The Older, the Better: Why Leather Deserves Slow Fashion Status

By Stephen Sothmann, Real Leather. Stay Different. – a campaign to highlight the benefits of sustainably sourced and produced leather.

It is often said that leather lasts a lifetime. With the proper care and attention, this is true. And this longevity is leather’s key weapon in the fight against fast, throw-away fashion. Here Stephen Sothmann considers how leather’s staying power gives it an environmental advantage and makes it a desirable ‘forever wardrobe’ classic.

After an F2 tornado razed his family home to the ground, Daulton found his Saddleback briefcase under a pile of rubble. All it needed was some reconditioning TLC to restore it to its former glory. Whether or not that’s true, Saddleback stands by the quality and durability of its products. It will take more than an extreme weather event to cause any damage to its bags, it says, all of which come with a 100-year warranty.

Offering a century of protection may seem extreme, but it is not unusual for premium leather brands to provide generous guarantees or long-life repairs. Mulberry, for example, offers a lifetime repair service to ensure its bags last for generations, while Adler gives a lifetime guarantee on the craftsmanship of its leather laptop bags and accessories. This is testament to the strength and longevity of a material that, when properly maintained, can last for decades and beyond.

The beauty of well-designed leather items is that they can be repaired. That’s because the leather rarely wears out – it’s more likely to be the metalware, stitching, or lining that needs to be replaced. Some items, such as books, furniture, wall hangings, and car upholstery, can last indefinitely, provided they’re kept dry and reasonably clean.

Environmental edge

Leather’s resilience gives it a clear environmental advantage over leather alternatives and other synthetic materials that don’t last anywhere near as long. Take so-called vegan leather. Made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), it tends to be thinner and lighter than the real thing. Less able to withstand wear and tear, it typically lasts between two and five years. That means it needs to be replaced and discarded more frequently and then ends up in landfill – the one place it does endure – where it can take hundreds of years to degrade. And when it does finally break down, it creates harmful microplastics that enter waterways and endanger marine life. Even natural, bio-based leather alternatives lack leather’s staying power. When FILK Freiburg Institute tested a leather shoe upper, an artificial leather upper, and nine alternative materials, it found that none of the leather alternatives matched the universal performance of leather, including in terms of tensile and tear strength – both key to a long lifespan.

Age and beauty

Leather isn’t only long-lasting. It also ages (and weathers) well – a claim that few other materials can make. The colour of synthetic clothing usually fades with frequent washing, while vegan leather discolours and tends to dry out and crack after a few years. Properly-maintained leather, on the other hand, stands the test of time and, we think, acquires character and charm. Some leathers, mainly the top grain and vegetable-tanned varieties, develop a unique patina as they absorb moisture and oils from the atmosphere and from being handled. They take on a greater depth in colour and texture and often become more supple. You’ll also see a soft lustre appear in the places where they’re used most frequently. In fact, the more you use these leathers, the more they develop this patina. And because no two pieces of leather are used in the same way, each will take on a distinctive look, further adding to the appeal.

Slow fashion icon

It’s leather’s longevity and aesthetic that makes it a perfect long-term investment. It may cost more than leather alternatives and other synthetics, but it’s a purchase that will pay dividends by lasting and improving with age. While low-cost fashion and accessories are consumed and thrown away with increasing voracity, adding to landfill and emitting polluting greenhouse gases, leather has what it takes to be a forever wardrobe staple. Bought once, used many times, enjoyed for generations.

Real Leather. Stay Different. is a campaign to highlight the benefits of sustainably sourced and produced leather.

Read more about how leather ages and how to look after it:
What Is Leather Patina? Learn Everything About Aged Leather | Carl Friedrik™
How Leather Ages | Insight From Leather Craftman Bill Amberg