Many non-vegans seem to habitually concern themselves with whether or not vegans are secretly hypocrites. From questions about what you’d do if stranded on a desert island, to what foods you choose to feed to your pets, it can feel at times like others are scrutinizing your lifestyle in hopes of finding some way in which you aren’t practicing what you preach.
One common manifestation of this is when non-vegans “call out” a vegan or vegetarian for wearing leather, wool, or some other animal-based fabric. The notion is that you can’t be a “true” vegan if you wear an animal.
The problem is that an item of clothing is worlds different from a meal. That which is (or is not) on your plate is typically an accurate reflection of your view on whether animals can suffer, whether animal agriculture causes suffering, and whether you should alter your lifestyle accordingly.
What you choose to wear is far different. Many of us still wear clothes we purchased years ago. We have pants, socks, shirts, scarves, hats, and shoes that may have been with us — or, more accurately, on us — while we made the journey from non-vegan to vegan. As such, it is not unusual for our clothes to act as artifacts of who we were, who we might not necessarily still be today. Maybe we came around to veganism and could no longer see any justification for purchasing a new leather belt. Wearing it may not be as carefree as it used to be; you might feel a pang of guilt as you remember all the years you remained unconcerned with animal suffering while putting it on every day. But it doesn’t make much sense to throw it away.
In fact, throwing it away — if you are going to purchase a vegan-friendly replacement — does more harm than good. For one, you’re going to be adding to a landfill. But more in line with the primary purpose of veganism — to avoid unnecessary animal suffering — it may be hypocritical to buy a replacement because of the pain that likely goes into making that new one. It’s important to remember that humans are animals, too, and that the vast majority of our clothing is manufactured in excruciating conditions in third-world countries. Even if you get one made in the USA or wherever you happen to live, that new purchase will carry with it a carbon footprint that wouldn’t exist if you just kept the dang leather belt.
The only conceivable counter-argument to this is that maybe people will see your extremely fashionable leather belt and decide to buy one for themselves. Perhaps it’s true that this could happen. Even if you buy a pleather belt someone could go out searching for the same one and purchase a leather one. Not much you can do there other than buy a belt that looks nothing like leather, but that’s kind of absurd. I am skeptical that this is a real problem.
So keep your silk underwear, your down jacket, and those leather boots — a killer outfit if ever there was one. If anyone asks, explain to them that they are a relic from the past, and that you wear those items because throwing them away is just wasteful.
But maybe forego the fur jacket. I think people get in trouble for that now.