Image Credit: ABLE
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Leather jackets are a staple in almost every woman’s wardrobe, no matter your style. They last forever, are endlessly versatile, and have a global yet edgy appeal. But mention the word leather in a sustainable fashion group, and you’ll immediately receive, ahem, mixed feedback.
Traditional leather tanning can be extremely toxic to the environment and for the people living in developing countries where much of leather is produced. Toxic chemicals and heavy metals end up running into the waterways that are 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.
What to look for in an ethical and sustainable leather jacket
Safely-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 the 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 its sourcing, it deserves support.
Genuine vegetable-tanned leather steers away from chrome or mineral tanning and uses alternative, eco-friendly processes and materials, such as quebracho, chestnut, or mimosa trees. It is considered higher quality than heavy metal-treated leather and will also last longer. It’s difficult to find veggie-tanned leather with the supple texture needed for a jacket, however. In the absence of that, look for chromium-free leather, or leather tanned in a responsible tannery.
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 farm animals doesn’t mean it’s kind to the earth, as we’ve reported before. Most vegan leather is made from materials like PVC, PU, and acrylic. These are just plastics, and they don’t age well, nor are they easily reparable, and they will never biodegrade once tossed aside
If you rank cruelty-free products above animal ones, you might be trading off workers’ health (not to mention the planet). Overexposure to the chemicals used in PU or PVC production can cause adverse health effects in humans and animals, plus they could also carry a higher carbon footprint. Greenpeace has labeled PVC as the “most environmentally damaging plastic,” as it emits chlorine-based compounds into the air, waterways, and food chains.
There are some vegan leather options that combine PU with plant ingredients, like Piñatex (made from pineapple leaf fibers), and Desserto (cactus leather). You’ll have to decide for yourself what your priorities are when it comes to ethical production!
Reclaimed / Recycled leather: Reclaimed and recycled leather is, in our opinion, 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 every type of sustainable and ethical leather jacket.
ABLE is a lifestyle brand focused on ending generational poverty by providing economic opportunities for women. The brand’s wages are transparently published on its website in order to protect the women makers and empower consumers. ABLE is a great brand for elevated yet comfortable shoes and bags that can easily be dressed up or down. Its leather jacket is made in India out of lamb leather.
Deadwood’s leather products are made from rescued deadstock skins, repurposed vintage clothing and upcycled post-production waste. A slow-fashion brand, its collections are updated bi-annually and contain a large core of carry-over styles. Deadwood also offers a capsule of jackets and pants made entirely from a leather-like material called Desserto, a mixture of organically grown Mexican cactus and PU.
Altiir creates ethical and cruelty-free leather jackets made out of Piñatex. Its designs are a take on 60’s rock’n’roll counterculture. The vintage and tailored biker jackets are made from start to finish in Italy. You can find them in a range of natural and metallic colors.
B Corp certified Sézane is a French apparel brand that creates high-quality, timeless clothing at a fair and accessible price. You can find organic cotton, certified materials, recycled polyester and chrome-free tanned leather for the majority of its collections. The brand’s leather jacket comes in three flattering colors. All of Sézane’s shipping boxes are now made from recycled cardboard or are derived from sustainably-managed forests. The brand was unable to give us more spefic information regarding what exact tanning process they mean by “chrome-free.” But aldehyde tanning, aka “wet white” tanning, is the process typically used when chrome-free leather is specified. We are going to assume for now that aldehyde tanning is the process Sézane used.
Shopping secondhand is one of the most sustainable and affordable ways to shop. And these days, you have an endless selection of different items, sizes, and price points, quality validated by online platforms.
You will find more vintage luxury pieces on Vestiaire Collective, which are more heavily curated based on brand. You can shop for designer jackets for both men and women.
Tradesy is also a luxury consignment store that’s super user-friendly and also authenticates its products before selling. You can also directly ask the previous owner questions about the piece before buying.