Being a conscious consumer means being mindful and informed about your purchases. This also relies on the transparency of brands and businesses and what their bottom line is. You'll find smaller businesses and independents designers are much more transparent about where their materials come from and who makes their products.
Often I get asked about PU leathers or plastic materials. I understand the dilemma people may face regarding leather products. While the quality of PU leathers have improved immensely, sometimes to the point where you can't tell it apart from real leather, plastic is still unhealthy for your body, and for the environment.
The process to manufacture plastic and synthetic products is far more harmful to the environment than leather is. Leather has a longer lifespan, and particularly vegetable dyed leather has the lowest environmental impact. Plastics are all made from crude oil and oil by-products. Unfortunately avoiding these is simply impossible as 90% of everything we use in the modern home has been made from oil in some shape or form.
'Vegan leather' may be on-trend, but do you really know if vegan leather is better than genuine leather? While is wins hands down when it comes to animal welfare, the impact on the environment is far worse than animal leather is. PVC produces harmful dioxins and uses highly toxic chlorine. It’s not hard to see why it has been dubbed by Greenpeace as the “single most environmentally damaging type of plastic”. Polyurethane(PU), which is the official 'vegan leather' material is also made from fossil fuels. While there are EU regulations in place to ensure factories are minimising their emissions, it depends on the country that the PU has been manufactured in, what impact on the environment was made during the production of the material. China's polyurethane (PU) product output accounted for around 33.7% of the global total in 2011, and their environmental regulations are far more relaxed than Europe's. So whether the tag on the product says 'Made in the E.U' or 'Made in China', the materials may still have been sourced from the same place. Something which the consumer would never be able to find out, and no company is legally obliged to reveal.
Investing in items that have a longer lifespan and are made from natural materials (glass / leather / wood / eco-cotton or hemp) does however lower your impact on the environment by reducing waste and toxins. Choosing to buy recycled (paper and glass) is also a good option.
I'm very happy to see big brands like H&M have made a conscious move towards closing the loop. You can take your old and unworn clothes to any store, where the clothes that are wearable will be given to a variety of different charities and the fabrics deemed unwearable will be recycled. You can read more about the company's corporate social responsibility practice here. This is due to the brand thinking ahead and listening to what the consumer cares about and wants. They still manufacture in third world countries, and their low prices can guarantee that someone somewhere is paying the price for that, but at least it's a very big step in the right direction.
At Love From Cyprus, we only use VEGETABLE dyed cow hide leathers from selected tanneries in Greece and Italy. All our products are lovingly handcrafted by artisans in Cyprus, as part of our initiative to keep production as local as possible and support small family owned manufacturers and businesses.
Good things take time. We understand this and a good part of our production is handmade, with attention to craftsmanship and quality materials. By working without stock, we make things to order, which means we don't generate unnecessary excess, to minimise our impact on the environment.
You can prolong the lifespan of your leather sandals by taking care of your product. Little things such as avoiding too much contact with water, or drying is if it has been wet. Applying a leather cream or spray to nourish the leather and waterproof coat it. You can see more care instructions on my page about Leather Care.
You can read more about joining the Fashion Revolution online. Fashion Revolution Week is our #whomademyclothes campaign in April, which happens at the time of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,138 people were killed and many more injured on 24th April 2013.
We use this week to encourage millions of people to ask brands ‘Who made my clothes’ and demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain.
Remember, as a consumer, your actions and your purchases show the industry what you care about. Sustainable fashion, workers rights, less waste and better quality is the way that the industry SHOULD be moving in, and it's things that matter to me personally as a consumer and designer.