Following Up On… Second Hand Animal Products: A Dilemma

June 21, 2019
Following Up On… Second Hand Animal Products: A Dilemma
Last January, I wrote a post about my struggle to decide whether or not to buy second hand animal products as a vegan. I was torn about whether or not I felt I could morally and ethically buy second hand animal products when I absolutely won’t buy them new. I was also aware of the impact of the endless production of clothes, footwear and accessories, coupled with the pollution caused by the synthetic materials that are usually used as a replacement for the likes of leather and wool. It was a popular post and I still get comments on it now, most likely from people googling the issue in order to help them make up their mind too. It’s a difficult thing to decide but I did eventually make a choice: I would rather buy second hand animal products than new synthetic materials. 
I don’t buy clothes or accessories too often, so my wardrobe isn’t now a shrine to animal products. However, I have since bought a pair of suede boots and a wool hat (both second hand). My reasoning behind the decision is twofold: Firstly, I always choose second hand over new wherever possible anyway. It expands the lifespan of whatever thing I’m buying and therefore reduces its environmental footprint, and it stops something new entering into circulation (although, I’m not going to kid myself, I know full well that whatever I don’t buy could be bought by someone else or landfilled/burnt if it doesn’t sell). Secondly, natural fabrics have less of an impact throughout their lifespan. A 100% wool jumper, for example, won’t shed thousands upon thousands of microplastics into the waterways. Choosing an item that already exists that will do less harm in the long run felt like the right choice to make.
It took a while to come to that conclusion, but a chat I had last year with Carli Vergamini, who uses recycled leather for her label CRAVE, definitely helped. Carli takes truly gross 1980s leather suits and jackets and turns them into cute, bold accessories. Her thought process is that she can’t do anything about what’s been made in the past, but she can do her best to make sure it has as long a life as possible and stays out of landfill. If the world stopped making clothes right this second, there wouldn’t be a shortage. There’s already enough to go around and then some, so why not make the most of it?
Of course, the decision I’ve made isn’t the right one for everyone. Some people simply wouldn’t feel right having animal products in their wardrobe no matter how long ago it was made, and I completely support that. And there’s so much fabric innovation happening right now that soon it might not even be a choice between second hand animal products or synthetic fabrics. The likes of Piñatex and apple leather have the potential to utterly transform vegan fashion, using waste materials as an alternative to the cruel and destructive leather industry.
So, yes, my decision was to prioritise sourcing second hand animal products over buying new vegan alternatives wherever possible, but that doesn’t have to be your decision. We all frame our ethics differently and on this one, I truly don’t believe there’s one correct answer. That said, I’d love to know if you’re currently struggling with this dilemma or if you’ve come to a conclusion on it, even if that conclusion is different to mine. 
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J.J. August 29, 2019 - 3:15 PM

Hey Sophie! I just wanted to say, despite not being a vegan myself, this piece of writing really helped solve a bit of my own ethical dilemma in regards to sourcing in fashion. I had only recently become aware of the cruelty of many of the fashion products we buy and wear, and of the environmental impacts of synthetic fibres. While I am still learning about so many things, I’m trying to make more sustainable choices in my daily life that will hopefully contribute to more positive change in what the fashion industry makes and sells.

sophiebenson September 2, 2019 - 4:54 PM

Hi, I’m so happy to hear that this helped you! It’s such a difficult decision to make. Good luck with making those positive changes!

Shauna December 9, 2019 - 3:40 PM

As a long-time vegan, I’ve struggled with this dilemma as well. It’s definitely a very heated subject in the community and any time I mention buying second hand animal products, I’m treated like the worst person in the world, and it seems like I’m a minority in the already relatively small vegan community. Even my vegan husband acts weird sometimes when I buy or consider buying second-hand animal products, so I’m glad I am not as alone as I feel. Sustainability is super important to me, but of course so is the ethical treatment of animals. It’s so hard to walk the fine line between the two but I feel more confident after reading this article.

sophiebenson December 11, 2019 - 10:34 AM

It’s such a tricky subject and I understand both sides. I’m so glad the article helped!

Eva August 18, 2021 - 8:25 PM

Hi Ms.Benson! I loved reading both pieces you wrote about ethical vegan choices for clothing. I loved the wording and the thought you put behind both articles. Your perspective is helping me make decisions in my own life – as I’m going vegan, yay! It feels like the absolute right decision to make. I phased meat out of my diet over the course of 5 years, and eggs and dairy just over the last year. My initial thought about buying second-hand clothing made from animal products was, “Hm, I wonder if that’s okay…” My feeling was uncertainty. Although I would buy a second-hand article of clothing from animal products – I feel that if I accumulate too many, it will not reflect well on my vegan process, but that’s just me. You’re right in saying that new production creates more output and more pollution, and it’s wonderful that vegans have more options… However perhaps balance is the key. Thank you for your words and sharing your experiences with all of us online! I hope we find much happiness in our journey towards a more sustainable planet. God bless you and much love to you!

sophiebenson August 19, 2021 - 11:47 AM

Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I’m happy my post helped in some way!


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