Is vegan leather better than leather? Ask The Kit

“I’ve been out shopping lately and everywhere I look there is fake leather. Is it cool these days? Is it better to wear that than leather? And what do I wear with it? —Puzzled, Toronto

It’s amazing what a new name can do for an image. With its nifty new handle, vegan leather feels so much more sophisticated than its old alter-egos: pleather, faux leather and even leatherette, which is reminiscent of car seat material.

Why yes, Puzzled, there is indeed an abundance of vegan leather on the market this fall — pants and leggings, skirts both micro and macro, tops and shackets, dresses and trench coats, blazers and of course every iteration of moto jacket known to womankind. It comes in a rainbow of colours, from designer brands to fast fashion.

Now, we here at Ask the Kit are not going to get sucked into the political quicksand on this one. Yes, vegan leather is great for avoiding any animal cruelty. Yes, cows and other leather sources are responsible for emissions. And yes, vegan leather is generally made of plastics, which are not biodegradable, at least not yet. (However, British designer Stella McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian who committed at the launch of her eponymous label 20 years ago to never use leather, or feather or fur, recently debuted a leather made of mushrooms called Mylo, and there is pineapple vegan leather on the research horizon.)

One big benefit of leather is its malleability and long-lasting lustre that grows better with time and use. It fits with the credo of buying only what you love, and then caring for it to make it last. But the breadth of vegan leather options out there now means that there are elegant, design-forward pieces that wear well.

“I was recently buying for an actor who is vegan, so I got to know some of the smaller, independent designers making [vegan leather] shoes and bags, in particular,” says Roslyn Griffith Hall, a longtime editorial and advertising stylist who also works as a wardrobe buyer on film and television productions, most recently Sex/Life. In her work day she covers the whole market, from designer showrooms to the mall. She points to Matt & Nat, the Montreal-founded vegan accessories label started in 1995, who she says has developed some great new vegan shoe options. Another thoughtful local choice is Ai Toronto Seoul, a design team made up of a mother and her three daughters who make very stylish, small-batch vegan leather handbags.

But it is the Canadian retailer Aritzia that has gone all-out on vegan leather, particularly this fall. The brand’s hero vegan leather pant, the high-waisted, straight-leg Melinda, rings in at $148 and comes in 27 colours, cropped versions, and a python finish. “Aritzia has tapped into something,” says Griffith Hall. “I like vegan leather that has some texture, so the python stands out to me.” Aritzia’s vegan leather is also washable, which “solves the problem of leather pants, which you can’t wear often because you can’t wash them, and they can get stiff when you get them professionally cleaned. So you get the look, but they are more durable.” She would style a straight pant like this with an oversized sweater to work this season’s voluminous silhouette, “but make it a thin-gauge sweater, and tuck it in at the front to show some waist.”

Conversely, a wide vegan leather pant “requires a more tailored or body-conscious top.” Griffith Hall has bookmarked a cool pair with side ties that suggest chaps by British label A.W.A.K.E Mode for herself.

One styling no-no, she says, is mixing your faux leathers. “It feels very costumey and 1985 Danier at the Eaton Centre to wear head-to-toe vegan leather, especially monochromatic coloured pieces,” she says. “Instead, use the vegan leather as a textural counterpoint to something soft like mohair, or nubbly, or shiny like satin. Mix hard with soft and play with textures,” she says. “Playing is the whole point of fashion.”

Griffith Hall suggests that a new vegan leather blazer, for instance, is a chance to pull out knit or silky items from your wardrobe for textural contrast. “Styling is like cooking,” she says. “Use a new texture to pop your outfit, like you would a spice.”

The price point is relevant here. “Vegan leather is an opportunity to play with a material that we associate with being very expensive,” says Griffith Hall. “Leather used to be the be ultimate luxury. This is the democratization of the look, as vegan leather gives you the texture for a much more accessible price.” She admits she has a brand-new pair of leather leggings that have long been sitting untouched, because they were something to be saved “for a special occasion.” But a vegan leather pair, by contrast, “you can pull out for everyday.”

She also recommends lightening up our wardrobes with the bolder colours that vegan leather now comes in. “Go for the hot pink! The turquoise! Why not Miami Vice colours?” After all, we have a long winter ahead, and anything that will pop will help spark some joy as the slush ensues.

Send your pressing fashion and beauty questions to Leanne at ask@thekit.ca.

Shop the Advice

Stylish picks from the world of vegan leather options

Aritizia Melinda Pants, $148, aritzia.com

Aritizia pants, $148, aritzia.com SHOP HERE

Aritzia’s hero product from their broad vegan leather collection (across all clothing categories, even their puffers!) is the Melinda pant. Comes in 27 colours, great fit, soft hand-feel and washable! Also in python, in cropped and in super high rise. Sizes up to 16.

Gap Faux-Leather Shirt Jacket, $119, gapcanada.ca

Gap shirt jacket, $119, gapcanada.ca SHOP HERE

A great layering piece to mix and match textures in your outfit, this shacket adds a little rock and roll to your country.

Zuke Women's Vegan Chelsea boots, $160, mattandnat.com

Matt & Nat boots, $160, mattandnat.com SHOP HERE

Matt & Nat is the OG Canadian vegan leather label, dating their mission back to 1995. This satisfyingly chunky PVB boot is made with recycled material and features a double elastic gore for comfort of movement.

Ai Toronto, Seoul City Tote bag, $205, thebay.com

ai Toronto, Seoul City bag, $205, thebay.com SHOP HERE

Toronto-based family accessories company, a mother and her three daughters, made in Korea in small batches of PETA approved vegan leather.

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