Has Veganuary left you feeling inspired to put aside your leather work boots and search for a substitute that doesn’t require the slaughter of animals? Are there available options that are comfortable? Are they affordable? Are there any downsides to vegan footwear? We’ll answer these questions and others so that you can make an informed decision.
Differences between traditional & vegan type work boots
The big difference between traditional work boots and vegan work boots is that vegan boots are made without using any animal hide. Full-grain, suede, and Nubuck leathers are all made from animal hides that have been tanned and processed into the breathable, water-resistant, durable fabric traditionally associated with quality work shoes.
Over half of the leather for work boots is made of cowhide. Buffalo hide, sheepskin, goatskin, and pigskin are also made into leather work shoes. Skin from young lambs, kids or calves makes very soft leather; it’s used more for dress shoes than for work boots. Exotic leathers are made from an array of other animals including alligators, ostriches, snakes, kangaroos, and llamas. Exotic leathers account for a very small percentage of the total and are quite expensive.
Shoes that vegans can wear in good conscience are generally made from vegan “leather,” synthetic materials, or canvas. Canvas is lightweight, comfortable, breathable and usually machine washable. It’s an attractive option for those reasons. However, canvas just isn’t durable or protective enough to wear for work, unless you work in an office.
Synthetic shoes are made from a variety of materials which routinely increase in number as scientists continue to formulate new fabrics. Several, like NuSuede, Naugahyde, and Hydralite, resemble leather and are reasonably durable. They often are considerably less expensive than real leather, which makes synthetic shoes attractive to vegans and lots of other people.
Drawbacks of synthetic materials include the fact that they don’t stretch or mold to your feet like leather shoes, so they take longer to break in and aren’t apt to be quite as comfortable as real leather shoes. Some synthetic materials develop a bad odor over time. They usually wear out quicker, too.
Vegan “leather” shoes are made largely from types of microfiber, PVC, and polyurethane, although materials as diverse as cork, leaves, and cotton are beginning to be used. Quality vegan leather looks and feels like real leather. It’s lightweight and comfortable, too. Some types are also quite durable and feel remarkably like leather. The downside of vegan leather is that it can be quite expensive, especially if you need a pair of heavy-duty work boots with features that include a safety toe, a non-slip sole and a tough, durable upper. This combination is hard to find in vegan shoes.
Are vegan work boots better or worse in any way?
If you’re convinced that using animal skins in footwear is morally wrong, then vegan work boots are certainly better. Vegan boots can be made without directly endangering livestock. They don’t require a tanning process, which involves the use of some caustic chemicals and also means that factories are creating air and water pollutants during the process.
While wearing vegan work boots does allow you to avoid the ethical difficulties associated with animal skins, it doesn’t mean that you’ve avoided all the ethical issues. Here are some salient points about vegan leathers.
- Most vegan material is made of PVC, polyurethane, or other types of plastic. As such, it has the same problems that are associated with plastic in general. Unlike real leather, which is biodegradable, vegan materials are not. They hang around to end up in landfills or oceans. They are also prone to ‘shed’ some of their microfibers as they wear out. This means that tiny bits of plastic make their way onto the ground or into the water.
- Vegan material is man-made, which means that it, too, requires the use of manufacturing plants and chemicals that produce at least some pollutants. Making vegan work boots that are durable and protective is a complicated manufacturing Some of the best vegan work boots are made by companies known as manufacturers of leather work boots. Dr. Marten’s, Carhartt, Wolverine, Caterpillar, Timberland, and others include vegan styles in their lines of work boots. Examples of vegan workbooks like this include the Combs Nylon Combat Boot and the Vegan 2976 Chelsea Boot by Dr. Marten’s, as well as the TeslaDri RF120 Vegan Friendly Boot by Rock Fall.
- Simply wearing vegan work boots won’t stop the slaughter of animals. Most animals are killed for their meat rather than their hide. Statistics vary greatly, but virtually all agree that the number of vegetarians worldwide is less than 10%. (Vegans constitute a small percentage of that total.) Until over 90% of the world population decides to stop eating meat, there will be animal hides to deal with. Using those hides in leather boots, belts, jackets and a host of other products just makes sense.
If you’re convinced that vegan work boots are the ethical choice, you’ll find several options from which to choose. As with real leather boots, the best vegan boots are comfortable, stylish, breathable and durable. They also tend to be expensive, especially if they are heavy-duty work boots with special safety features.
Although vegan work boots don’t necessitate the slaughter of animals for hide, they also do not avoid the ethical issues of pollutants used in the manufacturing process as well as the negative residual effects of plastics.