Controversy in the Fashion Industry: Leather and Suede

MakersValley Blog: Controversy in the Fashion Industry: Leather and Suede
Mia McCarthy

Mia McCarthy

As the fashion industry progresses toward a more ethical, eco-conscious world, it’s clear that certain garments are gradually fading out of the picture. While animal products are commonly used for high-end, luxury items, the ethical repercussions of this use are often swept under the rug– at least up until recently. Fashion has now collectively strayed away from the traditional use of animal products like leather, suede, and fur, pivoting toward alternative textiles to recreate the industry’s finest garments in a sustainable way.

The Issues Surrounding Luxurious Leather

The origin of leather in fashion dates back to 50,000 years ago when the animal skin was solely used to stay warm. Since then, the use of leather has progressed tremendously, primarily in high end, couture collections.

Leather comes from the integration of raw animal skin and the preservation process. Essentially, preserving the animal skin is known as “tanning”, which makes the animal skin soft enough to be shaped and comfortably worn. Tanneries around the world buy raw animal skin, turn it into leather, color it, and sell it to manufacturers at an above average price, which is why leather products are seen specifically in luxury brands. Since the beginning of fashion manufacturing, leather has been a symbol of superb class status and high quality apparel and accessories. From leather jackets to leather bags, this critical material has seen immense success in the fashion industry. However, as we approach an era where sustainability is a rising concern, fashion designers have explored different ways to achieve the same chic look that leather offers without the use of animal products.

Faux or vegan leather has seen an increase in popularity within the fashion industry. Leather substitutes also include: microfibre, hemp, cotton, gore-tex, and various types of rubber. The vegan leather industry is expected to reach $89.6 billion by 2025, seeing a compound annual growth rate of 49.9%. Animal cruelty policies are responsible for this push towards creating awareness surrounding the unethical use of animal skin as apparel. While traditional leather has seen some increase in inflation, more and more consumers are seeking a cost-effective alternative and faux leather is slowly becoming the essential synthetic staple in the fashion world.

MakersValley Blog: Controversy in the Fashion Industry: Leather and Suede

Misconceptions of Suede Fabric

Suede has topped the fashion industry and continues to gain popularity to this day. Suede is categorized as a special type of leather using the inner part of the animal skin that is processed and tanned to create a softer finish. Because the material is significantly more flexible and easier to shape than standard leather, it’s most commonly used for purses, shoes, and jackets. Much like leather, suede also symbolizes luxury. High profile fashion designers like Hermes, Givenchy, and Paquin often work directly with tanneries to produce distinct leather for their collections.

One thing people fail to recognize is that suede is actually made from animal skin, just like leather. People tend to associate suede with soft, fuzzy fabrics like cotton or faux fur. This misleading fabric is known for its smooth appearance and pliable characteristics. However, just like leather, suede will see a gradual decline as consumers begin to prioritize ethical options over their favorite pair of shoes. Serving as the essential substitute: faux leather or vegan suede is made of synthetic fibers such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU). These materials create the same suede appearance and even have a water repellent quality that original suede does not have, making faux suede significantly easier to clean. The drastic shift within the suede market has resulted in animal friendly substitutes at a much lower cost!

While it’ll take time to see a noticeable change in the use of animal skin within the fashion industry, we as a fashion community are on the path to success. Creating awareness and constantly finding new, cruelty-free alternatives is the direction many fashion brands are now choosing to take.

MakersValley Blog: Controversy in the Fashion Industry: Leather and Suede

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