What is vegan leather?

So, if you’re here, I’m guessing you’re interested in vegan leather and want to read everything you can about it. Today, we’re going to dig deep into the vegan leather world and tell you everything you need to know about it.

Vegan leather is usually considered a leather substitute. It is a leather-like material made without the use of any animal skin. Vegan leather is made from a combination of synthetic (which is neither humane nor sustainable) and plant fabrics rather than animal skin.

We will go over these components in more detail later in this post. We will go through several questions as well as several key points on vegan leather. If it benefits our society or not, whether it is legal or not. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Our Did You Know series answers all of your basic veganism questions. Don’t miss this opportunity.

Do vegans use leather?


Leather, by definition, is an animal product. It’s made from the skin of a dead cow. And the vegan movement is convinced that leather is not a byproduct of the meat industry, which is why vegans do not use leather.

Vegans, on the other hand, are more inclined to use leather as an option. Leathers manufactured from fabrics other than animal skin, such as plant-based materials, are more environmentally friendly.

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)

Paper, waxed cotton, cold stone, tree bark, hemp plant, and many more are examples of vegan leather fabrics.

Even though vegan leather is theoretically leather produced without the use of animals, alternative fabrics are far from flawless.

Is there any difference between Vegan leather and Faux leather? 


NO! There is no distinction between vegan leather and faux leather since both are artificial leather or Fake leather. The fiber used in vegan/faux leather is never made from animal hides, which is why they are the same.

Faux/vegan leather’s origins:

Did you realize the faux/synthetic leather was not produced for the love of animals? In the 1920s, fake leather was sold as a less expensive alternative to animal leather.

They use compounds such as PU or polyurethane, which is produced by reacting a polyol with a diisocyanate or a polymeric isocyanate in the presence of appropriate catalysts and additives.

Also read: What is Vegan lobster

You are also clear that PVC/PU leathers are very harmful to the climate. They are not biodegradable and have a harmful effect on our ocean.

artificial-leather-pineapple

Dr. Carmen Hisoja, however, noticed the strong environmental effects of the leather industry in the 1990s and set out to pursue a better alternative than PVC. She created Piatex, a raw vegan leather crafted from pineapple leaves, after years of study.

Since the leaves are a byproduct of the current pineapple crop, the material has a smaller environmental footprint than both PVC and leather.

Nowadays, we see several different varieties of leather manufactured from various sources such as pineapple, fungus, cork, wine, and so on.

What does PVC leather or Pleather mean?

PVC is an advanced and cost-effective plastic compound that is widely used to make substitute leather items that are less expensive than natural leather. Plastic is softened by additives such as microplastics, which are a mixture of alcohols, acids, and other ingredients.

PVC is composed of roughly 57 percent chloride and 43 percent carbons derived from oil/gas/petrol. And you’re mindful that this stuff is largely extracted from fossil fuels, which are far from perfect.

Furthermore, unlike animal leather, which decomposes in around 50 years, PVC requires up to 500 years to decompose, and even then, it breaks down into tiny micro-beads that wash into our oceans and end up in the world’s food chain.

PVC leather is not widely referred to as vegan leather. Since PVC is so commonly used due to its low cost. It was never intended to be an alternative to animal leather, it is a material found in low-cost leather items. So, if you head to a general discount store like Target and see a shoe sticker that says it’s made of imitation leather, it’s most definitely PVC.

Is PU leather vegan? 


Polyurethane, abbreviated as PU, is a form of plastic used to produce substitute leather goods. In reality, PU is the most widely used material for a product branded as “VEGAN LEATHER.” PU is formed by inserting an additive into polyester materials, which is a combination of plastic chemicals and petroleum compounds.

Image Credit: Btod

While it is costly, some leather substitutes, such as PVC, are also far less expensive than genuine leather manufactured from animal skin.

While purchasing PU leather, bear the following points in mind:

Whether it’s called PU-coated leather, it’s not VEGAN! PU was only used in the finishing phase. Another reality is that there is a certain environmental effect. Since it is a synthetic product, toxic chemicals are used in the production phase of PU leather.

These are hazardous to the climate, including our oceans. Furthermore, certain low-cost PU leather items are not robust, and they often end up in landfills where they require centuries to decompose.

However, researchers are striving to make PU leather more sustainable, and some are almost there. So, by definition, PU leather is VEGAN, but when it comes to sustainability and ethics, we can avoid using it since there are better alternatives available.

Vegan leather VS real leather 


People are perplexed by the differences between vegan and traditional leather because of their environmental effects and animal cruelty.

Vegan leathers, on the other hand, would have a lower environmental footprint than genuine leathers. However, since vegan leather is still in the production stage, it has several disadvantages.

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

When considering vegan and natural leather, we must also remember consistency and longevity. Vegan leather is often thinner and lighter than natural leather. It’s perfect for clothes and it makes it theoretically easy to deal with, but it’s still less robust than natural leather.

When properly cared for, good quality genuine leather (from animal skin) may last decades, while any product manufactured from good quality fake leather can only last a year or two.

This is an important aspect when choosing between imitation and genuine leather. Since the environmental effect of replacing fake leather, the product is several times that of buying a single real leather piece.

Synthetic leathers often wear out quickly, while natural leather ages with time and develops a patina, which is thought to bring charm to the leather.

Faux leather, especially PVC-based faux leather, is also not breathable. Real leather, on the other hand, has pores that enable the skin to breathe. So, for clothing pieces such as skirts, vegan leather may be difficult to wear for extended periods, while real leathers are much more convenient.

Furthermore, fake leather is usually often less expensive than natural leather items. That is because producing fake plastic leather is less expensive than producing natural leather.

Leather product craftsmanship is a highly qualified job, and bespoke leather items such as sofas, coats, and luggage will cost thousands of dollars. Manufacturers may order these prices because their goods are both good quality and long-lasting.

Also read: What is vegan at McDonalds

We must also bear in mind that the vegan leather movement is only in its youth in contrast to the real leather industry. We should surely expect that as the business expands, the efficiency, longevity, and sustainability can improve.

Brands that are using Vegan leather:


When consumers become increasingly conscious of the impact of the leather business on the climate and wildlife, the demand for substitute leathers expands.
Facing some skepticism for its synthetic existence, several brands are working hard to render vegan leather as low-impact as possible by utilizing plants to produce leather-like fabrics.
The bulk of vegan leather is made of acrylic. However, as a result of ongoing studies over the past few years, producers and researchers have developed a plethora of alternatives. Vegan leathers are now manufactured from cactus plants and sometimes pineapples. Since this sector is progressing at such a rapid pace, we will begin to see dramatic indicators of success.
For the benefit of the climate, biodegradable goods are a necessity. Many of the businesses listed here are working hard to make their vegan leather goods more environmentally sustainable.

1. Will’s Vegan Store

Will’s Vegan Shop is a website that offers luxury vegan leather shoes crafted from cereal crops. To produce vegan leather, they combine polyurethane and bio-oil. Northern Europe is the source of bio-oil, which is generated in a carbon-neutral atmosphere and operation.

The organization is seeking to reduce the volume of polyurethane utilized in its production operation. They are dedicated to utilizing only biodegradable fabrics in the development of their vegan leather.

There is currently no technology that will fully remove polyurethane. They are, however, working with eucalyptus bark to produce viscose leather from it.

2. Piñatex

Piñatex was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa. Piñatex is a sustainable vegan leather startup that produces leather from pineapple leaves.
Pineapple leaves are an unintended byproduct of the current crop.

This method is eco-friendly and biodegradable.

Piatex’s leather is produced from natural fabrics and PLA. These ingredients have a smaller environmental footprint than most leather substitutes.

3. Cactus Leather by Desserto

Desserto’s vegan leather is crafted from the leaves of the nopal cactus and is sustainable, “partially biodegradable,” soft, and sturdy. As a consequence of its longevity, it can be used to produce furniture and vehicle interiors, as well as luxury products such as wallets, purses, and shoes.

Rather than designing and selling their items, the founders Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez want to market Desserto cloth to other designers and apparel labels.

“It’s the best time to deliver this option because not only are consumer companies involved in innovative products like these, but end-consumers are also seeking eco-sustainable materials,” López Velarde told Fashion United.

4. Corn Leather by Veja

Veja, a French footwear company, is well recognized for its environmental campaigns and for selling a range of vegan sneaker designs.

Veja debuted a vegan leather material made from corn in 2019, which was used to create a new range of shoes named Campo. The corn leather content is a waxed cloth that has been painted with resin from the corn waste industry that has the appearance and sound of leather.

5. Stella McCartney

Even you’re not a vegan, you’ve already heard of Stella McCartney. She is a trailblazer in the usage of vegetarian leather for premium apparel designers.

The Stella McCartney leather substitute not only looks painfully fine, but it is almost difficult to discern apart from genuine leather. Most obviously, it’s safer for the climate.

Is vegan leather expensive? 


We mentioned how vegan leather was made at the beginning of this post. It was created as a less expensive option to genuine leather.
Which is neither sustainable nor robust, and they are relatively inexpensive as opposed to genuine leather.

However, it has taken decades for people to become more aware about what they purchase and carry.

They no longer want inexpensive vegan goods that are not organic and do significant environmental damage. As a result, the sustainability sector has expanded significantly in the last ten years.

People are likely to pay extra if brands make organic vegan goods produced from plant-based ingredients.

Also the finest vegan leather would be less costly than other real leather items.

Does vegan leather last long as real leather?


Since it was supposed to be a cheaper substitute to natural leather, synthetic leather was not initially designed with high quality or longevity in mind.

Today’s PU and plant-based vegan leathers, on the other hand, are not only long-lasting but also of high quality and simple to maintain. They would almost definitely be more costly than Fake fur.

These items can last a long time because vegan leather is produced by compressing layers of the base material and then wrapping it in a strong, water-resistant outer layer. Particularly if they are well-treated.

However, vegan leather is much less robust than natural leather, and since it is lighter, it is not unusual for it to tear or scuff badly with time. While brands are attempting to render vegan leather more resilient, we can see that they are becoming closer to success as time passes.

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.  

Our Did You Know series answers all of your basic veganism questions. Don’t miss this opportunity.

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