Should I buy leather shoesShould I buy leather shoes?

I bought new leather shoes recently and while this was not the cruelty free choice, for me it was the more sustainable choice. If you struggle with the question: “Should I buy leather shoes?” or if you should consider vegan leather, I want to share the pros and cons of each, how I made my decision as well as some questions to ask yourself to help make the most sustainable choice.

Should I buy new leather

My beloved Tahari heels – they served me for over 14 years!

New leather is not a cruelty free choice because it involves the death of an animal. The other problem with leather is the tanning process which includes hexavalent chromium – a toxic chemical. However, leather can last for a really long. Leather can be polished, conditioned, dyed, and repaired. My first pair of “work” appropriate black leather heels lasted me for 14 years (see above). Careful maintenance of these shoes contributed to why they lasted so long. However, after 14 years, they needed to be replaced. Eventually it just happens because the shoes  get to a point where they can’t be made to look new anymore. So I had a choice to make – leather or vegan leather?

Why not vegan leather?

Polyurethane (PU) and PVC (poly vinyl chloride) are the two primary materials used to make vegan leather. They are both petrochemicals and emit harmful emissions as well as toxic byproducts from their manufacture. They are the cruelty free choice, but I would argue not the sustainable choice. My biggest issue with these materials is that they don’t last. Not only are PVC and PU toxic to the environment (like leather) but they tend to fall apart easily, can’t be repaired and conditioned like leather can and don’t last as long as leather.

I know I like to keep things that are high quality, and I make sure to maintain them so they last. So I knew I needed to invest in leather shoes (and not vegan leather) because I would wear them, maintain them, and keep them for years. For a blog post on how I make my shoes last, see this blog post.

Finding new shoes

I spent the past year looking for a pair of black heels secondhand, and I didn’t find what I wanted. I wasn’t in a rush but the shoes had to work for me – both comfort and style. I have truly run to catch cabs and planes in my first pair of heels so I need to be able to move. Because I couldn’t find what I wanted from consignment, I turned to my friend and fellow female business owner Ines Shanks. I met Ines in 2016 as part of Phoenix Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer program and had the opportunity to try on her shoes last year.

Another element that played a part in my decision is that I could buy from another small business owner. Sustainability goes beyond the environmental sustainability that we often consider. It includes social and economic sustainability as well. I reached out to Ines personally regarding where the leather comes from. The leather for the heel caps leather is from Italy and produced in Austria. The high heels are from Portugal but leather is not supplied by Shanks-Shoeware. Ines does choose from what the supplier/producer offers and as far as she knows the leather comes from Spain and Italy.

Decision making process – should I buy leather shoes?

I ended up using the following to determine should I buy leather shoes:

  1. When I buy shoes, I consider them an investment and make them last; leather is very well suited for this.
  2. I was not buying these shoes from a big box retailer and instead was able to support a small, women-owned business.
  3. These shoes are a higher quality leather and to some extent the supply chain could be identified.

Should I buy leather shoes

I am extremely happy with my new shoes. They are lightweight and extremely comfortable. I trust I will be wearing them for well over a decade, I will make them last, and I am happy with my choice.

Details on Shanks-Shoeware:

Heel caps – where are they made

High heels – where are they made

To learn more about the environmental impacts of leather and more sustainable alternatives to vegan leather, refer to this blog.

Note: Please know that I am not working with any of these companies or stores and was not asked to endorse or mention any of the products in this post. All opinions here are my own.