Over on Vegan Chai, the issue of what new vegans should do with old leather shoes is addressed. This is one of those topics that seems to come up a lot, including in the new Vegan Freak book, so I figured I’d chime in.
Even before I made the full transition to veganism, I decided to start to phase out my use of leather and other animal products. That said, I was still wearing shoes with leather in them a few months after I was vegan. I had made the vow to myself that, “I’ll continue to use my animal products until they’ve worn out their welcome and then I’ll replace them with an animal-friendly product.” The thing is, around my house, shoes can end up lasting forever. Just last weekend I went to the beach and couldn’t find my flip-flops (which is OK, because I don’t really like wearing them) so I grabbed a pair of old sneakers from the basement that date back to at least college. My “lawn-mowing shoes” are an old pair of sneakers-with-leather and I even wear shoes with leather when I volunteer at the farm. I worry that the cows hate me because of this.
For everyday wear, I sport my wicked cool hemp Superstars (and my matching wallet). I’m representing veganism well now, even if most people don’t take notice. Fortunately, they also didn’t take notice when I was wearing leather for those first few months I was vegan. I lucked out because, as Bob and Jenna point out in their book, defensive people tend to try and find any sort of contradiction when they realize you’re vegan. Most of us are too polite to point out the many contradictions our detractors have in their lives as well.
Everyone has to make the choice that’s right for them. I was comfortable with the notion of explaining to people why I was wearing leather, if they asked. Some people aren’t comfortable being put on the defensive, and for them it’s probably best to donate those old leather goods and get some new stuff right away. There’s also the school of thought that says, “If you wear leather at all, you’re sending a mixed message to people about veganism.” I think there’s validity to that point, but at the same I think that very few people will even take notice. And if they do, it’s likely they’ll say something and you’ll be able to counter it with a simple explanation.
I guess I should also take a second to address the idea that wearing man-made materials that look like leather, such as pleather, also sends the wrong message to people. After all, the argument goes, shouldn’t we be working to move people away from the entire leather “look”? Probably, but to me this parallels the “why do vegans want to eat things that taste and feel like meat?” question I get all the time. Just because we don’t partake in animal products doesn’t mean we stopped doing so because we didn’t like the way they looked (or tasted or felt). Personally, I’m trying to replace leather items with things that look nothing like leather, but that’s just because I’m not a leather type of guy. I have no problem with the pushing of pleather (though I do think we need to take a closer look at the environmental affect of pleather versus other alternatives).