The Ghosts In Our Machine

LUSH Vancouver Ghost-Free Journey: Day 2, Part 1

Photo by Donna Oakes

Good Day!  We are looking forward to another wonderful day filled with great discussions and reflections.  Starting today, we will break up each day in two parts: morning/afternoon (Part 1) and evening (Part 2).  This will hopefully make it easier for you to find your post and responses.

One of the areas of leading a Ghost-Free life that some might not consider right away has to do with the  ghosts that are in our wardrobes. The shoes that we wear, the handbags/briefcases that we carry, the coats that we wear -from fur to leather to wool to down to silk to shell buttons – so much  is hidden behind the scenes of the final products that we buy in the stores.

Is this an area that anyone has explored or thought about before?  What are your thoughts and feelings about this aspect of living a Ghost-Free life?

For the Ghosts,

Coaches Donna and Rosemary

The opinions we express as GFJ Coaches are ours personally. We are not professional health practitioners.  Neither are we treating a specific health care issue.  That means we are not offering advice on health-care problems. If you  are experiencing a health-care problem, it is important to seek the advice of a health professional. However we are experienced, practicing vegans and we look forward to coaching you on your journey.


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  1. Elizabeth May 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I have been tossing this discussion around in my head quite a bit lately. I own a few leather purses and my duvet is stuffed with sheep’s wool. I have been pondering about what it would mean for these items if I were to become vegan. Do I throw them out or give them away? I do not feel like either of those options are the answer for me. I think my plan would be to keep these items and commit to purchasing vegan items in the future. In my future purchases, I also want to start buying things that will last a long time rather than buying something “just because”.

    • Coach Donna May 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      hi Elizabeth,
      Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to dealing with non vegan wearable . this is a great topic for discussion that I will definitely get into in more detail later.
      I love it that you are thinking about buying less but buying better.

  2. Laura May 14, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I’m with you. I don’t usually go out of my way to buy something leather, but I also haven’t gone out of my way to avoid it. I think your plan of not trashing or getting rid of non-veg items, but not buying new ones, makes a lot of sense.

    I have this voice in my head that tells me that “real” is the best quality. Real leather, real down in my duvet, real wool, etc. Not sure where that voice came from, but it’s a hard one to shake! (OK, I’ll admit it: it sounds a lot like my mum’s voice…)

    • Coach Rosemary May 14, 2013 at 11:33 am

      Those messages can be pretty powerful, especially when the voice is your Mum’s! I think you’re on to something here….we are all so inundated with these types of messages from many sources; especially advertisements.
      Tradition is also a contributor, and the message of value placed on certain things and not others. A lobster dinner vs. Vegetable stew…
      Donna has significant experience in this realm…she can definitely steer you in the area of quality fashion for sure!
      Cheers! Rosemary

    • Amanda Donelan May 14, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      I know, it’s always a dilema, what to do to with all your leather, etc. For me, I kept what I had bought and still used them and didn’t buy any more. But as time went on, I just didn’t feel the same love for those old leather items, I just saw them differently and wore them less and less until I just stoped alltogether. I gave all my handbags, belts, etc to friends but I could never part with my knee high Doc Martins… They’ve been with me since I was a teenager and I’m too nostalgic to part with them but too aware to enjoy wearing them….
      Right now, I’m saving up to buy a Vegan pair I found in Seattle 🙂

  3. Coach Rosemary May 14, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I think it’s great that you have been considering this issue. Similarly to the change in diet concerns raised yesterday, this can be viewed as a transition instead of a fixed 100% outcome. Many people find this more comfortable in order to make a lasting change.
    We all have these items, and each person makes their own decision about their level of comfort in holding onto such items. Consuming more, as you mention in your post, has it’s consequences as well.
    Some people donate their leather goods, etc., to Goodwill, or furs to wild animal rescues for orphans. Or, wear or use until it’s time to replace.
    Have you looked into vegan items yet? There are some great alternatives!

    • Elizabeth May 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

      To be honest, I first thought being vegan was more about a change in diet but I am understanding more and more that it is a life change. It is very eye opening to see how much animals are used to make us “things”. I don’t need an animal for a button! I am definitely going to commit to putting more thought into my purchases in the future. We are going on a group field trip to Nice Shoes today and I am really excited to check everything out!

      • Laura May 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm

        Right?! It’s so much more than just no more cheese… it’s also making me question all of the food choices I am making. How do I make sure that I am having the least negative impact on animals, but on the environment, and on other people, too? We vote with our dollars every day, and I’m worried I’ve been giving my money to the wrong parties…

      • Coach Rosemary May 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm

        Laura, you’re not alone when you say that you thought being vegan is only about food. We like to start off the GFJ’s here because we all need to eat…however, it’s so much more than food. As the week progresses, we’ll introduce various aspects of being Ghost-Free.

        Nice Shoes sounds like a blast! Have a great time, and please post a photo if possible.

  4. Melissa May 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I have always avoided the “easier” things like leather, wool, fur and silk, mostly because it isn’t as difficult to spot and alternatives are becoming more and more abundant. This being said, jewelry, buttons on clothing and similar items are a different story…It will be interesting to go home tonight and take a look at what I have and where I can make changes.

    Also, everyone who knows me knows that I am an obsessive online shopper, and FYI- Modcloth ( make the majority of their shoes and sandals with vegan leather, and they are very reasonably priced. They ship to Canada too!

    • Laura May 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      buttons? what? oh man. jewelry? I have so much to learn.

  5. Jen May 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve thought about it as well, the sense of “real” and “value” are definitely concepts that are hard to shake.
    But what I have the most struggle with is trying to understand what has more environmental impact? I understand that there are animal rights concerns with leather, however what about all of the chemical processes that damage the planet we live on with animals when choosing synthetic options. Are these more significant than the processes that leather goods are subject to? is wearing synthetic bad for our health? Do the items last as long? More planned obsolescence? Do synthetics harm our environments more as they age, decay?
    A friend ordered a pair of shoes from California and they came with a Proposition 65 warning label saying they may cause birth defects and cancer.

    I guess, I know there are so many possible negatives when it comes to making any purchase, its hard to see what is the “best” choice. I definitely woud consider making a switch to vegan items, but would be very concerned about the other possible impacts.

    Does anyone know good resources for this information?

    • Coach Donna May 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Hi Jen,
      I will address the Eco issues in detail later on. I only have a few minutes right now. there have been significant advances in the area of non animal based materials. Most of the designers who consciously make vegan products are very aware of the environmental and fair labor issues.

    • Britt Arntsen May 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      The quality issue is something that is hard to shake. Many of us have been brought up to believe that real means quality. Whether that means real leather, wool etc. Oddly, in my younger years I never owned any real leather items. However, now that I have gotten older I have begun to purchase leather items because in my mind I associate it with quality and longevity. I felt like I didn’t want to buy cheap stuff that was just going to fall apart. More recently I have realized that there are a lot of quality options that are Vegan. This has led me to start to re-think what my idea of quality is.

  6. Coach Rosemary May 14, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Here are a few articles about the issues you raise, Jen. These are really good questions! I do know that making animal skin into a leather product is very detrimental to the environment. But, some of the synthetic ones may be as well. It’s best to choose an ethical manufacturer who uses the safest materials and best for environment and our bodies. Donna has expertise in this area, and I’m sure she’ll chime in later with great alternatives.

    • Jen May 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you!!

      • Jennie May 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm

        I think it will be great to also ask these questions on our outing to Nice Shoesl! We can hear first hand about how they select the manufacturers that they represent. There are lots of non-leather shoes available in cheap fashion stores, but that isnt for everyone. There is a demand for well made, quality, ethically made, cruelty free shoes!
        I can’t wait to go shopping with everyone 🙂

  7. Aimee May 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I planned outfits this week specifically for the Ghost-free challenge. It is appalling to consider how permeated fashion and beauty are with Ghosts, and as for the challenge, that is where I am sure I can learn a lot more and uncover better brands. I do a lot of vintage and secondhand shopping, and *try* to buy things locally made, or from brands that don’t operate in sweatshops–but I am guilty of failing on this 100% of the time, i admit. Over the past few years I have phased out my leather bags and belts, and now I only have two pairs of boots. Not perfect, but it’s been a gradual process. This was a much easier thing for me to do than changing my dietary habits. I know the Ghosts we are concerned with this week primarily are the animals in our machine, but the recent catastrophe in one of Bangladesh’s garment factories and hope for further changes to industry safety standards has also been on my radar, pushing me to be even more mindful of where my items are coming from, and what exploitation has been created in their wake. A lot of vegan food for thought.

    • Coach Rosemary May 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

      I have been pondering this issue on and off all day, and I keep coming back to the terms “real” and ‘quality”…….I wonder if these are just arbitrary terms that we assign value to, usually for status reasons? Our culture (and I’m including myself in this) is so programmed to buy and consume (quality products) we almost forget about the quality and right…. of a full life….human and non-human.

  8. lizmars May 14, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Hi everyone,

    I would like to draw your attention to the LEARN MORE section of our website – here is the FUR section where we provide alternatives to fur fashion, and many links to learn about the industry and alternatives to it. Thanks to Donna Oakes for her fine research job.

    THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE documentary focuses on four animal industries: DAIRY; FUR; RESEARCH AND TEACHING; ZOOS AND AQUARIA.

    Check it out:



  9. Coach Donna May 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Hi everyone. I hope that you don’t mind if I don’t reply individually. Most of you share the same concerns and so I am going to try to address them here.

    It is fantastic that you are thinking about this issue. Awareness + information makes a powerful combination for change.While it can seem overwhelming in the beginning to learn about so many issues, it doesn’t mean that you have to be ready to act on everything all at once. I don’t know anybody who cleaned out their closets imediately and rushed out to buy new shoes/bags, etc. For one thing, it generally is not financially feasible. If you could afford to do so, giving these items to shelters, a good solution. Most people tend to use until worn and then replace. Some can’t stand the thought of wearing/using these products – there is no right/wrong way to approach it. Remember, it is not about perfection.
    As far as leather vs non-leather. Tanneries create a great deal of pollution. There is a lot of ‘green’ washing out there about fur being eco, leather being eco. As I briefly mentioned earlier, the world of vegan shoes, etc. has rapidly changed over the past few years. One of the first vegan shoe brands – Beyond Skin from the U.K. has always been concerned with fair labor and the usage of sustainable materials.
    As statd on their website-

    “We work closely with our factories in Spain so we are confident that no-one is exploited in the creation of your lovely shoes and endeavour to source our components and fabrics as locally to our factories as we possibly can to try and reduce our carbon footprint.

    Better still, each season sees the introduction of a new and exciting eco-friendly fabric making our unique and fabulous shoes even more desirable to you eco-conscious fashionistas”.

    Here is a link to more iformation about the materials that they use:

    OlsenHaus also focuses on sustainable materials. Some of the faux suede that is used is actually a microfiber that is made from the waste materials that are generated from the manufacturing of tv monitors. Talk about eco!!
    English retread handbags – and some other companies – use recycled inner tubes for their products. There are companies thtat use recycled seat belts, recycled vinyl from billboards, dead-ebd vinyl stock from the restaurant industry (end of the roll vinyl that was intended for seat covers but was destined for landfill). There are so many wonderful options out there. Gone are the days when the only alternatives were canvas sneakers or plastic shoes from places like Payless.
    Because of all of the reserach that goes into the designing and manufacturing of the products – and the important fact that workers are paid afar wage – the price tag can seem fairly high at firs. But as several of you pointed out – it is important to seek quality – and it is important to recognize that with every purchase you are voting for fairer working conditions, no animal cruelty, respect for the earth. You can always find these brands on sale at the end of a season (the styles don’ go out of style).

    Aimee pointed out teh Bangladesh factory fire – it is horrific – and it is quite unfortunately not uncommon. The workers in these places are also ghosts. Vegan food for thought indeed. I so love it that you are all thinking about this!
    For the Ghosts xoxoxo

  10. Coach Donna May 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I apologize for my many typos. I am only using one hand. I have been taking care of a newborn mouse since Saturday night and so when I am home, I keep her cradled in one of my hands most of the time to keep her warm. She (or he – I still can’t tell!!) is a real cutie. Coach Rosemary has given her the clever name of Maytag 😉

    • Elizabeth May 15, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Awww a baby mouse!! So Cute! I am jealous 🙂

  11. Janine Pham May 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Please pardon my tardiness 🙂 I did read and follow along all day yesterday but just didn’t have a moment to put in my two cents.

    I definitely agree with and similarly feel and deal with the issues raised above. I rarely have any need or temptation to buy genuine leather or fur goods though because really, what can’t be faked and well-imitated nowadays? Like Amanda, my nostalgia and sentimentalism for a few items does still stay with me though (a mink stole from 1943 and a leather bag from mommy).

    Btw, all those great alternatives Rosemary mentioned above? AMEN! Love ’em, sought them out, and so totally worth the effort. Any every now and again, Payless plastic shoes does the trick too.