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Leather vs. Vegan

And why we offer both.

The sustainable fashion world is rife with arguments in favor of and against both leather and vegan materials. It is our belief that each is valid and important, and that neither one is perfect.

As leaders in the sustainable footwear movement, and as experts in shoe production, we feel there is a place for both vegan and leather footwear - but both must be created responsibly. By using the same heritage Italian craftsmanship, factories, and attention to detail, we aim to bridge the gap between the two schools of thought, and open up a middle ground to discuss consumption, materialization, and quality.

Why we are pro-leather in footwear:

Sylven New York began as a leather based brand and it’s a material with amazing properties, especially for footwear. When sourced properly like in the traceable and award-winning tanneries that we partner with, leather is a byproduct. That means that the hides in use are leftover from the meat industry, one of Italy's largest exports. The tanneries that we source our leathers from are also located in the same Tuscan region as our factories keeping all of our production localized, traceable, and accountable.

In terms of physical properties, leather is durable, and is one of the most long-lasting and comfortable materials you can use to make shoes. In fact, leather often gets better with age. Additionally, leather is a breathable and malleable material, molding to and moving with the foot.

Perhaps most importantly, leather can be biodegradable. As creators, understanding the product and material lifecycle of each of our shoes is our responsibility, and one we don't take lightly. Leathers that have been tanned, dyed, and treated naturally will break down and decompose.

What we have to acknowledge about the leather industry:

Not all leather tanneries are created equally. The leather tanning process is a chemically intensive one, using chromes, dyes, and a host of substances that can be improperly disposed of which causes damage to nearby waterways and communities. Additionally, leather can be extremely resource intensive. The raising of cows is one of the largest global contributors of methane.

Often when we hear arguments against the leather industry, we are hearing about global tanneries and practices outside of Italy. When working with leather, it's imperative to understand the origin.

It's also important to note that Italy is not perfect, but the regulations and certificates required to operate in Europe are the strictest in the world.

While we understanding that there are many people against the use of any type of animal-product, we believe that as long as the meat industry exists, the most responsible thing to do is to utilize the byproducts it creates. But we must do it responsibly.

Why we are pro-vegan in footwear:

The raising and farming of animals has been linked to a host of issues including but not limited to depleting resources, harmful emissions, and disruption to various ecosystems. With proven studies showing that the meat industry is a direct contributor to climate change, one of the best solutions is the overall reduction of meat and animal consumption. Often spoken about through vegan diets and lifestyles, the plant-based options and imitations available are groundbreaking. But when it comes to the fashion industry, specifically footwear, the development of bio-based and organic components is only just emerging.

As experts in the world of traditional leather shoe production, we apply our expertise in craftsmanship, quality, and sustainability to the realm of vegan footwear searching for the best of the best.

What we have to acknowledge about the vegan footwear industry:

There is no way around it, the current technology available for vegan footwear materials is largely based in virgin plastic -- plastics and petrochemicals made from crude oil and natural gases. Both an inexpensive and durable material, plastic can mirror the properties of leather, not only visually but also structurally. However, the danger of virgin plastics is not only their production which is based entirely in petroleum and fossil fuels, but also their complete lack of biodegradability. The carbon footprint on the planet is massive in production, and then they never break down in a landfill.

Rapid developments are being achieved and bio-mimicry and plant-based materials are at the forefront of these initiatives. However, the structural properties needed specifically to produce footwear are difficult to recreate, and innovative vegan materials for footwear are new and scarce. The product lifespan of vegan shoes is often much shorter than that of their leather counterparts.

What we're doing about it all:

We have spent years scouring the globe for the highest quality and most innovative sustainable materials and components for both our leather and vegan styles. We believe in making the most sustainable footwear on the planet, and we understand the nuance of what it takes to make a great shoe.

When it comes to our leather styles, we ensure traceable byproducts naturally tanned and treated with plant-based dyes. As for our vegan styles, we only work with virgin plastic-free materials focusing on bio-based, recycled, and regenerative components.

With so many new sustainable developments on the horizon, we are committed to perpetual research and development to continue our journey towards shaping the luxury footwear industry to be as sustainable as possible.

"I don't believe that sustainability means just one thing. The leather vs. vegan debate is part of a much larger conversation. But it's my job as a sustainable designer to find the best options for both, and to do it responsibly, and beautifully."

- Casey Dworkin, Founder/Creative Director