Sustainability with a Side of Sass

Slide in to Leather Sass - Leather Care and (quite a bit) More

Leather – Vintage and otherwise

There is always something just a little sizzling, edgy, and sexy when wearing leather isn’t there?

You may not be aware, that whether it is a top, jacket, skirt, trousers, or shorts – there seems to be an unspoken ‘phwoar’ that goes along with wearing leather. Even pleather leggings (sans the unenviable camel toe that leggings usually offer) can elicit the same response.

Unless of course, wearing leather is your regular fare when it comes to daily wardrobe selections. In this case, you are likely oblivious to the looks you may generate in your wake. It also looks great on both men and women offering that timeless appeal we so love!

Leather pants are a wardrobe-enhancing choice that looks good with almost anything. Pairing leather with denim can give a rock-and-roll vibe. If you pair leather trousers with a floaty top half, it can result in a quirky and eclectic look. Want hints of casual? What about a leather skirt or leather pants with a luxe chunky sweater for the instantly easy classy chic.

Use soft tops and textured fabrics to detract a little from the bold often edgy aspect of leather. Use a smart button-down crisp blouse and jacket to keep a modern polished feel to your look. Go 90s styling so 'en vogue' at the moment.

My personal choice? I prefer to wear leather trousers instead of denim. They offer similar versatility, mobility, and different texture aspects for easy pairing and can be the same hard-wearing garment workhorse. Bonus - They can also provide an easy air of confidence in your look that comes from something that is curved and fitted exclusively to your body shape.

Touted as one of the ‘sustainable fabrics’ derived from the natural origins of our era, there are plenty of vintage leather garments out there that can be worn before embarking on the purchase of newly made pieces.

Some leather-wearing fashionistas and celebrities, the eco-conscious and designer supporters such as: Gwyneth Paltrow, Anna Wintour, Christina Hendricks, Jennifer Lopez, and Victoria Beckham (pictured l to r) to name a few - all wear the casual chic and elegant ease of leather options.

Celebrities who wear leather

A motto to live by when it comes to wearing fashion as a whole –

“Wear what you own and own it wearing it.” Sustainable Stylist, Stephanie King

Spilling on leather will not result in death

If wearing a piece of clothing scares you, I say - get rid of it. 

If you do indeed spill something on leather, you might be a bit sad and disappointed at the time but only if you forget how much fun you were probably having while wearing the garment before the spill. Surely the reality is that a spill on any kind of clothing is something that no one ever died from - that I am aware of.

Leather is very simple to care for if you just think of leather as skin. Just like you need to clean and moisturize your skin, leather needs to be looked after and maintained in the same way to stay supple, pliable, and resilient as it ages. Just keep your skincare routine in mind while caring for your leather. Trousers, skirts, jackets, shorts, hats, or other leather items, vintage or otherwise will be sure to get that longevity tick if you give a little love!

If you are going to partake in going the sustainable fashion route wearing vintage or retro leather, you may find, that the garment unfortunately may not have been cared for by the previous owner as a cherished piece of clothing. Perhaps it may appear cracked, entirely out of shape, or shrunk or ripped and scarred. Please know that you may not be able to save it from an inevitable demise in a landfill regardless of your good intentions. The hope is, that if you offer it to a charity a recycled product handbag manufacturer will snap it up! In the same way, if you have permanently damaged your skin sometimes there is just no going back.

Before You Invest - Check the Tag

Ask yourself, “Do you want leather or coated leather?”

Huh, you say?

If you are looking for the (widely accepted) ‘sustainability fashion’ ‘tick’ make sure the piece you love is actual leather - as in a 100% hide leather, rather than sprayed-on or ‘bonded’ (i.e. bonded to plastic) alternatives. Not all leather garments are made from a single hide or, a piece of leather.

Vegan? If you are averse to animal products, equally check to see that the tag does not say it is leather or a leather alternative. A leather alternative can still be made with reconstituted leather melded or 'bonded' together with other materials.

Do these checks before you invest too much in a version that does not suit your needs or views. Look after your wallet when it comes to investing in quality that will survive the tests of time. Consider that the item might be overpriced for what it is i.e., not 100% real leather hide, and therefore may not last as long as you intend it to.

Equally, ensure you are aware of the care required for the piece if it is made from an authentic 100% leather hide.

Leather or Faux Leather

Real Leather vs Artificial Leather

Checking for real or faux leather is not difficult. If you have read this far then, like me, you probably care about real vs spray. I am sure you will enjoy the easy tests and the satisfying ‘aha’ moment when your deductions are satisfied regardless of the outcome.

These days, garments can be made by a sprayed coating of leather so ‘technically’ the manufacturer can say the garment is made of leather. The real tell-tale sign of authentic leather made solely from a hide is when you look at the underside of the material. The visual signs are usually there, and it can be easy to see and figure out if the reverse is another textile altogether.

You can look for loose threads of non-leather on the hem or, check if the piece is stretchy like lycra.

Or, equally, if the garment is indeed made with the true cleaned and unique feeling of treated animal inner or; ‘suede’ - is what you see and feel.

A tip you could use while in the fitting room is:

  • turn an area of the garment inside out so that you do not ruin the face of it in your test. For example, try a seam or the turned-in part of a hem and run your nail gently along the ‘skin’. If it is ‘the real deal’, it will create a little (please don’t test harshly!) scrape where a little layer of skin is scraped off just as it would if you did this to your skin. Additionally, real leather hems are usually glued down rather than sewn.
  • If the minor scraping provides no change to the item i.e., it looks like it has not happened, it could be a garment made from a topical leather that has been adhered to another (probably (likely) a non-sustainable) fabric like dread plastic, lycra or even a cotton base.
If you are buying online just ask the seller directly. An honest knowledgeable seller will be able to tell you.
    From Wikipedia:

    ‘Artificial leather, also called synthetic leather, is a material intended to substitute for leather in upholstery, clothing, footwear, and other uses where a leather-like finish is desired, but the actual material is cost prohibitive or unsuitable. Artificial leather is known under many names, including leatherette, imitation leather, faux leather, vegan leather, PU leather, and pleather.

    Leatherette is also made by covering a fabric base with plastic. The fabric can be made of natural or synthetic fibre which is then covered with a soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC) layer.’

    Now think about the furniture (or belts and jewelry) and peels/chips you often see on reloved pieces sold as ‘leather’ … Below is an image of a dress that was sold and labelled 'leather'.

    “Bonded leather, also called reconstituted leather, composition leather, or blended leather, is a term used for a manufactured upholstery material which contains animal hide. It is made as a layered structure of a fibre or paper backer covered with a layer of shredded leather fibres mixed with natural rubber or a polyurethane binder that is embossed with a leather-like texture.

    If a tag on the garment says the piece is "not washable" you should take heed. It is likely to be another hint that the item has been cut from a hide of genuine leather rather than sprayed on.

    Cleaning Faux Leather

    I have personally washed on gentle cycle (inside out) pleather and leather ‘look alike’ garments. There has never been a problem with any unusual or any particularly unexpectedly fast deterioration of the garments.

    My experience suggests I can recommend a gentle wash for the faux leather. Never put it in the dryer though because heat will most definitely ruin either leather or pleather!

    In the end, spraying anything on a textile is not something that is likely going to last a long time. Certainly not in the same way as an authentic 'leather hide' made garment would/does. Think cowboys’ chaps in museums and the level of wear and tear of use and yet it still survives! Real or faux there is no judgment here only respect for personal preference.

    An Honest admission

    To be perfectly honest, I have by accident, washed an Italian suede skirt at home in our washing machine on a normal cycle with normal washing powder and it survived. It truly was by accident and can assure you of the panic when I realised it had made it into the machine and the skirt had been entirely immersed in water! I most definitely would not recommend doing this unless you do not care about the risk.

    Washing Machines and dryers are a no-no.

    In good conscience, I can not suggest putting your true leather pieces in the washing machine. There are a lot of conversations around this topic online and I was unable to draw a solid conclusion to offer you here.

    I can however without hesitation tell you all conversations around putting leather in a dryer say not to ever do this. It does make sense. Again, just like our skin if we bake it in a heated space it will be ruined!

    I suggest further investigation and asking around (I asked upholsterers who suggested not to do it) with regard to washing your leather in a washing machine. Going back to the human vs animal skin analogy - A human likely shouldn't be spun at speed so I don't think your leather jacket should either! Perhaps, in your state-of-the-art washing machine on a delicate cycle - maybe it is safe. This risk will be yours of course if you do decide to proceed. Personally, I would not on purpose without a clear decision that the item may be ruined when the cycle has finished - ever purposely put my leather in the washing machine.

    Ponder this though: If you think you could throw caution to the wind by putting your leather garment in the wash and do not care about the risk … then why do you still have the item in your wardrobe?

    Shouldn’t you ‘Love your clothes like the good friends they are.’ Joan Crawford,
    by caring for them?

    Cleaning Real Leather

    I recommend taking your leather to a professional for cleaning at least once a year or every other year. Just like your winter coats and other luxe type items they likely do not need an overkill of cleaning. Do however, arm yourself with the knowledge that it may not come back 100% how it went in. Just like our skin, for the most part chemicals are not our friends. Be aware that your item may come back with slight variations in colour, texture, and shape. I also recommend cleaning any of your matching garments together even if only one piece is dirty. It is absolutely worth the cost of keeping them the same colour if you can.

    Futureproofing with love

    As soon as you purchase a leather item, it is super important to waterproof it to keep it supple and protected from the elements. Waterproofing your leather garments straight away will also help with future stain accidents and give a little barrier when you try to get the 'wear and enjoyment marks' out in the future.

    If the leather is a bit stiff, you may need a more repetitive regime to get to nourish the piece back to ‘healthy skin’. Moisturize and then again repeat the next day, and then possibly again.

    You can purchase a raft of products for your leather items from shoe shops, saddlery stores, upholsterers and sometimes Key Cutters like, Mister Minute’ (isn’t that random) similar to the raft of skincare for your face and body. I use a natural beeswax-based product to make my leather clothes and shoes slightly weather-protected as well as a gel conditioner annually to re-spruce up the moisture levels. While some say the skin will not breathe with a wax protectant like beeswax, I have personally found it to be the most effective when followed up later by the gel.

    I also like that putting a protective coating on my clothing will help repel bickie and cookie crumbs with slightly buttery markings. Another normal part of life involves regular hand washing. With quick action (wipe off excess straight away) it will assist even if there is an instance of a bit of water splatter.

    Waterproofing is a once or, twice a year kind of process so the time or monetary investment is not huge. I take my advice and do this as soon as the latest item is introduced in my wardrobe so that I do not have to worry about it later.

    As an aside since I only ever buy vintage, retro or preloved - if the leather is a bit stiffer than a newly created garment I find also that just wearing the leather it warms it up naturally and this helps to imbue the treatments you have administered so the skin will begin to soften.

    Spot Cleaning Leather

    You will want to treat any spots as soon as possible. If the stain fully sets and dries trying to remove and treat the stain will get immeasurably harder.

    To spot clean leather (not suede) items, I do the following: turn it inside out and try a gentle dish detergent (I use Sunlight dish soap) on a test patch like a seam. There is no need to soak the test area too much to be able to tell. Look for discoloration, spots, or other changes once the area has dried before taking on any further areas.

    To clean the actual spot: Use a bit of your choice of soap on a damp (not wet or you will make water marks) soft white cloth and see if the spot will come off that way. Another tip - Don’t use too much soap. Too much soap will make the leather dry and stiff. If you have been caring for your leather like your skin by nourishing it and moisturising it annually at least, oftentimes the mark or dirty spot it will just be on the surface and will come straight off! Note re care - I urge you not to use any oil-based products to condition the leather since they will make a mark. Think your own skin when you add oil to it – just soaks right in and will be hard to remove or make an even soaking on the entire garment.

    Wrinkles in leather

    Never use a steamer on genuine leather. If you do, you are basically putting hot water all over it. Bad. Very bad. I suggest – DON’T.

    Now spray leather/pleather etc in my experience is a different story altogether. It can be steamed inside out with no visible negative effect. Again, a garment made from leather alternative was not made to last decades. The leather spray concoction will eventually begin to peel or chip off, but I am not sure whether a steamer will contribute to this prematurely. So, I leave that one with you to decide.

    Leather trims and hems …

    Most trims (patched, collars, trims) on your clothing are from ‘garment-washed’ leather. That just means that the textile has already been through water in the original production phase. Remember though, if the garment states, “Dry Clean Only’ I would not risk ruining any loved vintage or otherwise by washing it yourself.

    Cleaning Patent Leather

    Patent leather can often be cleaned with a glass cleaner and then wipe it down with a lint-free cleaning cloth. Remember to spray the cloth and then wipe on rather than spraying the garment or shoe. You do not want to create a wet area. Quick and easy for such a statement-look type of leather!

    And Lastly, few ideas on stain removal from a variety of sources:

    *Try removing an oil based stain such as: make-up, moisturisers, butter, condiments, salad dressings etc with starch, corn flour or baking soda.  This is as yet untried by me. I did find a few recommendations for this approach, and none advised instant results but the suggestions all said to let it soak and repeat as many times as required. It did eventually remove the potential stain for all recommenders which is a good sign that it works!

    * Try an artist’s eraser for pencil, chalk, and ink marks. I have used this method for scuffs and marks in leather and suede with varied success. I would caution you not to rub too hard though and ensure the eraser is not coloured, so it does not further mark the leather.

    * If the armpits start to get a little ‘whiffy’ but you do not want to professionally clean just yet, I saw a suggestion to try using Dettol Glen 20 spray. Instructions were to hang inside out and lightly spray the lining with Glen 20. Be cautious and careful to not directly spray the leather! Then leave it hanging inside out overnight. Sounds a lot more economical and I will be sure to give this one a try!

    * Use your freezer to kill bacteria.  This does not only apply to leather! However, if you are using this method on leather, please make sure you put your garment inside out. Then put into a tightly sealed plastic bag and put in the freezer overnight to kill bacteria and remove odour. You do not want to wet your leather if at all possible!

    * Avoid folding leather garments to store them - it may create creases. It can also damage certain types of leather by rubbing the hide together. Folded faux leather can become adhered in the folded areas and peel off. The best approach is to keep them hung up on a wooden coat hanger in a cool, dry place regardless of whether leather or faux. This will also help to help maintain/retain shape.

    And so, whether it is leather or faux there are a few summary points:

    Leather does require extra attention to keep it looking its best, but it doesn't have to be a painful process.

    Those who love and wear leather regularly consider it a perfect garment. Leather pants are amazingly comfortable. Purchasing a pair of leather pants in your proper size will ensure a fit seldom found in other types of trousers and an unbelievably comfortable fit. Leather also helps to retain heat, keeping you warmer than jeans or other trousers.

    Given the four seasons in one day here in New Zealand, leather pants are a great choice for a rainy day. Even if you didn’t heed my advice and weatherproof them - leather is naturally kind of water-resistant.

    Leather pants were popular from the 1970s through the 1990s, with their popularity skyrocketing during the ’90s.

    And guess what? It's all back on trend again so get into it!

    Sustainable Stylist Stephanie King




    DISCLAIMER – Please understand I am sharing what I do with my collection. I cannot and am not able to take responsibility if you are not happy with the results should you try any of my instructions.

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