I Fear I May Have Invented The Term “Vegan Leather” And If So, I Apologize

I have a friend who insists to this day that she invented the word “bi-atch” years before anyone ever said it. I believe her. In middle school, my friend and I called a group of dudes the “Trenchcoat Mafia” years before Columbine, a strange coincidence which unnerves me to this day. I once thought I came up with the term “sarcaustic,” but a Google search proved me wrong. I also thought I was pretty original calling myself a “Shamwop” until I discovered that other Irish-Italians had come up with that term as well.

It’s not too unusual for people to come up with similar words and phrases and ideas totally independent of one another, particularly when they are pretty convenient phrasings. Like Shamwop.

However, every time I see the phrase “vegan leather” I die a little inside. I feel a tinge guilty. Why? Because I feel partially responsible, in my own way, for that being a thing.

You see, before I finally got it together and got an actual job in writing, I worked in high-end women’s retail. It was an easy trap for me to fall into, because although I have all my high-minded ideals and whatnot and all kinds of writerly aspirations, I am an incredible salesperson. I’m good. Like, really, really good. People are just way into giving me money for things, for reasons I will never even begin to understand–so sales was a really easy way for me to support myself. A lot easier than finding a full-time job as a writer, anyway.

I was never the kind of salesperson that lied to people. If something looked bad, I said so. You don’t build up a clientele by letting people walk out looking like the wrath of god. Not to mention the fact that unless I’m doing a bit or busting someone’s balls, I am actually just an embarrassingly bad liar.

As much as I loved most of my clients, there is a reason they say retail is hell. So I had to do a few things here and there to entertain myself.

Now, some stores I worked in sold PVC purses for over $50 and sometimes up to $120. Like, non-label, cheapo plastic purses marked up like 1000 percent. Every time someone bought one I would die of shock, because holy crap–had they not ever been to an H&M or Forever 21? To this day, why anyone would spend over $30 on a plastic purse is beyond me.

Often, they would ask me what the purses were made of. And just to see if I could pull it off and get them to go along with me, I’d say “vegan leather.” It started mostly as a joke. I assumed people would know I was joking–but, admittedly, I kinda knew some people would just go along with me and think it was fancy. Usually I’d end up cracking up and saying “No, it’s just PVC.” Unless they were a jerk, in which case, I was maybe not so fast with that.

Also, admittedly, I kind of felt like anyone who looked at a PVC bag that cost $120 and thought to themselves “Gosh! What a deal!” was probably too rich to care what I was calling it. And no one would really buy the idea of “vegan leather” being a thing, right?

Wrong!

I now see “vegan leather” all over the place! It’s totally a thing! It’s become way more of one, in fact, in the years since I left retail hell. That’s what we’re calling PVC and pleather these days! Both of which are, you know, not actually eco-conscious choices given that they’re made with petroleum. Sure, there are some other materials meant to simulate leather that are, in fact, eco-conscious, but still–charging more for something because you’re calling it “vegan leather” is pretty ridiculous.

True story! Free People sells bags advertised as “100 percent Vegan Leather” with no additional explanation. That’s not a thing! “Vegan leather” is not a tangible material. It’s something made up! It’s literally an oxymoron.

Now, I don’t literally think I was the first person ever to use the term, or that the faux-leather industry stole it from me. I feel like I have to clarify that point, in a world where people go “Oh, OK! Vegan leather! That makes sense! Sounds fancy!” However, it’s pretty weird for me to see something I definitely made up as a tongue-in-cheek joke about pleather bags actually being legitimately used to market them.

With a lot of things you buy that are supposed to be “fancy,” there’s often an element of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” happening. A lot of crap merchandise is sold in fancy boutiques or under high-end labels. Things that probably wouldn’t be all that impressive if they weren’t marketed the right way. People are more often likely to spend $100 bucks on an item they wouldn’t bother if it cost $15. I think it’s important to be conscious, as consumers, of what we buy because we want and what we buy because it’s sold to us the right way.

I guess I’m just saying–buyer beware, and if something sounds like a bad joke, it probably is.