What is vegan leather?

Well, if you are here, I am sure you are curious about vegan leather, and you want to know everything about it. Today, we are going to dive deep into the vegan leather world and will inform you about everything you need to know about vegan leather.

Vegan leather is also known as a leather alternative. It is a leather-like fabric that isn’t made from any animal skin. Instead of animal skin, vegan leather is made from a variety of plastic (which is not ethical nor sustainable) and plant materials.

We will explain in detail about these materials later in this article. We will cover a series of questions and some important points regarding vegan leather. Whether it helps our environment or not, is it ethical or not. So, without further ado let’s jump into it. 

Do vegans use leather?


As we know by definition leather is an animal product. It is made of dead animal skin. And the vegan community strongly believes that leather is just not a byproduct of the meat industry that’s why vegans do not use leather. 

But vegans are likely to use the alternative of leather. Leathers that are made of other than animal skin like plant based materials that are sustainable to the environment. 

What is vegan leather made of? 


Much like how leather is made from the skins of different kinds of animals, vegan leather is also made from a variety of non-animal materials. Like

  • Polyvinyl Chloride, (also known as PVC or Vinyl, pleather)
  • Polyurethane (also known as PU)
  • Piñatex (made from the waste parts of a pineapple plant, mainly the pineapple leaves.)
  • Cork (made from the bark of Cork Oak Trees)
  •  Wine (also known as grape leather, is made from the accumulated waste in wine production.) 
  • Mushroom (mushroom leather, also known as MuSkin, is a vegan alternative material made from the roots of the mushroom plant)
  • Kombucha (Kombucha leather is made from SCOBY bacteria used in making kombucha tea)
  • Leaves (Leaf leather made from fallen teak leaves)

The list of vegan leather fabrics goes on including paper, waxed cotton, cool stone, tree bark, hemp plant, and many more.

Even though vegan leather is technically leather made without the exploitation of an animal, alternative fabrics are far from perfect.

Is there any difference between Vegan leather and Faux leather? 


NO! There is no difference between vegan leather and faux leather, as both are artificial leather or Fake leather. The material used in vegan/faux leather is never from animal skins that’s why they are the same.

Origin of faux/vegan leather:

Did you know that faux/synthetic leather wasn’t meant to be invented for the love of animals? In 1920 synthetic leather was marketed as a cheaper alternative to animal leather.

They use substances like PU or polyurethane which is formed by reacting a polyol with a diisocyanate or a polymeric isocyanate in the presence of suitable catalysts and additives.

Also read: What is Vegan lobster

By now you know PVC/PU leathers are not environment friendly at all. They are not biodegradable and they harm our ocean badly. 

But in the 1990s, Dr. Carmen Hisoja discovered the high environmental impact of the leather industry and set out to find a better solution than PVC. After years of research, she invented Piñatex, a natural vegan leather made from pineapple leaves.

The leaves are a byproduct of the existing pineapple harvest, keeping the environmental impact of the material lower than both PVC and leather.

Nowadays, we see many types of leather are made from many kinds of sources like pineapple, mushroom, cork, wine, etc. 

What does PVC leather or Pleather mean?

PVC is an innovative and affordable plastic compound commonly used to create alternative leather products that are cheaper than real leather. Plastic is softened with chemicals called microplastics, which is a combination of alcohols, acids amongst other components.

PVC is made with approximately 57% chloride and 43% carbons, which comes from oil/gas/petrol. So, you know that this material is predominantly made with fossil fuels which is far from ideal.

Moreover, as compared to animal leather which takes approximately 50 years to decompose, PVC takes upwards of 500 years, and even then, it breaks down into little micro-beads which get washed into our oceans and make their way into the world’s food supply. 

Leather made from PVC is not generally referred to as vegan leather. As PVC is so widely used because of its affordability and it was never meant to be an alternative to animal leather, it’s a material you’d find in cheap leather products. So, if you go to a general department store like Target and read on a shoe label that it’s made with synthetic leather, it’s likely PVC.

Is PU leather vegan? 


Polyurethane or also known as PU is a type of plastic that is used to create alternative leather products. In fact, PU is the most commonly used material for a product that is explicitly labeled as “VEGAN LEATHER”. PU is made by adding adhesive to polyester fabrics which is a mixture of plastic chemicals and petroleum compounds. 

Image Credit: Btod

Although it is expensive, other leather alternatives like PVC still way cheaper than actual leather made from animal skin. 

There are a couple of things you should keep in mind before buying PU leather:

If it is labeled as PU-coated leather then it is not VEGAN! PU has just been used in the finishing. Another fact is there is some negative environmental impact as well. As it is a plastic product then there are harmful chemicals that are used during the process of manufacturing PU leather.

These are toxic to the environment, especially to our oceans. Also, some cheap PU leather products are not very durable, and they often end up in landfills and take centuries to disintegrate.

But experts are trying to make PU leather more sustainable and so far, some are almost near to success. So, by definition PU leather is VEGAN but when it comes to sustainability and ethics, we better not encourage using them as we have more options out there. 

Vegan leather VS real leather 


People get confused between vegan and original leather because of their environmental impact and animal abuse.
However, vegan leathers will have less environmental impact than real ones. But currently vegan leather is under development process so it still has some drawbacks.

So, the question arises: is VEGAN LEATHER better than REAL LEATHER?

We need to keep in mind the quality and durability as well when comparing vegan and real leather. Vegan leather is often a lot thinner than real leather and much more lightweight. It is great from a fashion point of view as it makes it potentially easier to work with, however, it also makes it less durable than real leather.

Good quality real leather (from animal skin) can last decades when cared for, whereas you might only get a year or so out of any product made from good quality faux leather.

This is an important factor when deciding between fake leather and real leather. As the environmental impact of replacing a fake leather product is multiple times more damaging than the purchase of one real leather item.

Synthetic leathers also wear out very unattractively whereas real leather ages over time and form a patina, which is considered to add character to the leather.

Faux leather, especially PVC-based, isn’t breathable either. Whereas real leather has pores through which skin is able to breathe. So, for clothing items such as jackets, vegan leather can be uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time but real leathers can be way more comfortable. 

Moreover, faux leather is typically a lot cheaper than real leather products. It is because it’s cheaper to produce synthetic plastic leather than it is to produce real leather.

The craftsmanship of leather products is a highly skilled job and bespoke leather products such as sofas, jackets, and luggage can be thousands of dollars. Manufacturers are able to command these prices because they are considered both high quality and highly durable.

Also read: What is vegan at McDonalds

We also need to keep in mind that the vegan leather industry is comparatively new than the real leather industry. We can certainly hope that the quality, durability, and sustainability will increase as the industry grows. 

Brands that are using Vegan leather:


As people are more aware of the leather industry’s effects on the environment and on animals, the market for alternative leathers keeps growing.

Despite some backlash for its synthetic status many brands are out there trying to make vegan leather as low-impact as possible by using plants to create leather-like fabrics. 

Most of the vegan leathers were made from plastic materials. But due to continuous research for the last couple of years, manufacturers and researchers have come up with tons of alternatives. These days vegan leathers are made from cactus plants even from pineapples. This industry is moving very fast so we will continue to see dramatic signs of progress.

Biodegradable products are a must for the environment. All the brands mentioned here are working hard to make their vegan leather product eco-friendly.

1. Will’s Vegan Store

Will’s Vegan Store is an online store; they make luxurious vegan leather shoes from cereal crops. They use a mix of polyurethane and bio-oil to make vegan leather. Bio-oil is sourced from northern Europe which uses a carbon-neutral environment and process.

The company is trying to cut down the use of polyurethane in its manufacturing process. They believe in making cent percent biodegradable materials for their vegan leather. Currently, there is no technology to completely avoid polyurethane. But they are experimenting with eucalyptus bark to make viscose leather from it.

2. Piñatex

Dr. Carmen Hijosa invented Piñatex. Piñatex is a natural vegan leather startup that uses pineapple leaves to make leather.

Pineapple leaves are the byproduct of the existing harvest. This process is completely eco-friendly and highly biodegradable.

Piñatex uses natural fibers and PLA for their leather. These ingredients have a less environmental impact than other alternative leather.

3. Cactus Leather by Desserto

Desserto’s vegan leather is made from nopal cactus leaves, and it is organic, “partially biodegradable,” soft, and durable. So, as it is durable it can be used to make furniture and car interiors in addition to fashion items like wallets, purses, and shoes.

The Founders Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez plan to sell Desserto fabric to other designers and fashion brands, rather than design and sell their own products.

“It’s the right time to offer this alternative because not only are consumer industries interested in new materials like these but also more and more end-consumers are demanding environmentally friendly materials,” López Velarde told Fashion United. 

4. Corn Leather by Veja

French footwear brand Veja is best known for its sustainability efforts and for offering a variety of vegan sneaker styles.

In 2019, Veja introduced a vegan leather material derived from corn, which the brand used to make a new line of shoes called Campo. The corn leather material is a waxed canvas, coated with resin from the corn waste industry that looks and feels similar to leather. 

5. Stella McCartney

Probably you have also heard of Stella McCartney If you are not into veganism. She is a pioneering force when it comes to luxury fashion brands’ use of vegetarian leather.

The Stella McCartney leather alternative does not just look painfully good but almost impossible to distinguish from the real leather. And most importantly it is also better for the environment.

Is vegan leather expensive? 


In the beginning of this article we discussed how vegan leather was invented. It was invented as a cheaper alternative to the real leather.

Which is not sustainable nor durable and they are pretty cheap compared to real leather. But it’s been decades, since people became more conscious about what they buy and what they wear.

They no longer want cheap vegan products that are not sustainable and causing immense harm to the environment. That’s why in the last 10 years the sustainable industry has grown in a large margin. People are willing to pay more so as the brands are making sustainable vegan products from plant-based material. 

However, even extremely good vegan leather will still be cheaper than most real leather products.

Does vegan leather last long as real leather?


In the very beginning synthetic leather wasn’t designed with great quality or durability in mind as they were meant to be a cheaper alternative to real leather.

But what we see in today’s PU and plant-based vegan leathers are not only durable but in very good quality and easy to care for. They are sure to be more expensive than Faux leather.

Because vegan leather is made by compressing layers of the base material, then coating it in a durable, water-resistant outer layer, these products will last a long time. Especially if you treat them well.

But still vegan leather is ultimately much less durable than real leather and tends to be thinner so it’s not uncommon for it to tear or scuff badly over time. Although brands are trying to make vegan leather more durable and we can see they are almost near to success as time goes by. 

Why is vegan leather bad?


Synthetic fibers from clothing are the biggest source of microplastic pollution in the ocean. Unfortunately, the most common leather alternative that we have is petroleum-based plastic which comes with the same environmental problems as other synthetic materials. 

This material is called polyvinyl chloride also known as PVC which is made with fossil fuels and it’s not biodegradable.

Is vegan leather good or bad

Synthetic fibers from clothing are the biggest source of microplastic pollution in the ocean and more than 70 million barrels of oil are used to make polyester every year. 

When you consider the negative environmental impact of extracting fossil fuels, using chemicals, non-natural dyes, and excessive amounts of water to create a non-biodegradable plastic leather the environmental friendliness of the majority of faux leather is concerning.

But, when it comes to non-petroleum based vegan leather the scientists are using innovative solutions to create plastic-free vegan options from mushrooms, kombucha-cultures, and even pineapples.

Although these plastic-free vegan alternatives still use some petroleum-based products to hold the fibers together, it’s still significantly less than that used in PVC leather. One of the most popular innovations is Piñatex, a pineapple leather.

The most common leather alternatives on the market currently are made from plastics and require fossil fuel extraction, water waste, and sometimes toxic dyes which is pretty bad for our ecosystem.

However, animals aren’t used or directly harmed in the process. If you’re opting for vegan leather, try plant-based fibers that’s how you can reduce your environmental impact.

Is wearing leather cruel?


Leather is an animal-derived product that has been used for clothing for thousands of years but, the fact that wearing leather is a “tradition” and the majority of people are okay with it doesn’t make it right as well.

According to the vegan community mass killing of animals for materialistic reasons is irrelevant and unnecessary. No animal should have to suffer or die to make beautiful and affordable clothes.

The animal leather fashion industry is a billion-dollar industry that produces leather, wool, fur, down, and silk. With animal skin they make coats, jackets, shoes, bels, gloves, hats, and other accessories.

Billions of cows, calves, goats, and buffalos are killed for their hide and skin to make leather each year and these aren’t the only animals used in the leather industry. Many deer, zebras, sheep, ostriches, alligators, seals, kangaroos, lizards, snakes, sharks, cats, and dogs are hunted, trapped, caged, and skinned alive for the sake of fashion. 

Majority of people argue that leather is a natural product, but it isn’t environmentally friendly either. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers the large quantities of chromium waste created by leather tanning is very toxic to our environment.

In leather production it requires lots of hazardous chemicals in washing, bleaching, tanning, dyeing, and treatment. It pollutes nearby environments, rivers, water sources, and soils.

Which is extremely destructive to ecosystems and human health. That’s why the mass farming and killing of animals is cruel, unnecessary, unsustainable, and unethical. 

Is vegan leather ethical? 


It’s a very complicated question if vegan leather is ethical or not.  If we go through the definition of vegan leather “any form of leather or leather alternative that is not from animal skin”.

But the leather alternative that we see in the market most of them are from plastic based also known as PVC leather/ pleather which is not biodegradable and very bad for our ocean.

PVC leather releases harmful chemicals like phthalates and other endocrine disruptors that continue to off-gas after the product is released and it’s not 100% recyclable and biodegradable.

Over the time, it breaks down into millions of little pieces, called microplastics, which make their way into the world’s food supply. Doesn’t sound ethical to use these leather alternatives. does it? 

Another source of leather alternative is PU leather. It’s Better than PVC leather, but still not great. Polyurethane leather typically requires fewer toxic chemicals in the manufacturing process.

But it’s still not recyclable or biodegradable. Some companies are now using alter nappa, a polyurethane-based leather that uses 50% vegetable oil in the coating. We can say that it’s an improvement but not quite there yet.

Undoubtedly, the best leather alternative source is plant-based vegan leather. It is the best option for conscious consumers who want cruelty free and environmentally friendly alternatives. 

This category includes all vegan leathers made from plant-based materials like pineapple, cork, and leaf leather. The base materials are natural and 100% biodegradable. 

There are different coatings used in these vegan leathers, but the common two types are BOPP film and polylactic acid. Both of these coatings, while not perfect, are much less harmful to you and to the environment. They don’t release toxic chemicals and some are even biodegradable.

So, it’s very clear that there are ethical and unethical options available in the market that are alternatives to animal leather. The question is which one do you prefer? 

Does vegan leather crack?


When synthetic leather was invented, they weren’t designed with quality or durability in mind. That is why they break easily after some time. But, today’s PU and plant-based vegan leathers are not only durable but they come with good quality and easy to care for.

Because vegan leather is made by compressing layers of the base material, then coating it in a durable, water-resistant outer layer, these products will last a long time. Especially if you treat them well.

There are few tips if you want to avoid cracking your vegan leather: 

Never dry your vegan leather. Some types will crack if you dry them with excessive heat and exposure to the sun. To protect it even more, use a soft cloth and gently rub the vegan leather with a leather conditioner.

Do this every six-months, or even sooner if your leather looks dry. But first test a small inconspicuous area to make sure the color won’t be affected.

To clean vegan leather, you can use a drop of gentle soap mixed with lukewarm water and rub gently with a soft white cloth, then wipe the soap/water mixture off with a separate damp cloth. This is how you can take care of your vegan leather, make them more durable and can avoid cracking.

Does vegan leather look cheap? 


Vegan leather comes in several different forms and qualities, some look more ‘leather-like’ than others. If we focus on good quality vegan leather, there isn’t that much difference to real leather in general.

But as vegan leather is synthetic it doesn’t form a patina like real leather does. When vegan leather starts ageing it becomes much less breathable as the pores that are printed onto the surface of pleather are artificial.

Falabella bag from Stella McCartney made of vegan leather
Image Credit: Stella McCartney

Vegan leather is designed to replicate real leather and to live a cruelty free world. Depending on which material the vegan leather has been made out of consumers may not even be able to tell the difference.

For example, Stella McCartney proudly states: “I think one of the biggest compliments is when I know people go in and buy a Falabella bag or a pair of shoes, or a faux leather skirt, and they have no idea they’re not real leather.

I think that’s really where it becomes sexy. Where you’re not just providing an alternative…you’re creating a great product.” – Stella McCartney in Vogue, 2017.

Vegan leather doesn’t look cheap at all. Vegan leather pioneer brands are very much conscious about their design and quality. They make high end products that are very hard to differentiate from real leather products.

Is faux leather waterproof?


Artificial or faux leather is the most resistant to water because of the synthetic materials, mostly vinyl.

The production material of Vegan leather is either plastic or plant based and the producers use a coating that makes it totally immune from water damage.

Although its durability, look, and feel can’t be compared to that of full-grain leather, it does have lower permeability which means it will not absorb water.

Plant based vegan leather:


Vegan leather made from Piñatex

Piñatex is an alternative leather product made from the waste parts of a pineapple plant, mainly the pineapple leaves. Pineapple is an incredibly common crop in the Philippines, Dr Hijosa made this into a sustainable leather alternative.it has become a successful by-product of Pineapple farming in the Philippines, creating a secondary income source for farmers and supporting their economy.

Is Piñatex biodegradable?

Although pineapple fibers are 100% biodegradable, the resins used in the coating are not. So, it’s close, but not quite there yet. According to the Piñatex website, they’re working on a bio-based coating to make the whole lifecycle sustainable.

Vegan leather made from cork


Cork leather is made from the bark of Cork Oak Trees that grow in the Mediterranean regions, including; Portugal, Spain and France. The same material we use to make wine stoppers, coasters and cork boards, it can also be made into vegan leather.

There are so many benefits of using cork leather because it is incredibly durable, elastic and lightweight. It is hypoallergenic, anti-fungal and waterproof.it is also fire and flame resistant, as cork bark is naturally grown to protect oak trees from burning.

When it comes to sustainability it is a sustainable material and a fantastic alternative to leather. It is produced without harming any animals or plants. There’s no need for the use of toxic chemicals when producing cork leather. it lasts for about 20 years without any signs of deterioration.

Cork oak trees play a huge role in forests that support a variety of animal and plant species. This includes the endangered Liberian Lynx. Oak trees grow naturally in forests without the need to use pesticides or fertilizers.

Vegan leather made from wine


Wine leather is also known as grape leather, it is made from the accumulated waste in wine production. Out of all of the vegan leathers, wine leather is by far the youngest product.

Is wine leather sustainable?

Wine leather

The wine industry is HUGE! 26 billion liters of wine are produced each year. Can you imagine? 26 billion! According to Vegea, 10 liters of wine produces 2.5 kgs of waste (marc), which then produces 1 square meter of wine leather.

So, there’s potential to make over 2.5 billion square meters of wine leather each year. You can make a lot of vegan leather with that!

Isn’t it an incredibly intelligent way to turn waste into a quality consumer good? The patented procedure is to convert grape waste into leather, so no one really really knows what type of chemicals they use in the process.

As long as no animals are being harmed it’s great and impressive nevertheless. 

Vegan leather made from mushroom


Mushroom leather, also known as MuSkin, is a vegan alternative material made from the roots of the mushroom plant. It is probably the most durable vegan leather on the market. It is also 100% biodegradable.

Mashroom leather handbag
Image Credit: Eat Innovation

Apart from strength and durability, mushroom leather is waterproof and is one of the safest materials to place on human bodies, due to the healing properties from the mushroom plant.

The other great thing about mushroom leather is its efficiency. You only need a fraction of the resources to grow mycelium when compared to the farmed animal industry.

It only takes two weeks to grow mushroom leather to the size of a standard cowhide. Comparatively, it would take 2-3 years for a cow to grow to that size.

Other types of plant based vegan leather


Kombucha leather:

It is made from SCOBY bacteria used in making kombucha tea. Just keep in mind that beeswax is often used in the drying process of the SCOBY, so some forms may not be technically considered vegan.

Leaf leather:

It is made from fallen teak leaves. The leaves are bonded with cotton fabric to create a durable leather-like material. Check out Tree Tribe to see the excellent products they’re creating from teak leaves.

The list of plant based vegan leather also includes paper, waxed cotton, cool stone, tree bark, hemp plant and many more.

It’s an exciting time to have so many vegan leather materials hit the market. Vegan enthusiasts are finding creative ways to bring sustainable leather alternatives to consumers.

Conclusion:


The future of vegan leather is a fully sustainable, earth-friendly, quality product designed to last for years. The exciting thing is that plant-based vegan leather is already a good sustainable option that is constantly being improved which is sustainable, earth-friendly and best alternative to animal skin leather. 

Throughout this article we have covered all the essential areas that one needs to know if anyone is curious and has lots of questions about the vegan leather industry.  

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