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Doc Martens’s vegan boot business is thriving (qz.com)
80 points by howard941 64 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

Meanwhile it appears that leather is piling up unused:


The cows are still being slaughtered for their beef, which appears to be profitable enough for the practice to carry on even if the leather hides are now just dumped on landfills:

"Cattle hides, an obligatory byproduct of beef and dairy consumption, will be around as long as Americans like cheeseburgers, steaks and ice cream. And while dairy producers have been under pressure from declining milk demand and dairy alternatives, the rise of meat substitutes has yet to dent America’s taste for the real thing."

The implication would seem to be that products like these boots might have less environmental benefits than one might think.

But this is an expected consequence of any attempt to reduce demand for farmed cattle. It isn't feasible for consumers to reduce demand for all cattle products in perfect lockstep.

Consider an alternative scenario: demand for beef falls, but demand for leather doesn't. In that case the price of beef would plummet, and stock would pile up and eventually spoil, but the supply of cows continues unabated because of the existing leather demand.

In both the real and hypothetical cases, the reduced demand for one material should result in an increased price for the other material, since the price of producing a cow is independent of the sale price of its byproducts. This would eventually reduce demand of the popular product (to a degree depending on how elastic its demand is), which eventually reduces supply of cattle all on its own, which--in the case of people who already avoid meat but are now additionally avoiding leather, thanks to popularized alternatives--was the original intended objective.

[Disclaimer: I eat meat and am wearing leather right this very moment, but I've been slowly reducing my demand for each for a few years now.]

>In both the real and hypothetical cases, the reduced demand for one material should result in an increased price for the other material, since the price of producing a cow is independent of the sale price of its byproducts. This would eventually reduce demand of the popular product (to a degree depending on how elastic its demand is)

Strictly speaking this is a reduction (left-shift) in supply of beef, which results in lower quantity demanded as the equilibrium moves left along the static demand curve (as you said, in degree corresponding to its elasticity).

Interestingly I can't think of a word for that sort of positive cross-price elasticity of supply, despite cross-price elasticity of demand being an Econ 101 topic (substitute/complementary goods). Here's a neat writeup on the dearth of attention given to that concept: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0f78/7d112ad2bd54ee6e604af6...

I mean, it depends on ratio of usage.... this is kinda like optimizations in programming. It might be the case that as you optimize one thing, a new thing becomes the bottleneck... but it also might be the case that the one, current, bottleneck is such an outlier that it is STILL the bottleneck, no matter how much you optimize.

It could be the case that leather usage is such a small fraction compared to beef that even if you reduce beef consumption 90%, you still have excess cow hides.

I don't know the actual numbers, but your scenario won't always be the case is my point.

Indeed, if there's a name for Amdahl's Law but generalized to bottlenecks in general then it would be in play here. Having real numbers would allow us to better understand the potential benefits (or lack thereof), although I think in this case it's profit that we specifically want to measure, rather than usage or popularity (since, after all, as long as profit is non-negative then it shouldn't result in unsellable/wasted product).

I think in the real case it isn't going to make much difference, because there's plenty of slack in the beef market (lots of people price shop it) and it's finished leather that is valuable, not hide.

There appears to be some confusion here. Cattle are not normally clad in leather. Leather is a product that can be made from their hides. This process is economically performed in ways that release heavy metals and sundry other unpleasantries into the environment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanning_(leather)#Health_and_e...

Of course. But to some degree that environmental impact can be reduced by using vegetable tanning. And a good pair of leather shoes will last a decade with good care. And the alternative is usually some kind of synthetic material made from petroleum.

> But to some degree that environmental impact can be reduced by using vegetable tanning.

Is that so? From what I remember, vegetable tanning is just as toxic as chrome tanning. Just because something is "more natural" it is not necessarily better.

I don't think so. From what I've read, veg tanning does not have anywhere near the same environmental impact as chrome tanning.

I found this:

> No significant differences were found in the footprint of vegetable and chromium leather processes


No, it is not as toxic as chrome tanning. It's not that it hasn't any environmental impact, but that is the case with so called vegan shoes too.

I agree with the article's suggestion that education of consumers is probably part of the solution, but reform of the industry is probably also necessary. It may also be there's going to be an inevitable decline if people move away from meat and animal products in general.

I've generally moved gradually more and more toward a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, not with some single big decision, but through unanticipated shifts in my decisions over time.

Shoes and boots are one area where I still regularly buy leather though, even though I've tried not to. I've had a lot of trouble finding shoes and boots that have the same durability, design, and breathability of leather. Not saying leather alternatives aren't out there, just that for many things the choice isn't the same.

I still eat dairy products, and many of the arguments in that article have always been on the back of my mind -- if I eat animal products, isn't it best to make full use of the animal? But for me the leather industry's problems aren't all about animal welfare, it's about the environmental effects and working conditions. It's hard to spend years reading about poor environmental and labor practices in the leather industry and feel ok about buying leather.

In the end, I've ended up purchasing leather that's traceable in some way, preferably vegetable tanned, or if not, produced somewhere I trust.

Maybe this is all naive but all one can do is try their best to make decisions they feel comfortable with, one at a time. If the leather industry wants people to buy leather again they have to convince people of the reasons for doing so, and I suspect increasingly that will have to include environmental, social, and animal welfare reasons as well. I'm not saying that those reasons aren't there, just that they have to make the case, or someone does.

Vegans are in there primarily for the ethics (climate or health reasons usually are secondary). In one way veganism is a boycott, not to pay for products that clearly require animal to be harmed. That leather piles up shows it's becoming less in demand, thus less valuable, thus animal farming becomes less profitable. Vegans rejoice.

Isn't "vegan leather" just plastic? Doesn't pumping all that oil, a non-renewable resource, negate the ethics of not killing a cow, which is a renewable resoure?

Or is this one of those cases where people latch onto one side of an issue, and can't see the other?

It can be from plant oil. Vegans also do not see cows as resource so the decision for them is clear as there is no negation and weighing.

It's only a few hundred grams of plastic from a slightly larger amount of oil. An amount of oil that might move your car a few miles, or heat your house for an hour. A pair of boots lasts years, so it's not the first place to cut back.

The thing is that producing the same amount of leather releases orders of magnitude more toxic chemicals into the environment than producing the same amount of plastics.

There's also garments and products made with natural fibers like cotton, linen, hemp.

> negate the ethics

For vegans: no.

To remind you, it was believed by many early vegans (like before 1995) that being vegan would have a negative impact on their health — and they were still vegan!

The understanding that a vegan diet can be perfectly healthy, and in many cases is more healthy than a typical omni diet, came fairly recent (like after 2000).

So vegans will rarely trade ethics for some "benefits".

It's a difficult calculus...

On one hand, the hope is that you're making the margins slimmer on animal products. On the other hand, as you mentioned, you're buying new (often petroleum-based) materials versus (arguably more renewable) repurposed material.

This. Part of the benefit is that it raises the cost of producing meat. Mass animal cruelty will be ended mostly by economics.

Farming is not animal cruelty.

No one is talking about farming. We're talking about factory meat production and slaughterhouses.

How much cheaper are leather goods now then? They seem as expensive as ever.

Leather, as a secondary product, is subject to big price swings, depending on whether there's more demand for leather than meat.

Also note that Doc Marten's are reasonably priced compared to many Vegan shoe/boot leather alternatives that are socially acceptable.

If you have $500 to spend on boots, it's probably easy enough to find whatever you want. If you have $100-$200, doc martens pull away quickly for the vegan crowd.

Yeah there's a lot of garbage vegan clothing out there. Good shoes typically set you back a few hundred unless you can get them on sale. Novacas is a great brand but you can only find them at resellers really Mooshoes has a pretty good selection but they are definitely going to be higher end shoes. Totally I find myself looking for the all man made materials on the label

Wills Vegan Shoes is good, but not inexpensive.

Was it Tesla that started this trend? Re-branding pleather as "vegan leather" is brilliant marketing.

Seems to have started to really take off in late 2012: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=US&q=%...

Might be a result of Free People launching a line with that term in July 2011: https://blog.freepeople.com/2011/07/vegan-leather-fp-debut/

Some earlier examples include Matt & Nat ca. 2008: https://www.kqed.org/bayareabites/27914/vegan-fashion

no kidding - anyone truly surprised that their plastic boots sold at a vegan premium are very profitable?

When I bought my Docs in 2015 they offered Vegan Leather. Not sure if Tesla used the term then.

I am not sure when Tesla began offering something with that brand. It seems like the term started gaining traction in about 2013 when some people in the fashion industry started describing pleather clothes as vegan leather.

The favorite pair of shoes I ever owned in my life were a pair of Doc oxfords with light-brown hemp uppers, I tried to locate a pair years later only to find out that they were a limited production run in the early 90s. A new run would make a good marketing pairing with the pleathers; they both have that granola/crunchy feel, and pot's gone mainstream now. I'd love to own a pair again.

Synthetic materials also make automation easier. I wonder if leather handling is one of the most expensive parts of shoe manufacturing. I've suspected that's why Nike (and probably other companies as well) seem to have fewer and fewer shoes with leather components.

There's another facet to this. Some athletic shoes have recently started using advanced "3D" knitting machines for the uppers. With traditional shoe making, there's waste when cutting the components of the upper from a sheet of material. But a knitted upper has essentially zero waste material, because it's created to the precise target shape.

I.e. it's an additive manufacturing process like a 3D printer rather than a subtractive process.

I looked at Doc Martens a long time ago (a decade+) when I was looking for steel-toe non-leather work boots, but none of the vegan Doc Martens boots have steel/composite toe protection. I just checked again, and I think that's still the case.

I've been rocking Bogs Turf Stompers for the last five years or so, but they've been discontinued I think (at least the steel toe version has been).

Anyone else have good luck with non-leather steel/composite toe lace up workboots?

I had Vegetarian Shoes boots once, wore them almost daily for 10 years. Solid boots. At the time, they had Doc Martens as well, I was under the impression they had licensed the brand and model.

Here https://www.vegetarian-shoes.co.uk/unisex/airseal_10_eye_boo...

Wearing them as I type, have been for at least 10 years, will likely wear them til I die.

> Anyone else have good luck with non-leather steel/composite toe lace up workboots?

As an alternative: I like to wear wooden clogs whenever I am working outside or doing some heavy lifting or other stuff around the house that might hurt my feet.

Unfortunately, it's job-site PPE policy - I work in construction.

Do they have to be boot style? My favorite steel toes were slip-on shoes. Way more comfortable.

Timberland has several safety shoe models with canvas or synthetic uppers.

I'll check Timberland, thanks!

Slightly off topic, but are there any "vegan leathers" that replicate the properties of leather (durability, strength, toughness, breathability, etc.) rather than just the appearance?

The great thing about leather is when the surface gets trashed you can polish it again and it’s as good as new. You can wear a pair of boots for weeks in the mountains and then polish again to a mirror finish (meaning perfectly waterproof.) With all synthetic leathers there’s some kind of surface which once it’s broken that’s it it’s ruined and there’s no way to repair and they need to be thrown away.

Ask anyone who's ever tried to get way with plastic 'patent leather' boots and regretted it with the first scratch they get!

I think it falls into the same category as 'not at all sustainable' and maybe vegan. But I have a backpack who's outer skin is made from recycled bicycle inner-tubes sewn together to make a watertight surface. After years it's worn almost like leather, though I suspect eventually it will break down into a powder like an old rubber band.

It start off as shiny but eventually developed minute scratches and turned quite matte and more plyable. It does not, of course, have that earthy leather smell and will forever smell somewhat of rubber inner-tubes.

Sadly it seems like they no longer make the backpack I own but here is an example (https://www.alchemygoods.com/collections/upcycled-backpacks-...)

There was a group trying to make "leather" out of the skin that forms in fermenting kombucha. I'm not sure how well it matches actual leather, but there may be a future in lab grown leather similar to lab grown meat.

For small values of "thriving". "Its vegan line, first launched in 2011, rose to 5% of its global footwear sales in its fiscal year ended March 31."

I owned my first pair of Doc Martens when I was 15. I was in high school and saw that Eric Clapton wore a pair and I just loved the look. Now, 42, I own dozens of pairs of Docs and I still have the original ones from when I was 15.

I own Vegan Docs and I love them. Every bit as good as the leather versions. However, I thought I was helping save cows but it turns out they are dying anyway. Sad.

I have a pair of 1980's made in UK leather Doc Martens that I just recently realized are valuable. They've been made in China since 2002 and the quality isn't great. I'd be wary of 'vegan' meaning el cheapo uppers materials to save money

When DMs were originally made in the UK the work was contracted out.

The company that originally made them for Doctor Martins now sells direct under the name Solavair [1] made in the same original factory.

I have no connection to the company but I have a pair of their monkey boots and they’re great.

Oh and I _think_ they might make DMs “made in the UK” specials but I’m not 100% on that.

1. https://www.nps-solovair.com/

That's great information, thank you. And they have a vegan model!

Even after 2002, I feel like the quality was fine. However, there have been huge quality issues in the past couple of years.

I seem to remember DM had at least one vegan boot around the early 2000's. The article says the "line" started in 2011, but I'm pretty sure I had a pair well before that. I think there were earlier attempts to sell a model of the vegans, and one model doesn't qualify it as a "line."

At around 2011, I started to buy vegan docs exclusively as an everyday shoe. They were amazing. One lasted about 4 years. However, my last pair which I bought in late 2017(?), didn't last eight months with both soles splitting. This current pair is a bit better (10 months now?). The sole on one is starting to split, but at least the soles is pretty worn down.

When I bought my Docs in 2015 I paid a few extra dollars for the ones made in the UK.

At the time, Vegan was an option, but why skimp on the real thing?

Pleather has been around forever, as an inferior product that does not last nearly as long. Let's call it vegan for a win.

also: https://www.vocativ.com/281599/vegan-leather-isnt-as-ethical...

Re: your link, I agree that we would do well to find better ways to produce non-animal-sourced clothing that doesn't produce the number of pollutants some of our current options do.

But I take issue with this quote:

> The holy grail of sustainability is a closed-loop system. “With leather, nature has created its own sort of closed-loop system,” says Hustvedt. “The carcass of an animal can decay in the ground and nurture plants that are eaten by the next generation of animal.”

Yes, and that's great for the environment if you look past all of the environmental harm created by raising the animals needed for that leather. But CO2 and methane production, deforestation, runoff from factory farms... all of these consequences take a serious toll on the environment.

There are a lot of bad choices for clothing - cotton is notorious for requiring a lot of pesticides to grow as well. And that many clothes are made in sweatshops in poorer countries, not uncommonly made with child labor. And it's all shipped across the ocean using fossil fuels.

It doesn't have to be this way though.

The question is, are these animals being grown for food or leather? Afaik, leather is mostly a byproduct of the beef industry, and if it's not used it'll just go to waste. I could maybe agree that buying leather is a bad net choice if beef was the byproduct, but until I see that, I have no qualms about buying leather products, especially since they last longer than synthetic versions.

Even if 0% of livestock was raised specifically for their hides, we have to globally reduce our animal consumption to stave off climate change as much as possible.

It's not just a simple "Oh, it's a byproduct." It's a byproduct of an industry that is seriously contributing to climate change.

And market interest in non-leather clothing will drive companies to make better non-leather clothing.

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