Love leather and the environment? 5 things to look for in vegan leather alternatives

(Me wearing a leather jacket I bought in 2013)

Can I tell you a secret? I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for about three years, but only gave up leather this year. While giving up meat and dairy was a breeze (I wasn’t really a fan, to begin with), my weakness for luxe leather shoes and bags, has made giving up leather way more of a challenge. But I can’t ignore the impacts of leather on animals, the environment, and the workers in the supply chain, so this year when boot season came around, I decided to do some homework and look for vegan alternatives that feel just as luxurious as the real thing.

One of the first surprising things I learned was that there are quite a few brands out there making high-end vegan shoes and purses like Matt and Nat, Beyond Skin, and Alexandra K to name a few. While it seems like you’re narrowing your choices, there is a lot out there to choose from that doesn’t sacrifice style for ethics.

However, not all vegan leather alternatives are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Some plastics are petroleum based and made with fossil fuels. Look for pieces made from natural and sustainable materials, like Pinatex, which is made from the waste of pineapple leaves and husks and has a unique look and feel. Luxury designers like Stella McCartney are all about this material right now.

Look for info on the brand's site to back up claims about being vegan, sustainable, or fair trade such as third-party certifications. There are brands out there that are eager to jump on the greenwashing bandwagon. If it sounds like they’re just using marketing words and not backing up their claims with any substance, trust your gut.

Even high-end retailers like Nordstrom carry a decent selection of vegan options and you can search for vegan shoes right on their site. If you prefer the in-person shopping experience, their staff can point you in the direction of luxury and cruelty-free options.

The selection is only going to get bigger. If plant-based lifestyles continue to grow in popularity like they have, with vegans now being 6% of the US population, more companies will have to respond and offer vegan alternatives. I mean, even KFC offers vegan meals now.

While I’ve just started my journey into the shoes and purses supply chain, I’m hoping this info offers someone else the info to start with. Also, I can’t wait to get my new vegan boots in the mail and wear them this fall.