The Circular Challenge of Leather: Balancing Sustainability and Style

Slow Fashion Movement
8 min readApr 29, 2023


The Cultural Significance of Fashion and Leather

Fashion has served as a form of creative expression and as a means of communication that is a reflection of society for centuries. Fashion has been used for ages to express individual identity, social status, and cultural heritage. It has made it an integral part of our culture and has played a significant role in defining social norms and traditions. Leather, as a material, holds a major role in fashion and beyond throughout history. Its origin dates back to prehistoric times, with evidence of its use dating back to at least 5,500 BCE.

Throughout history and across the globe, leather has been used in various forms of art and literature to symbolize strength, durability, and luxury. In art, leather has been used as a medium for sculpture, bookbinding, and other forms of decorative arts. Leather book covers were popular in the Middle Ages, and leather sculptures were made in ancient Egypt and Greece. Leather has also been used in literature, with famous books like Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’’ featuring leather diving suits.

Historically, leather has played a significant role in warfare, with leather armor and shields used by soldiers in ancient times. Leather has also been employed in religious and spiritual customs, including the use of leather prayer rugs in Islam and Torah scroll covers in Judaism. And in recent times, leather has been more incorporated into modern art and fashion, with designers using leather in creative and innovative ways to create stunning pieces that push boundaries.

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Despite leather holding cultural importance, ethical worries about animal welfare and its ecological consequences have resulted in some controversy surrounding its use.

The challenges of balancing the cultural significance of leather with sustainability and ethical concerns

While leather has a long history in fashion, cultural expressions and being valued for its durability, versatility, and luxury, the production of leather raises significant ethical and environmental concerns, which includes animal welfare, deforestation, and pollution. To address these concerns, many brands and designers have explored sustainable alternatives to leather. This has included using plant-based materials and recycled synthetics. However, these materials often lack the same durability and luxury in comparison to real leather, which can make it difficult to replace entirely.

Another challenge is ensuring that leather production is carried out in an ethical manner with appropriate animal welfare standards and fair labor practices. This requires a commitment from producers and brands to transparency and accountability throughout the supply chain. This includes ensuring animal welfare and sustainable environmental impact to just working conditions and human rights. To maintain this balance requires thoughtful and nuanced approaches with a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation. It also involves a shift away from traditional production methods and towards more sustainable and ethical practices, as well as educating consumers about the impact of their purchasing decisions.

Photo Credit: Pexels

The durability and longevity of leather compared to other fast fashion materials

Leather is known for its durability and longevity compared to synthetic fabrics commonly used in fast fashion. While synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and acrylic are often cheaper and easier to produce than leather, they are generally not as durable and can have a shorter lifespan. Leather is not only a natural material that is strong and long-lasting, but it also tends to look better with age and use. Leather garments and accessories can withstand daily wear and tear, and can often be repaired and restored to extend its lifespan.

Additionally, leather has good resistance to heat, abrasion, and tearing, which means that it is less likely to show signs of wear and tear than synthetic fabrics. In contrast, synthetic fabrics are made from chemical compounds and are often less durable than leather. They can be prone to pilling, fading, and stretching over time, and they are more likely to show signs of wear and tear after repeated use. Additionally, synthetic fabrics are often not biodegradable, which means that they can have a significant environmental impact when they are discarded.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Slow Leather: Why It’s The Best Way To Go

With all the controversy due to the ethical concerns surrounding leather’s impact on the environment, buying or borrowing second-hand leather is the best way to go. Here’s why:

  1. It reduces the demand for new leather production: New leather production can have significant environmental impacts, such as deforestation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. By choosing second-hand leather, you are supporting a more sustainable approach to fashion and reducing the amount of waste generated by the fashion industry.
  2. It’s cooler than new leather: As a second-hand piece of leather has already undergone the process of breaking in and aging, which can give it a unique and desirable patina that cannot be replicated with new leather. The natural wear and tear of second-hand leather can also add character and charm to the material, making it more interesting and distinctive.
  3. It’s cheaper: Second-hand leather can often be purchased at a lower cost than new leather, making it an affordable and accessible option for those who want to invest in high-quality leather goods without breaking the bank. This can be particularly appealing for people who are looking to incorporate leather into their wardrobe but are hesitant to spend a lot of money on new leather items.
  4. It supports the circular economy: Buying or borrowing second-hand leather supports the circular economy by keeping items in use for longer and reducing the amount of waste generated by the fashion industry. By choosing to buy second-hand leather, you are contributing to a more sustainable approach to fashion and reducing your environmental impact.
  5. It adds a story to your wardrobe: Second-hand leather items can also contribute to the uniqueness and individuality of your style. Each second-hand item has its own history and story, which can add character and personality to your wardrobe.

Finding second-hand leather items:

Here’s where you can find second hand leather items to add to your wardrobe.

  1. Thrift stores and vintage shops: Check out your local thrift stores and vintage shops for second-hand leather items. These stores often have unique and high-quality items at affordable prices.
  2. Online marketplaces: Online marketplaces such as eBay, Poshmark, and Depop can be great places to find second-hand leather items. Make sure to read the item descriptions and check the seller’s ratings before making a purchase.
  3. Consignment shops: Consignment shops often have gently used and high-end leather items. While these items may be pricier than thrift stores, they are often in great condition and have been vetted by the shop owners.
Photo Credit: Pexels

How to take care of second-hand leather items

Finding and caring for second-hand leather items can be a great way to build a sustainable and stylish wardrobe. Here are some tips to help you find and care for second-hand leather items:

  1. Clean and condition regularly: Leather needs to be cleaned and conditioned regularly to maintain its quality and durability. Use a leather cleaner and conditioner specifically designed for leather items to prevent damage or discoloration.
  2. Store properly: Store leather items in a cool, dry place to prevent mold or mildew growth. Avoid storing them in direct sunlight or in plastic bags, as this can cause the leather to dry out or discolor.
  3. Repair when necessary: If your second-hand leather item has any small tears or scuffs, consider taking it to a leather repair shop to fix the damage. This can extend the life of the item and prevent further damage.
  4. Avoid harsh chemicals: Avoid using harsh chemicals such as bleach or ammonia on leather, as these can damage the material. Stick to gentle cleaners and conditioners specifically designed for leather.
Photo Credit: Pexels

Tips To Make Your Leather Last

Leather is generally a durable and versatile material that can last for many years if cared for properly. Here are some tips to help make your leather items last longer:

  1. Keep them away from direct sunlight and heat: Exposure to sunlight and heat can cause leather to dry out, crack and fade. Store your leather items in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  2. Protect them from water and moisture: Water and moisture can cause leather to shrink, warp or develop mildew. Avoid wearing leather items in rainy weather, and use a leather protector spray to repel moisture.
  3. Clean your leather items regularly: Dirt and dust can accumulate on leather items and cause the material to deteriorate. Clean your leather items regularly using a soft, dry cloth or a specialized leather cleaner.
  4. Condition your leather items to keep them supple: Leather can dry out and become stiff over time, which can cause it to crack and break. Use a leather conditioner to keep the material supple and prevent it from drying out.
  5. Use leather protectors to prevent stains: Leather can be prone to stains, especially lighter-colored leather items. Use a leather protector spray to prevent stains from penetrating the material.
  6. Handle leather items with care: Leather can be easily scratched, scuffed or punctured. Handle your leather items with care and avoid exposing them to sharp objects.
  7. Store leather items properly: When not in use, store your leather items in a breathable fabric bag or box to protect them from dust and light. Avoid using plastic bags as they can trap moisture and cause the leather to deteriorate.

By following these tips, you can help extend the lifespan of your leather items and keep them looking their best for many years to come.

All in all

Although leather can be a complicated material when it comes to sustainability, by using second-hand leather and caring for those items properly, we can actually extend their lifespan and reduce a massive amount of waste. While balancing sustainability and style concerning leather is an ongoing challenge, adopting slow fashion can be the best solution to this issue.

Written by Maesha Nawreen, Green & Beyond Mag

Green & Beyond Mag is a digital magazine that promotes sustainable lifestyle and climate optimism through storytelling. Besides highlighting ways to live a more comfortable, conscious, stylish, and sustainable lifestyle, the platform features stories of people, communities, and businesses all around the world who are taking action to save planet Earth — to connect and inspire people to take meaningful actions for our planet.



Slow Fashion Movement

An NGO Educating and Empowering Fashion Consumers to Slow Down. Choose Consciously. Connect.