Leather jackets are a staple in the wardrobe of every woman, no matter what your style. And yes, that definitely applies to conscious fashion consumers, too.
That’s because leather jackets last forever, are endlessly versatile, and have a global appeal. Best of all, they don’t go in and out of style like so many other supposed staples. For example, I bought a leather jacket in 2009 and I still wear the heck out of that thing. What other type of fashion can you say that for? I severely regretted not bringing it with me to South America, to keep me warm and stylish for the chilly winter air in Mexico City, Medellin and Buenos Aires. So when we arrived to Europe, I begged my friend to fetch it from our apartment and deliver it to me in Berlin.
The point is: I cannot live without a leather jacket. And I bet you can’t either.
Unfortunately, whether or not leather is considered ‘sustainable’ can be quite a grey area. Traditional leather tanning can be extremely toxic to the environment and for the people living in the developing countries where much of leather is produced, with toxic chemicals and heavy metals running into the waterways used for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. But, if the leather is processed at a responsible tannery, or is saved from a landfill to be upcycled into a new jacket, then leather can be a healthy part of a sustainable fashion ecosystem. The founder of Fortress of Inca, an ethical shoe brand that uses leather for their shoes, wrote about their decision to use leather in order to support the local artisans in South America, while simultaneously keeping excess leather out of the waste management centers (where they would otherwise overflow or be burned).
What are the alternatives to virgin leather?
Veggie-tanned leather as a byproduct: The ‘leather as a byproduct’ argument has to be a careful one. Sometimes, like in South America or India, leather is a byproduct of a very productive beef industry and would otherwise be thrown out or burned, but overall consumption of red meat is decreasing in certain parts of the world, like Italy, so this argument doesn’t always work anymore. However, if a brand is intentional and involved in their sourcing, it can work. For example, the brand RITUAL (below), uses leather from Indonesia, where sheep and goat are staples in their diet. Then, that leather is tanned using alternative, eco-friendly processes and materials.
Vegan leather? Many of the brands out there using vegan leather alternatives market themselves as “eco-friendly.” But unfortunately, just because something is kind to animals doesn’t mean it’s kind to the earth. Most vegan leather is made from materials like PVC, PU, and acrylic. These are just plastics, and they they don’t last as long nor are they easily reparable, and they will never biodegrade.
There are some great sustainable leather options out there like Piñatex, (made from pineapple leaf fibers), mushroom skin, cork, and real lab grown leather. However, the latter options have not been commercialized yet, and no one to our knowledge is making jackets out Piñatex (and honestly, some of those options might look weird as a ‘leather’ jacket anyway).
Reclaimed / Recycled leather: Reclaimed and recycled leather is the best option. No new animals are killed, it requires very minimal processing, it looks beautiful, is easily repaired, and it keeps the material out of the landfills. Win-win-win.
Below are the best brands to shop for high quality, stylish, sustainable leather jackets. All but two of them (RITUAL and VEDA) are made from 100% reclaimed and recycled leather, so you can feel good about what you’re wearing—and look hot too.
Based in New York, all of The Sway’s pieces are made from either vintage leather, excess leather that’s just sitting in tanneries, or remnant pieces that are too small to use. Their manufacturing facility is certified by both Sedex and SA-8000 to ensure fair working conditions.
Prices: $600 – $650
Each Wolf & Lamb jacket is first chosen as an old, worn-out vintage piece, then deconstructed, re-designed, and re-worked into a new contemporary piece. They work in small quantities in downtown Los Angeles in order to reduce waste and ensure you’re getting a one-of-a-kind piece.
Prices: $640 – $800
Better World Fashion also uses only 100% repurposed leather. They partner with a family-owned factory in Poland to make sure the workers are paid fairly and the means of production are sustainable when it comes to CO2 emissions, water, toxic chemicals, and waste. They have a buy back program for your old leather, or you can lease a jacket on a monthly basis and give it back when you’re tired of it.
RITUAL carries a lot of unique, bespoke leather pieces with a goth edge that are made by fairly-paid artisans out of leather that’s a by-product of the meat industry in Indonesia, where goats and sheep are staples in the diet. I actually wore one of their amazing gold leather garter-style belts at Burning Man a couple years ago. You can also have them make a custom jacket with your measurements.
Prices: $450 – $2,500
VEDA leather jackets are made in small, exclusive collections right in NYC, all for $500 or under. This one is a collaboration with Reformation, so it’s made in a way that saves CO2, water, and waste.
Or Go Vintage!
The great thing about real leather is that it can last a really long time. Shop secondhand to get your hands on a discounted leather jacket, while saving it from a landfill and reducing the need for new production of leather.
Vestiaire Collective has a huge, curated selection of luxury pieces, so you have a lot of secondhand and vintage pieces to choose from. Each piece checked for quality and authenticity once it’s sold and before it’s shipped to you.
Prices: $25 – $15,000
TheRealReal handles all of the photography, authenticity, product descriptions, and shipping for the clothing sold on their site, so you can trust what you’re buying. They carry a really wide selection of styles and prices.
Prices: $25 – $8,000
Tradesy is also a luxury consignment store that’s super user-friendly and also authenticates their products before selling. You can also directly ask the previous owner questions about the piece before buying.
Prices: $20 – $8,000
thredUP is the largest online consignment store out there. They also check their clothing for quality and functionality before shipping them to you. You can expect to find brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Dior, Giorgio Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent.
Prices: $5 – $800