I’ve been thinking a lot lately about natural materials made from hide and man made leathers. Consumers can easily forget that fabrics such as leather, wool and fur all involve animal cruelty. However, there is the argument that animal skin is better for the environment because it will decompose at the end of its lifetime.

So the question I pose to you is; is it better to still wear these fabrics over man made ones?

Man made fabrics only started being produced from 1910. Rayon was the first, then followed by acetate, nylon, acrylic, polyester and polyurethane in the 1960s. These fabrics had the ability to reduce the usage of animal materials, but at what cost?

The cost they did not foresee was the cost to the environment with textile pollution.

Man Made Leather

Natural science.org states, “Plastics, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), consist of poisonous substances and a high percentage of chloride, a highly toxic chemical element.”

“Almost every synthetic material contains toxic substances. Those substances, such as hardeners, softeners, flame retardants or stabilizers, are problematic not only during the production process but also in daily use be- cause plastic – contrary to popular belief – does interact with other chemical substances. Usage, abrasion or exposure to heat detectably cause those poisonous substances to dissolve out the plastic and to enter our organism and the environment.”

That organism is you! Picture putting your feet into a barrel of petrol, that’s practically what your doing with ‘leatherette’.

Care2.com also agrees that PVC is harmful to you with the ingredient of lead, “Many of the purses harbored shockingly high levels of lead, a known toxin linked with cancer, infertility, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other health problems.”

Not only are these highly intensive chemically produced materials harmful to the wearer, they are also harmful to the environment.

“According to the UN, of the 300 million tons of plastic produced in the world each year about 6 million tons end up in the oceans. 80% of the waste is washed into the sea by rivers or carried out to the ocean from garbage dumps by the wind.”

How many ‘PU leather’ shoes, bags and garments, have you had which a strap has broke, or completely fallen apart within the first year of having them, been thrown in the bin? Well my friend, that bin is landfill and that landfill is piling up.

These plastics are none recyclable, they are a number 3 rating and simply go straight to landfill. These faux leathers take up to 500 years to biodegrade!

There is a big difference between natural leather which takes only 50 years to break down.

Leather is also created through a highly intensive chemical tanning process which has multiple health risks for the manufacturers alike. And we are all quite aware (or at least you should be) on where leather comes from, how it is inhumanely treated and breaks so many animal rights in the process.

However the biggest crisis we have at the moment is overconsumption and what leads to overconsumption is fast fashion going to landfill.


Acrylic is used to create the faux fur and wool fabrics. Although the big plus to these are that their is no animal cruelty in the production of the garment, there is still the after effects which harm the eco system entirely.

Wildculture.com believes that the biggest hindrance is in the washing of clothes, “The proportions of polyester and acrylic fibres in clothing matched that in effluent samples, suggesting that it’s the washing of clothes which pollutes coastlines with plastic waste. Over 1,900 fibres can wash off a single piece of clothing during a machine wash, which is more than 100 fibres per litre of effluent.”

If real fur and wool is harmful to the animals its being taken from, and faux fur is harmful to the sea creatures it’s getting eaten by, how do you chose?

The answer is in the new bred of sustainable manufacturers.

Sustainable Fabrics

It is safe to say that wool is heading in the right direction with farmers reaching for sustainability.

Australian farmer, Norman Smith family-owned farm in NSW has 12,000 specially-bred Merino sheep. Smith spoke with Greenlifestylemag.com.au about how his breed of sheep are different from the rest.

“It’s the amount of wrinkle in the skin of the sheep that traps moisture and attracts flies, so ‘plain-bodied’ sheep solve the problem rather than just treating the symptoms.

His ethically-treated sheep also graze on a property that’s managed for regenerative agriculture. ‘Wool is one of the only fibres in the world that can actually re-generate the land. There’s a number of ways that you can monitor that, but we’re seeing regeneration of the land by managing it holistically and through time-controlled grazing.’”

There is also leather being created through recycling plastic bottles and tires, like the brand Matt & Nat and others you can find on online shop Well Made Clothes.

These brands and inventive fabrics are a great step towards building a sustainable fashion industry for the future. Do you research when you’re looking at a brand, see why they call them selves sustainable and buy wisely.

However, overconsumption is still a big hindrance on the past and present industry, charity donations and landfill are overflowing with yesterday’s castaways.

The Solution

The solution I give you is to buy secondhand. Not only will buying secondhand reduce the waste of others going to landfill, you will be able to buy an item made of natural materials that will still decompose within a shorter lifecycle than plastic based fabrics.

These man made fabrics have only being around for less than a 100 years, but will stay around for the next 400.

I will never condone animal cruelty, but if I fight the war on waste through buying secondhand natural fabrics, then that is a way to a more sustainable wardrobe.

Buying these items will be a step towards helping the environment and reducing overconsumption. Buy choosing to buy secondhand natural products, they will be more durable and last longer; avoiding having to throw away that PU bag you brought from H&M after a few months of use.

If you don’t agree with me in buying secondhand garments made by natural fabrics, then believe that secondhand will always be a better option than buying new fast fashion.

When you buy these items new, they propel the industry further. When you buy secondhand, it puts the industry at a lose and it realises that consumers are no longer buying these items in-turn, reducing the need for future production. We can’t change the past but we can help the future.

If you need to buy a new item, do your research; don’t just buy the easiest ‘fastest’ option. Research the brands your buying from, find transparency in their making and do your homework on what a sustainable brand is. Buy what you know will last and won’t just be a trend item you will throw out in the near future.

Once you have become aware of these issues,  you can make more enlightened decisions on how you can create a sustainable wardrobe.  We can move forward to a brighter future with a race of informed consumers.