Aug 072020
What Vegan Leather Is – The Controversial Choice
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Welcome to my 'What Vegan Leather Is' post!

First of all, I must congratulate you for taking the time to do your research on this topic of green living. The number of designers who offer vegan leather products is increasing.

Perhaps, that is because faux leather is versatile and the number of people who buy the products is increasing too. From beautiful wallets and shoes to jackets in every color and cute black dresses, you will get vegan leather versions of each. So, what is vegan leather?

As a qualified teacher, I am passionate about education and the impact it can have on bettering our future. It is down to us individuals to do our research and make small changes to the way we live our lives. 

These small changes are easy to make and can have a big impact on our health, the health of our family and our environment. This website is designed for everyday people looking to make these changes. Here you will learn a legitimate way to go green. 

Let me be completely transparent with you, I am not here to pitch or sell anything to you. I am here to reveal and to assist you on your journey of going green! 

The Leather Industry Truths

Contrary to popular belief, the leather industry is not a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, which is already placing a huge unsustainable strain on our environment.

This 1.5 billion dollar industry promotes the rearing of animals for slaughter. Over many years of carefully constructed marketing campaigns, the general public has been lead to believe that eating meat is healthy, and wearing their skins is a sign of quality and luxury status. 

The truth is that this industry thrives on the suffering of animals, is one of the biggest contributions to environmental damage, tanning is one of the most toxic industries and workers have a short life expectancy. 


Is the Solution Vegan Leather?

Not Made from Animals

Vegan leather is also known as faux leather because the producers do not use materials from animals to make it. Statistics show that billions of pigs, cows, goats, alligators, ostriches, sheep, dogs, cats, and kangaroos are slaughtered each year for their skins. People cut off the horns and tails of the animals without any painkillers.

The availability of vegan leather has saved animals from the pain. By purchasing faux leather, we are voting with our wallets and helping these more humane industries to prosper. This means there will be far fewer animals suffering from the leather industry in the long-run. 

Made from Different Materials

So what is vegan leather made from? Producers of vegan leather often use polyurethane (PU) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastics. They also use sustainable and innovative materials like cork, pineapple leaves, apple peels, and recycled plastic.

It is important to note that the use of synthetic materials has raised many questions about its safety and dangers to the environment. Vegan leather producers rarely use natural materials to make these products. 

The Production of Vegan Leather

The distributors use various chemicals and industrial processes that are different from those used when producing real leather products. Commonly, they bond plastic coatings to fabric backings. Coatings vary and they determine whether the faux leather is environmentally friendly or not.

While the use of PVC plastics has reduced since the 1970s, some manufacturers still use it to manufacture some types of vegan leather. This plastic material releases dioxins that are potentially dangerous in closed spaces, particularly if the users burn them. Faux leather manufacturers will also use phthalate, which is extremely toxic, to make the leather flexible.

PU is Less Damaging

Manufacturers are developing Polyurethane (PU) to reduce its flaws such as the dangerous toxins it releases during production and to eliminate the oil-based polymers that require the addition of fossil fuels to the production process.

Fortunately, many young entrepreneurs are working hard to create alternative biodegradable materials that will replace plastic materials. Two entrepreneurs, Marte Caarez and Adrian Lopez Velarde from Mexico have already launched organic leather known as Desserto, which they make from nopal cactus. Their goal was to create environmentally friendly and sustainable cruelty-free leather.

Apart from being partially biodegradable, Desserto meets the technical specifications needed in the automotive, furniture, fashion, and leather goods industry. It is breathable, durable, and flexible and it can last for over 10 years.

Vegan Leather or Real Leather?

When choosing between real leather and vegan leather, you have to consider the impacts of the two on the environment. While vegan leather might imply environmental friendliness, that is not always the case. Faux leather was named vegan leather because it is not made of animal products.

Although its increased use is a great benefit for the animals, its production has severe effects on the environment and our health because of the toxins in plastics used in the production.

Alpine Trek highlight the environmental issues of PU. The production and disposal of plastic leather, particularly PVC-based leather and PU, releases dangerous dioxins, which cause reproduction and development issues.

Synthetic materials are not fully biodegradable. Although they break down to some degree, they release phthalates and other toxic particles that can affect the health of people, animals, and the environment.

Durability and quality are the other two factors to consider when deciding between faux and real leather.

The Look and Smell of Vegan Leather 

Vegan leather made of PU or PVC plastic has a strange smell associated with the used chemicals. Most people describe it like a fishy smell that can be hard to get rid of without ruining the leather material. PVC releases gaseous toxins that give off a bad smell. Organic cactus leather does not have this same smell.

The market offers several forms of faux leather in different quality. So, some of them are more like real leather than others are. Generally, the look of vegan leather is not very different from that of real leather.

But because faux leather is made of synthetic materials, it forms a patina different from that of real leather after aging. Manufacturers print artificial pores on the surface of faux leather, which means that it is less breathable than real leather.

Faux Leather is Thinner and Lightweight

That is a big advantage to fashion designers because the features make it easier to work with. Unfortunately, faux leather is less durable than real leather though, which is worse for the consumer. 

Quality real leather can last for decades if the user cares for it properly but a pair of faux leather shoes may only last a few years. That means you will have to replace your faux leather items more often.

PVC-based faux leather is not breathable. On the other hand, real leather has pores. So, when used to make jackets and other clothing items, faux leather can be uncomfortable. You will hate it forever if you wore it for an extended period on a hot day.

Vegan Leather is Cheaper

The other thing is the price of leather items you need. Generally, faux leather is inexpensive because producers use cheap materials to make them. Remember that the creation of leather products, such as furniture, luggage, and jackets, is expensive because of the required artisanship.

That means leather products can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on their quality. Real leather manufacturers can command the prices because people know that their products are durable and of great quality.

The Sollution: Sustainable Alternatives 

Both of these industries are unsustainable. At the moment the best option is to research sustainable companies and the products the provide. 

There is one very interesting project in development using a plant to create leather. Although it is not widely produced at the moment, the company is looking to head in that direction. Learn more about it in this video. 

What Vegan Leather Is: The Final Verdict!

There are pros and cons to both leather and vegan leather. The thing that draws most people to false leather is that it is not cruel on animals and is cheaper, however, it is important to note the environmental impact this fabric has on the planet. The leather industry promotes animal cruelty, is expensive, takes time to care for, and is dangerous for the workers. 

There are many things to consider here and the most important aspect is the effect on animals. I shop sustainably whenever possible and avoid both of these products. 

For now we must do our research and shop sustainably. The future looks promosing for healthier alternatives. 

If you have any questions, please use the space below and I will get back to you shortly. 

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Reader Comments

  1. This article makes me think twice before buying leather products in general. Non vegan is cruel against animals it came from and some vegan leathers are toxic. Thank you for a very informative post Catherine.


  2. Wow, this is interesting for I did not even know that you could make leather out of something other than animals. That is why I have never bought any. Now I can and know that I am not wearing an animal on my back. Thanks for the great read

    1. glad you enjoyed it Lori and good for you for not buying leather. I find it so difficult to avoid because the quality is hard to beat. I have always felt guilty for wearing it but now I know about my alternative options. Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Nice article well written, easy to the eye and relevant info.
    I have actually never thought about leather in this way before, only the Fur industry, which I have been very much against.

  4. I agree with Maryann, this made me think about alternatives to all leather products. None of it seems that great, poor animals and bad for the environment and toxic for us? No thanks. I appreciate the information and your time sharing about living greener. So important these days!

    1. Yes, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that vegan leather is a better option but they are both bad in my eyes. you are more than welcome. I am pleased that you enjoyed it. All the best.

  5. I did not even realize “real leather” was still a thing. I thought we as a society had decided it was bad. I must be living under a rock. lol I have been promoting vegan leather so I decided to look it up to see what it was made of and it seems its not a great choice either. Are there any alternatives?

    1. Hi Brianna, yes leather is used worldwide today.
      If you are looking for an alternative, the best thing you can do is research sustainable and slow fashion companies.
      Find out where that is based, where they source materials, and where they make their products.
      Once you have found a company you like, research their products and the materials used to make the products you prefer.
      I hope this helps.

  6. I stopped buying leather many years ago, ever since I found out how incredibly cruel it is. The terrible death march of cows from India to Pakistan during which many collapse form exhaustion and lack of food and water, then get chillie powder thrown into their eyes or their tails broken, to force them to move forward. It is absolutely devastating what we do to animals just to have some luxuries.
    I have bought a little faux leather, but not much. I am not someone who absolutely must have leather anyway. I did not know that faux leather had such toxic elements, so considering that real leather is based on unspeakable cruelties and faux leather is bad for the environment, I choose neither of them, I just don’t buy them.
    I have heard about the leather made from the Mexican nopal, and I think that is very exciting news! I would love to see the end results of that. I live in Mexico, and I even have nopal growing on my land. I am looking forward to learning more about that project.

    1. Hi Christine,

      The cruelty of animals is horrific. The effect our demand has on the environment is concerning too. Yes, the plant leather made from a type of cactus is really exciting. As you mention this product is still in its developmental stages but I too am excited to see where it leads. For now, people should research sustainable alternatives and I will keep you updated as this progresses.

      Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work!

  7. Avoiding both the products – I think that is sound advice. I try not to buy stuff that has plastics in it. Which is difficult over here in Spain, because they are not very much interested in zero or less plastic, yet.
    This Mexican product you mention seems to have a lot of potential. That’s what I like about engaged designers – they try to find clever solutions!
    Great article, Catherine, thanks.

    1. Hi Hannie,

      You are more than welcome. I too try to avoid both of these products and research sustainable companies when looking to but new shoes.
      Some parts of the world definitely have more sustainable options than others, but the internet provides easy access to these companies.

      I hope this helps. It is always good to hear from you!

  8. Great article on vegan leather. I especially like this idea of cactus leather and the video was interesting. Thanks for enlightening me and sharing such great facts on leather. It would be great to stop animal cruelty and save the environment.

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