Second Hand Animal Products: A Dilemma

January 16, 2018
Second Hand Animal Products: A Dilemma

I’m going to be completely honest, the aim of this post is to dump a host of diverging opinions into your lap and then have you tell me what my stance is. Because I can’t figure it out for myself. It’s something I absolutely cannot make my mind up on, no matter how much mental floundering around the issue I do. So, I’m generously tasking you to form my opinion for me. You’re very welcome. 

The issue I’m stumbling over is whether or not to buy second hand animal products. As a vegan, I currently don’t buy any leather, silk, wool or anything that comes from an animal. I do, however, still own clothes, shoes and accessories that do because it would have been criminally wasteful of me to oust them when I made the leap to being vegan. So, yes, I still wear a few pieces made from animal products, most of which were bought second hand, but would I be willing to buy them?

If they’re new, the answer is a staunch no but if they’re second hand? I just can’t make up my mind. Every so often, I’ll spot a great pair of leather boots or a wool jumper in a vintage shop and consider their place within my wardrobe, but I’ll almost immediately discard any thoughts of buying them because it just doesn’t feel right to spend my money on something that’s come from an animal. BUT. When I always advocate for 1. buying second hand over new and 2. reducing reliance on synthetic fabrics, is buying a new or synthetic alternative really the best workaround?

I’ve talked it over with vegan friends and have, unsurprisingly, got opinions from both ends of the spectrum. Some super devout vegans are completely happy to buy a second hand leather bag, for instance, because they know it will last and, because it already exists, takes less toll on the planet than creating something new. Others, though, don’t feel comfortable even wearing animal products and will turn to vegan-friendly alternatives every time.

Yes, contrasting opinions bestow us with interesting and enlightening discourse but I would appreciate, just this time, for every single vegan in the world to agree one way or the other so that I can blindly follow their lead. I want a unified vegan committee to release a very specific press release with a definitive decision which tells me exactly which lane I’m in because, honestly, it’s exhausting making not only the big moral decisions but tiny, seemingly ineffectual micro-decisions every single day. 

There’s no denying that life would be a whole lot easier if I just didn’t care. I could buy easy food that comes ready-prepared, wear whatever I want, shop with any brand I feel like. But I can’t do that. I have to scan the back of every food packet not only for any non-vegan products and nuts (allergy life) but palm oil. I scroll through Netflix and disregard any film or series that has been made by or that stars a sexually abusive man (that list is growing fast). I skip huge swathes of the fruit and veg aisle because everything is wrapped in plastic. I meticulously research whoever I’m buying clothes from to make sure the way they operate meets my moral standards. I choose not to give in and get a takeaway tea when I forget my reusable mug. 

I’m overloaded with decisions to be made, so what I’d like to do is sit back, pop a couple of episodes of Murder She Wrote on then come back when you’ve made this one for me. So, second hand animal products: yes or no?

Find out what I decided and read the follow-up to this post here.

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Emma K January 18, 2018 - 10:01 AM

Hi Sophie – such an interesting debate. I don’t consider myself a 100% vegan but strive to eat a plant based diet nevertheless. At the moment I still am buying wool ad leather, albeit very mindfully and only when needed. Sill and fur are off my radar however I’ve bought vintage silk recently but I decided against a vintage sheepskin coat and would never buy real fur in any capacity. I’m not sure I really have the reasons for these parameters but like everything in my life things are evolving anyway.

sophiebenson January 18, 2018 - 10:32 AM

So tricky isn’t it?! It seems that lots of people feel quite conflicted about it like me.

Quinn June 12, 2021 - 11:20 AM

I’d agree with buying it as long as you’re sure that the purchase won’t encourage more to be made. Buying secondhand is better than buying new, even if the original way it was made wasn’t ethical, as its purchase is no longer supporting that and means less landfill.

Anne April 28, 2023 - 1:37 PM

I am a vegetarian, but not vegan. I will wear leather and purchase vintage leather/fur if it is a result of the meat industry. I do believe mass produced meat is laced through with cruelty and I hope that some day it ends. However, they are now throwing away leather hides because the demand is dropping as more people seek vegan alternatives. Somehow that bothers me a lot. It is also true that leather lasts – and develops a patina, while alternatives have a much shorter life and often far worse impact to global warming and the environment.

It used to be that Native Americans would use every part of the animal and take only the animals that they needed to survive. Those animals would live in the wild under natural conditions until a hunter took them. No cruelty during most of the animals life cycle here, and helping to balance the circle of life, so that animals aren’t starving out due to over population. Over the years I went from being dead set against hunting, to now thinking it’s a way better way for a meat eater to eat. No horrible feed lots, no slaughter house. A natural life.

I would never by furs such as fox or mink, etc, because the industry is downright cruel and the poor creatures are raised for one purpose.

There are so many sides to the story that I try never to judge anyone for their choices on leather and fur. I am still struggling to make sense of it all an I don’t think there are any ‘perfect’ solutions.

Erin Stevens February 5, 2018 - 1:35 PM

The animal was already sacrificed for the purpose of fashion. Now what, let it die in vain? It was killed for fashion and now no one wants it. I say “Yes, buy it, wear it”.

sophiebenson February 7, 2018 - 1:30 PM

Yes, I agree with you. It took a while to make up my mind but I think making use of something that would otherwise go to waste is the best decision.

Kimberly March 31, 2020 - 12:03 AM

The only trouble with that logic, however, is that then you are feeding into the demand for the product, which ensures that more animals will be killed for fashion. Second hand seems more justifiable to me, because you’re not giving your money to the companies yourself. But those are just thoughts.

Rae Ritchie February 8, 2018 - 1:42 PM

I’ve recently had the same debate with cashmere, which I’m trying to avoid buying new – but what about second hand? I’ve decided that I will buy preloved as it seems wasteful to not maximise the life of a garment when the damage has already been done.

sophiebenson February 8, 2018 - 1:49 PM

Yes, I think after consideration I agree with that approach. Also, you might like to look at Stella McCartney’s use of Re.Verso which is regenerated cashmere.

Sara March 16, 2018 - 6:06 PM

Commenting as a non-vegan; though I was veggie for about a decade I think it’s really interesting to discuss. I’ve recently had to buy a new duvet and considering all the options have gone for a British Made Wool Duvet. Feathers/down ethically for me are a no; having read more on the industry. But duvets are near impossible to reuse/recycle at end of life – so buying a synthetic one with unseen impacts on the wider natural words doesn’t sit right either – plus they don’t in my opinion have a very long life span. A wool duvet – given there’s no ‘good’ disposal route seemed the best option – it will hopefully last a good amount of time and at the end of its life is completely compostable. I think it’s an interesting debate to have around this issue – particularly if a vegan choice as a wider unseen impact on the animal/natural kingdom.

sophiebenson March 18, 2018 - 4:35 PM

I think it’s a really individual choice and it sounds like you made yours for the right reasons. I don’t think there will ever be a ‘right’ answer on this one but as long as people are making their decisions considerately, it makes a positive impact.

Neha c June 2, 2018 - 12:41 AM

I am facing the same problem. Buying vintage leather and other animal fashion items feel the right thing to do BUT
1. What is vintage today was new yesterday.
And what is new today will be vintage tommorow.
Those who buy new items support the leather industry and will continue to do so because they will always get a partial amount of money back when they sell it in the second hand market. So many people see it as an investment . If it has no resale value it won’t be made and it won’t be sold new or second hand.
2. When someone notices a beautiful leather bag or any other animal fashion item he or she doesn’t know u bought something vintage and second hand so no new animals were killed. This might tempt them or encourage them to buy a new one for themselves adding to this cruel industry.

I hope this helps you and me and many others to decide what is the best way.

sophiebenson June 14, 2018 - 1:11 PM

Hi Neha, thanks so much for joining in on the conversation! Although I think we have come to different conclusions I completely understand your point of view and respect your decision entirely.

Shauna December 9, 2019 - 3:47 PM

I do sometimes buy second-hand leather, and I think it might be the best choice, however I definitely worry about your second point. I am a relatively “known vegan” in my community as I run the large local vegan facebook group. People recognize me often, and I’m worried that people will see me wearing leather shoes or carrying a leather bag and I’ll be admonished for it. It’s very difficult!

Helen August 18, 2018 - 10:07 AM

I’ve just stumbled across your blog searching for this very thing, I’m vegan and I too am confused about this. Whatever people decide for themselves, I just wanted to say that it’s lovely to read considered opinions written in such a friendly way, when often the opposite is true when things like this are discussed.

sophiebenson August 28, 2018 - 11:35 AM

Hi Helen,

Thank you for such a lovely comment. I’m glad that the post came across in the right way.

Adrienne October 13, 2018 - 11:21 AM

I am in the middle of this conundrum at the moment – I first became vegetarian, 13 years ago, solely for animal rights (I wasn’t so aware of the environmental issues at the time).
As the years have passed, especially in the past 3 years as a vegan, I have become increasingly concerned about environmental issues.
I know I’m doing a lot of good by avoiding meat and dairy, but would like to do more and I believe that fast fashion, the wastefulness of the fashion industry, the mistreatment of workers overseas, the environmental impact of production & the use of plastic in so many faux materials, is a major ethical concern.
However, I haven’t worn leather since before I was vegetarian, and the thought of it upsets me, but I know buying second hand is better than buying new, and that it is stopping the item going to waste.
I feel wearing animal skins is wrong and I wouldn’t want to advertise it, or give non-vegans another reason to attack the movement.
I also can’t afford to buy purely ethical vegan items so I’m stuck.
Aaargh, it is an ethical quandary and I can’t seem to decide what is better!
Glad (and sad) that there are other vegans wondering how to traverse these tricky decisions….
Still can’t decide what to do though!

sophiebenson October 17, 2018 - 9:58 AM

Hi Adrienne,

You’re certainly not alone in how you feel! I also feel conflicted about whether or not I’d be ‘advertising’ leather or wool by wearing it second hand. I suppose my reality is this: I have everything I need. I don’t buy 3 new pairs of boots every season or a new handbag every month. Since writing the post I have bought a wool hat from Oxfam and I’m happier with that decision than if I’d bought something new and synthetic. My friend also recently gifted me a beautiful silk robe she bought 20 years ago in India and I will wear it because, again, I’d much rather she’d given me that than gone to Topshop and bought me a new, satin one.

If we’re all to be truly sustainable, we need to buy MUCH less. So perhaps if you’re not happy wearing leather/wool perhaps you could buy less in general then spend a little more on a few ethical/vegan items? However, I don’t know your situation and that might simply not be possible. Be kind to yourself and remember we can only do our best. x

Kimberly March 31, 2020 - 12:15 AM

I actually found this blog because I’m in the same position as you. I want to care for people, animals, and the environment, and its difficult to know what clothing choices support all of them. I think perhaps the best option is to buy second hand but not leather, silk, or wool, as then you would not be advertising animal harm. It would be gentler on the environment, people in sweatshops in Asia, and your pocket book, and you would not be directly contributing to animal suffering by giving dollars to the companies who are harming them. It’s a difficult question and that’s the best answer I can come up with.

Adrienne October 13, 2018 - 11:23 AM

P.s – Love the blog 🌱

Áine November 20, 2018 - 10:57 AM

I’m really glad to have come across this post. I too have contemplated this. I fully believe in the consept of veganism (vegan for 4 months now mainly veggie again but I am still transitioning to being fully vegan, I need more guidance!)

I am also very environmentally conscious and want to avoid buying plastics where possible, I have a reusable mug, water bottle and bag, bamboo tooth brush and always opt for glass packaging over plastic. I always buy clothes from charity shops and now I’m in need for a new pair of boots for winter, I have just worn my last pair of synthetic boots into the ground, I bought them only 8 weeks ago. I now regret giving away my one good pair of leather boots which I had for 2-3 years and in that time had them reheeled only once.

I sadly can’t afford to buy natural vegan clothing and I don’t wish to buy synthetic fabrics that have to be replaced so frequently and have a devastating impact on the planet. I think buying second hand leather and wool from charity shops is better than buying synthetic at least. It’s all about finding a balance, I think I will consider this option again myself, but what’s off-putting is having to justify to every non-vegan/veggie out there about wearing leather goods. Just another thing to consider.

sophiebenson November 25, 2018 - 5:17 PM

Yes feeling as though you have to justify your decision is definitely a tricky one! But ultimately, you don’t. It puts less strain on the planet and it’s the right choice for you, so hopefully people will respect that.

Sarah September 30, 2020 - 8:11 PM

I just stumbled across this blog as I was searching the Internet about thoughts around preloved silk. I make sleeping bonnets out of preloved silk and I currently hold the stance of ‘if I’ve bought the material second hand at least its not going to waste’ but I do struggle with the thoughts of me adding to the problem

sophiebenson October 1, 2020 - 5:51 PM

It’s a tricky decision and I don’t think there’s a correct answer for everyone, but I think it’s great that you’re using what already exists!

Gabrielle Archambault October 30, 2020 - 8:54 PM

I’m also very interested in this thread. I don’t know what to think at times because being vegan I want to always support vegan brands, and avoid anything resulting from cruelty, however after trying a number of vegan riding boots, I’ve been considering sourcing secondhand leather boots because I have yet to find a pair of vegan boots that lasts more than 3 months before the faux leather rips and renders them no longer waterproof. Before I went vegan I had a pair of leather boots which I bought at age 16 and lasted until I was 26, ten years of use. Calculating the amount of pairs of vegan boots I would have to buy and then figuring the environmental impact and affect on animals in creating those products makes me wonder which one has a worse effect especially if plastic is being created and the space taken by so many used and now useless boots. Still haven’t really figured out which is worse and would love to hear more opinions.

sophiebenson November 25, 2020 - 11:37 AM

So interesting to hear your experiences with vegan boots! I’m not sure there’s a definite ‘best’ option but perhaps second hand leather would last longer in your case and you’d get more wear out of them?

Morag April 2, 2022 - 8:23 PM

This is such an interesting topic and I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks about this! I am a knitter and I also eat a primarily plant based diet. I’m not vegan though. I struggle with the same decisions about buying second hand leather goods or animal products. Knitting with this in mind is very interesting. I don’t knit with wool often but I know that super wash wool yarn is terrible for the environment because of the micro plastic it sheds when washed. So I try to stay away from that. As far as goods goes, I will purchase second hand leather such as boots or purses if I need them and the price is within my budget. I recently had this experience where I really needed a new purse but I didn’t want a pleather one, as the last faux leather bag I purchased from goodwill lasted 4 years before it got so ragged it was embarrassing to use. I wanted a nylon or ripstop fabric bag but all the ones I’ve seen are fast fashion or above my budget. Walked into goodwill and saw a leather bag, exactly what I wanted and at the price I wanted. I struggled for a bit but I bought the bag because I needed it, and the cost vs life durability of the bag will basically pay for itself over time. I paid pennies for an item I’ll use for life. I’ve also kind of looked at this as if its second hand, I’m not actively contributing to the death of an animal or the ongoing leather industry. At this point it was deadstock already to me as a vintage piece. There is a gray area with things like gifts. My parents gave me a pair of gorgeous boots for a gift with the caveat that I wear something that would last as opposed to seeing me in canvas boots or pleather ones that would eventually peel or get holes in them over time. I didn’t wear them for months, but now I wear them every day. Like my bag I try to look at it as a life investment and a gift, but that doesn’t change the fact they were new when I received them. On the other hand, I won’t have to buy boots for a long time. If you’re on a budget or struggling financially, not having to spend a good amount of money time and again for the same item that will inevitably fall apart is a no brainer. There’s also the question of what happens to the faux leather or man made materials when they go to a landfill. Will they be there for 10,000 years or more? Will it cause toxic waste if its destroyed? It’s a struggle when I go out and order a veggie meal and people eye my boots and bag. If anyone questions me I will explain to them my reasons but it still puts people off sometimes. I can’t help that. Glad to see others are questioning this topic!


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