Bon Cloth, Bad Cloth: Vegan Leather

 

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Photo credit: Free People

I used to think that vegan leather was a sustainable alternative that would lessen my environmental footprint. When I saw the word “vegan”, I immediately associated it with “environmentally friendly”. However, as I’ve started asking more questions about how my clothing and accessories are made, I’ve added most vegan leathers to my list of fabrics to stay away from.

 

While there are some innovative, plant-based leathers, like kelp-, cork-, or more recently pineapple-based leather, the majority of vegan leather found in fast-fashion retail shops are made of harmful synthetic fibers made of petrochemicals, like polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane and textile-polymers. The truth is, most vegan leather is just greenwashed faux leather.

While it’s one thing for synthetic vegan leather to be marketed as a cheaper alternative to genuine leather, it’s increasingly common to see luxury brands selling synthetic leather for exorbitant prices and justifying it by calling it vegan.

One example, is a Canadian brand, MATT & NAT, that makes vegan leather bags. Price points for their products fall between $75-200. Their website reads,

“Various vegan leathers are used in production, the scientific terms are PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). PU is less harmful for the environment than PVC and we make it a point to use it whenever possible. The linings inside all… bags are made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles.”

I see a few issues with this statement. It says that they make it a point of using PU, which is still a petrochemical that has been said to lead to skin irritation and lung problems, whenever possible – so even though they believe that the fact that it’s less harmful makes it safe to use, they cannot commit to using it 100% of the time. Also, the fabric that is processed from plastics gives off synthetic microfibers that make their way into the ocean, and our water supplies, as well as the animals that live in these bodies of water. A study conducted at the University College of Dublin found that out of all human-made materials found in their water samples, 85 percent of those were microfibers from polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers. So while, MATT & NAT bags are technically vegan, they are by no means sustainable or environmentally friendly.

While MATT & NAT does seem to make a point to prioritize “quality working conditions” for their factory employees, many companies that offer “vegan leather” products do not, and since many people associate veganism with ethicality, their production practices are often not questioned.

These types of greenwashing happen all too often. So while I’m in support of opting for vegan leather over genuine leather, if the vegan leather is not plant-based, we may be doing more harm than good. I personally believe that it’s better to upcycle or thrift genuine leather staples (like a black bag) that will last for years, than buying a synthetic leather product that may wear out and contributes to our toxic relationship with fossil fuels.

What do you think? Do you prefer genuine leather or do you opt out of all consumption of any kind of leather or alternative leather textiles?

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Skincare Tips for City Dwellers

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I’m very used to having problems with my skin. Not full-blown acne, but a few spots here and there and hyperpigmentation, whether I pick at my skin or not. Over the past year or so, I’ve been taking a more natural approach to skincare and it’s helped fade my dark marks as well as ward off new pimples. I have combination skin (oily in some places, dry in some places and normal everywhere else) so it can be difficult to find a skincare regimen that works on a long-term basis. Since it’s easier to know what goes into the products I use when I make it myself, a lot of these products are DIY or available at garden shops or grocery stores. I’m now working full-time, and upper-level classes this semester, so a lot of these tips are very quick and low maintenance too!

  1. Wash your hands: This was never a big issue when I lived in the suburbs but living in the city is a whole other story. It’s so important to wash your hands when you come in from outside, and before you touch your face. Not only does dirt and air pollutants get into your pores throughout the day, but touching your face with dirty hands can exacerbate the issue by pushing more dirt into your skin. Steer clear of hand soaps with DMDM Hydantoin, a chemical preservative which contains formaldehyde, and sulfates, and harsh fragrances, both of which can dry out and irritate your skin. I always opt for all-natural castile soap, like Dr. Bronner’s which is available at many places in the Toronto, including 4 Life Natural Goods, at 210 Augusta Ave in Kensington Market. 
  2. Say “no” to soap: I stopped using soaps on my face several weeks ago after reading an article about using honey as a face wash and my skin has never felt nicer. I use Honey Bunny Raw Honey, available at most grocery stores. Since this honey is organic and raw, it’s white and thick, unlike processed honey, which I wouldn’t recommend using on your face. As an extra measure, I added activated charcoal to the honey to draw out toxins. The ratio is 1 opened capsule of activated charcoal for every 2 tablespoons of honey and this small batch lasts me for a couple of weeks, so it’s extremely cost effective. I will often put the mixture on my dry face before I get into the shower. The steam opens my pores, then I thoroughly wash off the mixture in the shower.
  3. Oils for oily faces: A couple of years ago, I stopped using face lotions and creams. They were full of, well, fillers that did absolutely nothing but irritate my skin. Since I have combination skin I prefer a gentle oil that doesn’t leave my skin too oily. I’ve been using 100% pure organic argan oil, but jojoba oil or grapeseed oil are also  great options. Some people use coconut oil, but I wouldn’t recommend that since coconut oil is a 4 on comedogenic scale, meaning it’s likely to clog pores. When buying oils, try to make sure they’re stored in dark glass bottles, which helps keep the oil fresh. If an oil is pure, meaning there are no other oils mixed in, or organic, it will be stated explicitly on the bottle. Do not use face oils that contain mineral oil, which is made of petrochemicals, as it can clog pores. There are countless places in the city where you can find pure oils, and essential oils to mix into them if you choose to! Try to source them locally and support a smaller business.
  4. Aloe vera on everything: Aloe is not just for sunburns, it’s a year-round essential! Aloe vera gel has antibacterial and healing properties that can both shrink pimples overnight, ward off new spots and help to fade hyperpigmentation. I recommend buying an aloe vera plant and using it a few times a week before you go to bed. The plant is very low maintenance and only needs to be watered every couple of weeks, or when the top two inches of the soil is dry. Just cut the tip off of one of the stocks, split it open and rub the inside onto your skin. The gel, when dried can cause your face to feel kind of tight, but smooth and hydrated. Aloe vera juice is also an amazing way to gently cleanse your body on a daily basis. I just mix a spoonful into room temperature water in the morning. You can buy aloe vera juice at Ottoway Herbs and Vitamins, which has three convenient locations in Toronto and you can pick up an aloe vera plant at most garden shops.
  5. Wear makeup sparingly: The biggest aid to feeling better about my skin was actually to stop wearing as much makeup. I learned to embrace and be okay with my hyperpigmentation, which gave me the confidence to go about my day without thinking about my concealer fading. Don’t get me wrong, I still love and wear makeup, but now I wear much less and I wear it less often. I also pay close attention to the ingredients in my makeup. Try to stay away from makeup products with BHA and BHT, synthetic preservatives which are suspected endocrine disruptors, DMDM Hydantoin, Parabens, and fragrances. Right now, I use Physician’s Formula Organic wear 100% Natural Origin Mascara, Emani Perfect 10 Primer, which is paraben-free and vegan, and Vasanti Flash Effect Loose Powder – the latter two are both made by Canadian companies and they’re all available at any drug store.

I live by these five tips, in addition to eating a plant-based diet, drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day and trying my best to maintain an active lifestyle as best I can with my hectic schedule. Let me know your favourite skincare tips and tricks, and if you incorporate any of my ideas into your regimen, let me know how they worked for you!