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Ethical questions re clothing and shoes

(22 Posts)
Squashit Fri 06-Oct-17 18:57:11

Is it more ethical to buy leather shoes or synthetic ones when considering the environment impact?

I am really struggling because they both pollute, hurt animals and humans etc

Anyway I thought I would start a topic on this and any other questions re clothes and how to make the best choices etc.

OldJoseph Sat 07-Oct-17 07:36:14

If neither is significantly better overall I think the most ethical attitude would be to buy a pair that lasts and can be repaired when needed.

Floisme Sat 07-Oct-17 07:48:45

I'm interested in the whole issue. Before anyone asks, I eat meat, wear leather and buy cotton that isn't organic and cheap cashmere (though trying to give it up) and I shop at H&M where I try not to think too hard about who made it and where. I am no Mother Theresa and never will be. But I would like to do less harm and I'm interested to know which actions would be the most effective.

Blondielongie Sat 07-Oct-17 09:18:30

I'd say leather shoes. Dr martens can last for years. If you had one pair of Dr martens that lasted for 25 years, or bought a sinila style every 2-3 years that were poor quality and ended up in a landfill, what's worse?
I know if you are a vegan/vegetarian, leather may be worse overall....

Blondielongie Sat 07-Oct-17 09:20:55

Also, with clothing. The people tree does nice fair trade clothes and their sale is good!! I'm quite conscious of how items are made/where they come from. But is hard when on a budget. I think buy less but expect to pay more.

botemp Sat 07-Oct-17 09:43:36

Don't quote me on this but IIRC I think the 'ethical' choice would be neither and buying organic canvas or hemp fabric shoes with natural rubber soles (that are responsibly sourced). Possibly there may be a case for clogs with wooden platforms and vegetable tanned leather. However, that's possibly taking it to the extremes and unlikely to keep you warm and dry in winter.

I also think this is a question of money, imitation leather shoes generally are not made to last and the process is highly polluting, more likely fabricated in developing countries, etc. A well crafted pair made in Europe (so less shipping miles) with an environmentally friendly tanning process that will last then seems the better choice if you ignore the economic differences.

At the end of the day they both feed into the two biggest polluting industries, but one could be considered residual processing where synthetic fibres are purposefully made.

In short, I don't think there's always a clear cut answer to these type of things. Do the best that you can with the money you have available, on an individual basis one can only do so much without losing the plot but economic arguments do sway change with manufacturers, where there's a demand for more ethical and social responsibility it will be met if it potentially means losing business long term if they don't. A brand like H&M has come on leaps and bounds to where it once was in that regard.

I recently came across a shoe brand, Equal For All (if your French is good you can read their entire story and their ethos on their website) that are manufactured in an EU stimulation region in Portugal using only European raw materials that are sourced responsibly to ensure the entire process and supply chain is as responsible as possible. I'm sure if I dug hard enough I'd find a flaw in it but it's a company that's putting its money where its mouth is and that's worth supporting. Equally Veja sneakers look as good as the big name brands and sit at the same price point so there are definitely options out there without you needing to do an extensive investigation as to what is most ethical.

Floisme Sat 07-Oct-17 13:14:48

That's helpful, thanks. I buy leather shoes and boots but I make them last as long as I can by getting them repaired regularly.

With other clothes, I've gone back to buying second hand wherever possible. That's not an ideal answer (and nor is it purely for ethical reasons - it's partly so I can buy better quality). But at least I'm not contributing quite as much to landfill plus I'm paying my money to independent businesses rather than the big corporates, especially as I also get things altered. And then I try and save up so that when I do buy new, I can afford higher end - not necessarily any more ethical (or even better quality) but it means I buy things I love and that I'll wear to death.

Squashit Sat 07-Oct-17 13:38:15

Thank-you so much to everyone who has replied. It is a minefield though and hard to establish which is more ethical. On the one hand if you buy leather you are buying into animal cruelty and harm to humans from tanning etc but if you buy well they are durable and better for your feet re being more breathable. If you buy synthetic then their are issues around environmental contaminants and the much longer period it takes to biodegrade -also harmful to animals and humans.

The other questions I have are how much more money do workers get paid if you buy fair trade clothing? Is it really appreciable? If you are buying fairtrade are the manufacturing procedures kinder to the environment in terms of chemicals used etc? Then there is the thorny issue of air miles to transport the goods and the impact that has.

I buy a lot of clothes second hand too and would prefer to go cruelty free with my other choice so but there is no easy, straightforward choice it seems.

Squashit Sat 07-Oct-17 13:51:14

Will have a look at Veja and Equal for All.

I do like Conker shoes and their ethos as well as Pozu and some El Naturalista.Birkenstocks just about go on forever too. Would you say they are an ethical company?

How ethical is Gudrun Sjoden really?

MikeUniformMike Sat 07-Oct-17 14:25:06

Buy good quality classic items that you love and know that you'll love in 25 yrs time. I have the odd expensive purchase that I bought 20 yrs ago that I still wear, still love, still look like new and I still fit into.

I have lots of £1/2/5/10 mistakes from sales that I have never or hardly worn.

botemp Sat 07-Oct-17 14:36:45

I think it's really where you draw the line personally, and where your priorities are. I think Stella McCartney makes for an interesting case study as she's quite vocal about the animal cruelty aspect and why she won't use leather, fur, sheepskin, and silk (not 100% on that last one) instead trying to show you can still do high end succesfully (her bag and shoe sales pretty much fund the brand) with synthetic alternatives (I'm personally yet to be convinced it's as long-wearing even at that price point). That's a choice that's purely motivated by animal cruelty practices but contradictorily she does sell wool which a lot of animal cruelty activists find a questionable material choice. But if you can't use the majority of natural fabrics and oppose to synthetic for environmental reasons it leaves you with very little.

I can't remember for sure but I think there was some side eyeing around the glues used for Birkenstocks and there has been a lot of greenwashing with a lot of brands over the past decade so not all claims can be taken as honest either. I'm usually happy enough with European made and sourced, at least there's some confidence that both social and environmental regulations are in place for most of the supply chain even though bolstering the highly protectionist European market doesn't fill me much with joy either.

WRT Fair Trade as far as I understand it it's an agreement between suppliers and distributors that guarantees fair prices will be paid, the theory being they can then invest, plan, etc. accordingly without being squeezed unfairly and to qualify for certification they have to offer workers a fair wage (though who defines that is still a mystery) and certain conditions have to be met wrt overtime being paid out, fair hours, inflated living or food costs not mandatorily taken out of their wages, no child labour, etc. By no means is it a perfect system, and in certain cases has made conditions and competitive positions worse. For small producers and the coop models, it's almost impossible to recoup the cost of certification and come out in profit long term, so like most other business models it still ends up squeezing out the poorest in the chain. There are also several different FT organisations and they all have different standards, so again a further minefield. As above, look too closely into any of this and you come out quite cynical and forced into a more pragmatic stance.

MikeUniformMike Sat 07-Oct-17 14:43:50

Hear hear to the pp on shoe repairs. Timpsons has a good reputation (ask the staff what they think of the owner and they'll tell you he's great). I use a local cobbler and it's a cheap way of making good shoes last a long time.

MikeUniformMike Sat 07-Oct-17 14:50:52

I'm not in any way connected with the aforementioned shop.

Bombardier25966 Sat 07-Oct-17 15:03:51

Timpsons has a good reputation

Timpsons has a god awful reputation. Overpriced and jack of all trades approach. Stick to a local cobbler for shoe repairs.

MikeUniformMike Sat 07-Oct-17 15:23:47

I meant company reputation. The local independent cobbler is brilliant.

thiskittenbarks Sat 07-Oct-17 17:25:20

I have been thinking about this for a while. My friend is a vegan and is adamant that buying fake leather is better for the environment - but I just don't believe it. Leather is a byproduct. Pleather is a synthetic, manmade material that will undoubtedly end up in landfill at some point and probably never break down. Leather is natural and will break down eventually- even with the dyes and treatments.
On top of that - Leather undoubtedly lasts much longer than pleather.
I try to get fabrics and materials that are as natural as possible.
I also believe that some of the plastic fibres found in water are thought to have come from synthetic fabrics. I could be wrong on that one - but say cotton or wool fibres in water = not a problem. Plastic fibres in water = big problem.

HopefulHamster Sat 07-Oct-17 21:50:18

I wish all my clothes were ethical, but alas. However I am trying to shop more so.

Shoes wise - I buy leather and find it lasts well. I do have a fair few pair of boots but some that I've had for over 10 years and still look new. Saltwater sandals I've had for five years and still look new. I don't think pleather does that.

Clothes - I prefer buying from People Tree (especially in their very good sales) and Me&I which is a home-party scandi ethical brand. Many won't like the home party aspect (though at least it is not mlm) but I know a seller so end up going to a lot of them. Also heard Braintree (renamed Thought??) are good but haven't bought any yet.

Obviously second-hand is a good way to buy ethical. I'm in a scandi clothes group on FB where people sell on their stuff and get some nice bargains that way.

I'm also trying to buy less.

SilentlyScreamingAgain Sat 07-Oct-17 22:44:38

Timpsons treat their staff well, they employ ex offenders, all employees get their birthday off and they clean the interview clothes of the unemployed for free.

NotMeNoNo Sat 07-Oct-17 22:58:44

All consumerism makes an impact on the world. I think the best thing is to consume less, re-use, ignore fashion and try to buy fair trade. And stay the same size (rules me out).

There is the matter of waste. Throwing away all your cheap unethical clothes would probably cancel out the good of buying natural/fairtrade/vegan new ones.

Happy50 Sat 07-Oct-17 23:01:58

This is interesting

Happy50 Sat 07-Oct-17 23:04:37

Breaks down the shops ratings on the environment, animal cruelty, workers rights

Itscurtainsforyou Sat 07-Oct-17 23:14:58

I struggle in the same way OP.

I've recently given up meat and am more aware of these issues, but am fed up of buying pairs of non-leather shoes that fall apart in a matter of months.

Clothes wise I try to wear people tree/Braintree thought/nomads etc or buy from charity's etc, but as I struggle to find styles/colours/size combinations that suit me, it's really not always possible.

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