In the last few years this term has become more and more mainstream. Many people and brands are trying to shift to alternative fabrics as the leather industry has been controversial for a long time. Since then the fashion market has introduced many vegan leather options in all forms and shapes. For those who are still overwhelmed with all these options or are hearing about them for the first time, we want to discuss the following questions: What is vegan leather and is it really better for animals and our environment?
What exactly is vegan leather?
Vegan leather is the alternative to conventional animal leather. Animal rights organizations like PETA have been urging for a change in the fashion industry regarding animal products for a long time. The alternatives to animal leather are set to be worth around $85 billion by 2025 showing an immense market growth for the leather alternative in the fast fashion industry in just a few years. While it’s difficult to fully grasp that number and what it means for the world, let’s dive a little deeper into what leather is and how our consumption is affecting our planet.
Why are people against animal leather?
Unfortunately, the leather industry is known for animal cruelty and lack of transparency. It is often not clear how the animals get killed and what they experience during their time alive. On top of that, the leather industry raises questions regarding sustainability. In order to produce the fabric we know as leather a so called tanning and dying process is needed. The leather gets dyed and many environmentally harmful chemicals are being used, negatively affecting the planet and workers.
Now it’s getting a little more complicated than you may think. It is said that animal leather is way more harmful for our environment than the alternatives made from plastic due to the reasons above. According to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Materials Sustainability Index animal leather harms the environment almost three times more than plastic leather alternatives derived from polyurethane. Producing animal leather requires many more resources our minds might not immediately jump to. From water and food resources to feed the animals to the amount of chemicals used in the tanning process. Does that mean leather alternatives from plastic are good, though? No, not at all. The many controversial and harmful effects plastic production has on us and our planet are no secret and we have talked about these issues before in our fabric index.
What it comes down to
It is important to note that the fight against the use of animal leather often goes hand in hand with taking a closer look at the meat industry. Quite often people excuse the consumption of leather products by saying it is a byproduct of the meat industry and therefore would go to waste if not used. However, that is often not clear. If it is the case, throwing away the leather would be wasteful, sure, but we should keep in mind that the meat industry is harmful for our environment anyway and a decrease in consumption of both are necessary to make a positive change. Let’s say it is not the case, knowing that animals are being raised, fed and killed solely for the purpose of us wearing the leather made from them would simply mean we are contributing to even more animal suffering and pollution. Either way, both options aren’t great and are something we should consider when consuming animal products.
What are the alternatives?
As you can already guess, the most common leather alternative is fossil fuel based vegan leather, also known as ‘pleather’ as it is essentially made from plastic. While plastic is a harmful chemical product humanity is using for many different things, the consequences are often not clear to consumers. Because of the cons polyester and other plastic based fibres like polyurethane bring to the table, plant based alternatives have been introduced by innovators to create more eco-friendly alternatives. A few examples for vegan leather alternatives are apple peels, pineapple leaves, cork, mushrooms and many more. Yup, you heard that right! Some of you may not like mushrooms on your pizza but you might love them in your clothing.
Let’s take a closer look at those alternatives!
Made from plastic-based polyurethane chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). This alternative is the most commonly used one but at the same time the most harmful one out of the bunch.
These alternatives are made from plant-based materials. However, often a mixture of plant-based materials and plastic is necessary, making many products non-biodegradable. While this is still more environmentally friendly, always check the tags carefully!
This textile is called Piñatex®. A natural textile made from pineapple leaf fibre, which is a waste product, ensuring that no other additional environmental resources are needed.
The alternative is usually made in Italy and a more eco-friendly alternative to conventional animal leather. Products using this technique are usually made from around 50% apple peels.
The leather alternative made from mushrooms is called Muskin. Muskin is manufactured sustainably and other eco-friendly products like eco-wax are included in the natural techniques of the textile.
Cork leather is another great alternative to animal leather. It is antibacterial and water resistant! Cork is mainly being produced in Portugal or other European countries. However, a cork tree needs about 25 years to be ready for harvest and nine to 13 years to reproduce the cork.
While corn usually ends up on the grill or in salads, you could also get shoes made out of corn! Corn leather was introduced to reduce the amount of used petroleum when aiming for vegan alternatives. The base is made from cotton which then gets coated with the vegan and bio-based corn.
There are many more natural and eco-friendly alternatives you can check out for yourself. All of these different alternatives are approved by PETA and step into a more sustainable future. We are really rooting for a change into this direction – pun intended – when it comes to plant based alternatives and more conscious shopping decisions.
So, is vegan leather really a better alternative?
When it comes to the fashion industry and sustainability nothing is ever black and white. Especially vegan leather is a grey zone as there are multiple pros and cons. Additionally, vegan leather as a simple trend and marketing strategy being used in the fast fashion industry and by many luxury fashion labels isn’t being questioned nearly enough. Now, after reading all of this, you might have realized there are plenty of different vegan leather options with differing degrees of sustainability. With most things, the consumption of leather just as much as leather alternatives comes down to being conscious about the purchasing decisions we make. By consuming less and consuming waste products that are less harmful for the environment and don’t condone animal suffering we can already make a bigger shift than we may think!