and the Use of Leather Goods

For those new to vegetarianism, we will start with a few words about the attitude of vegetarians towards the use of leather goods. We should note that there are some vegetarians who have little or no objection to the use of leather and other animal-derived goods; many who adopt a vegetarian diet primarily for reasons of health would fall into this category, as would some who adopt a vegetarian diet for its lower environmental impact (but see below). Even those who are vegetarian for ethical reasons may use some leather goods - if there is no available alternative, if the goods were gifts, or purchased before the person became a vegetarian or purchased by mistake.

Thus, a vegetarian wearing leather shoes is not necessarily a "hypocrite", as some critics would like to point out. However, for the sake of convenience, in the rest of this document we will assume that "vegetarian" implies "wishes to avoid the use of leather goods."

One should also be aware that it can be difficult to tell synthetics from the real thing; my "Real Fake" jacket and vegetan Doc Martens fooled many people. In conversations on the topic, I have been asked if it is a good idea for vegetarians to use leather-looking goods - does it encourage the use of leather? I say no. With all the real leather in use, someone seeing me in my fake leather jacket and thinking it real isn't going to be significantly encouraged to get a leather jacket; but if they say "Nice jacket", or ask "Hey, aren't you vegetarian? Why are you wearing leather?" it's a perfect opportunity to engage in some educational dialogue.

Environmental Considerations

Some claim that using leather alternatives is harmful to the environment, as these alternatives usually use plastics which are derived from petrochemicals, or fabrics like cotton whose production often involves the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. However, the production of leather is also damaging to the environment.

From the Nov/Dec 1991 issue of the Vegetarian Journal:

Environmentally, turning animal hides into leather is an energy intensive and polluting practice. The Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology states, &quotOn the basis of quantity of energy consumed per unit of product produced, the leather-manufacturing industry would be categorized with the aluminum, paper, steel, cement, and petroleum-manufacturing industries as a gross consumer of energy." Production of leather basically involves soaking (beamhouse), tanning, dyeing, drying, and finishing. Over 95% of all leather produced in the U.S. is chrome tanned. The effluent that must be treated is primarily related to the beamhouse and tanning operations. The most difficult to treat is effluent from the tanning process. All wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many other pollutants involved in the processing leather are associated with environmental and health risks. In terms of disposal, one would think that leather products would be biodegradable, but the primary function for a tanning agent is to stabilize the collagen or protein fibers so that they are no longer biodegradable.

Evaluating the relative environmental and health costs of leather versus non-leather products is difficult to do. It is apparent that they all involve practices that can adversely affect public health and the environment. Since leather is intimately related to the exploitation of animals, it seems most desirable to buy canvas, limit purchases, go barefoot, and encourage companies to develop more ecologically sound alternatives.

And this doesn't even take into account the ecological cost of modern animal agriculture techniques.

Also, note that some synthetics use recycled or recyclable materials.

Other Considerations

There are many other considerations to take into account when buying products - corporate policies on sweatshops, labor relations, environmental law, right down to customer service and plain honest dealing. These are important considerations, but they are outside the scope of this document.

Listing a company here as a source of non-leather goods is not an endorsement of their general business practices. You are encouraged to research the behavior of the companies you purchase from and factor these things into your decisions.