I could be a vegetarian. It would be hard, but I could live without eating meat nor fish. Would I be a veggie fashionista? Tougher question. I don't know. What would it mean exactly?
It would imply getting rid off fur : I can do that -I admire the beauty of fur coats and hats, but honestly I don't think I will ever wear some. Getting rid of silk (yes, according to some extreme activists, silk is also non vegetarian fashion) : I love silk (raw silk, silk satin, silk chiffon..) but I have to admit that it is now possible to produce high quality fabric with the same aspect and feel as silk but made up of synthetic fibres. So I could go with no silk. Now comes the most difficult part. Get rid off leather : what about shoes? handbags? my leather jacket? Leather has some properties that are very difficult to mimic. It's strong and soft at the same time, it's waterproof and warm.
On the other hand, it is reasonable to think that leather should be avoided for several environmental reasons: first, as the animal activist may argue, it involves killing animals, most of the time in awful conditions. Secondly, the ecological activist would say that it involves breeding animals and thus polluting the planet with greenhouse gases emissions. At last, any responsible human being may think that it is disturbing to know that the tanning process of leather is highly toxic, and that the products (such as chrome) and techniques used to obtain the final product prevent leather from being biodegradable, creating a long-term environmental problem. Some new tanning methods are more environment friendly, but they are also more demanding and expensive.
So what can we use if we decide to stop buying leather? There's a lot of noise at the moment about vegetable leather. Vegetable leather can be many things: in some cases, it is called treetap and comes from a rubber tree species in the Amazon forest. In other cases it is mostly a blend of natural and synthetic fibres.
Treebag proposes bags and shoes using treetap as well as fair trade ethics and a higher remuneration for the producer. I must admit however that the design of the products is not the most appealing.
At the other end of the fashion scope stands Stella McCartney. Her commitment to the green cause is well-known. Her clothes are all vegetarian. She uses faux leather made from synthetic or natural fibres, but she underlines how more difficult and more costly it is to use that kind of fabric compared to leather. I actually own a pair of her "suitable for vegetarians" shoes. They are as comfy as leather ones, and, except for the absence of the distinctive leather smell, you could admit they look like leather.
A little bit less expensive are the collections by Olsenhaus. That hot brand produces gorgeous shoes with a minimum impact on the environment and absolutely no animal-related material.
Olsenhaus Fall 2010 collection
Thanks to the support of some artists such as Nathalie Portman, the movement for vegetable or faux leather is spreading rapidly, along with the raise of general awareness for environmental issues. Designers avoiding leather are indeed the ones who are more likely to use recycled materials and low-energy fabrication processes.
So what will I do? Obviously I can't afford McCartney or Olsenhaus on a regular basis. And I can't resign myself to buy only that not-so-glamorous fair trade items. Waiting for a broader scope of offers, I will certainly buy more leather shoes while keeping an eye on the industry and hoping that the innovative techniques will disseminate quickly.
Will it help if I send a petition to H&M? After going organic, they may accept going vegetarian and they are definitely one of the most influential brands. Who knows?