Leather is a durable material that's been used by humans for thousands of years to create everything from shoes to hats. But in recent years, environmentalists have become increasingly aware of livestock farming's adverse effects on the environment. Farm animals are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than automobiles. Runoff from large-scale livestock production destroys watershed. And there remain ethical concerns about the conditions under which animals are raised and slaughtered for human use.

Why not consider cruelty-free clothing? Once a pricey specialty item, clothing made from non-leather materials has entered the mainstream. Companies such as Rawganique and Pangea stock everything from hemp-based footwear to non-leather belts and accessories. Eco-Handbags.ca has a complete line of non-leather bags made from stylishly recycled materials. And PETA maintains an updated list of major manufacturers selling everything from cruelty-free cycling clothing to guitar straps.

What to look for

A couple of things to watch out for: a lot of vegan goods reply heavily on faux leather made from petroleum products. Favor leather substitutes manufactured from renewable, natural materials. And pay attention to the labor policies of offshore manufacturers. Many companies which specialize in alternative clothing also also committed to fair pay and working conditions in parts of the world where such practices are not universal.

Take the traditional high-top sneaker, manufactured by Autonomie Project. At $56, it's about ten dollars more expensive than the classic Converse All-Star. For the premium, you get a natural latex sole, harvested from a Forest Stewardship Council-certified rubber plantation. The cotton is organic, and all the labor is Fair Trade. It's durable, healthy footwear. Not an unreasonable investment.

Have you got a favorite cruelty-free manufacturer? Want to share a good (or bad) experience with ethically produced clothing? Sound-off in our comments — we're looking forward to hearing from you!

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2008