In the 2020s, a high level of social awareness is to be expected. But what happens when an issue- a sustainability issue in particular- is in question on both sides of an argument?

Fur and leather goods will always be in style. Over the last few decades, though, faux fur and pleather have dominated the industry as concerns over animal cruelty spiked; even luxury household names like Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, and Chanel are taking steps to eliminate real fur entirely and employ vegan materials like Mycoworks’ mushroom-based pleather in lieu of leather.

But with growing interest in and need for sustainable fashion, all of us as consumers– and yes, no matter your sense of style or lack thereof, you are a consumer of fashion (see the iconic Devil Wears Prada cerulean sweater monologue)– are wondering whether to go fur or “faux?” 

The fur market is no stranger to the ire of environmentalist and pro-animal rights groups like PETA, with Fashion Week runway shows in New York and London swarmed with anti-fur protesters every year. This advocacy resulted in a major upheaval of what constitutes “luxury” in the fashion world. 

However, the answer to the fur or faux question isn’t as cut and dry as “fur/leather is bad, vegan is good.” The real answer lies in our own individual idea of morality, and what being environmentally conscious truly means. 

While the plant-based pleather options are relatively eco-friendly, the far more common faux fur substitutes are made up of polymers including acrylic, modacrylics, or a mix of different polymeric fibers. Acrylic polymers are produced using chemicals that come from coal, water, and petroleum. Synthetic leather starts with polyester, and is then coated in chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride, polyurethane, and a variety of waxes and dyes to achieve that leather-like texture. The majority of synthetic furs and leathers are at least partially derived from plastics and chemicals– which explains the “factory fresh” smell of a new pleather purse.

Unlike the obvious main concern of anti-fur and leather groups (the abhorrent treatment of the animals used to produce fur and leather), the primary issue when it comes to synthetic materials is lack of sustainability. While real fur and leather biodegrade over time and are typically kept and worn long term, their synthetic counterparts take comparatively longer to break down once thrown away. You also aren’t as likely to see your faux fur coat get passed down like with real fur products.

As buyers (and people), we’re left wondering: is it better to seek out a mink coat or leather pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps on a Century21 clearance rack, or to simply go to H&M and buy a patent pleather jacket with a faux fur trim for the same price?

As the newest generation to enter the eternal fur industry push and pull, we have to prioritize our own morals. Sometimes, there is no right or wrong answer, especially when both “answers” are bad for the environment in their own way.

There is no moral to the story– just personal accountability.