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Vegan vs. Leather - Why We Do Both

The sustainable world is rife with arguments in favor of and against both leather and vegan materials. It is our belief that each are 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 have bridged the gap between the two schools of thought, and opened 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. We understand that the leather industry is not a perfect one, but when sourced properly, we firmly believe that leather is one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. Known for getting better with age, leather is not only a long-lasting, comfortable, durable, and malleable material, but perhaps most importantly, leather can be biodegradable. This means that at a product’s end life, leather is capable of decomposing and returning to the Earth from whence it came. 

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 are often improperly disposed of which cause damage to nearby waterways and communities. Additionally, leather can be resource intensive, and the raising of cows is one of the largest global contributors of methane.  

How we combat this: We are vigilant about choosing our leather partners. We work with renowned family-owned Italian tanneries that share our values and are responsible about their practices. We use vegetable-tanned leathers, reducing overall chrome and chemical usage. We also make sure that our partners are mindful about their resource consumption, and are safely disposing of any chemicals or waste.  

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. 

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. 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 in petroleum and fossil fuels, but also their complete lack of biodegradability. 

Developments are happening at rapid rates 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.

How we combat this: We have spent more than a year scouring the globe for the best and most innovative vegan materials suitable for footwear production. We have researched, tested, retested, and prototyped until we found the best of the best. We are committed to perpetual research and development to continue our journey towards shaping the luxury footwear industry to be as sustainable as possible.