What Is Vegan Leather? Is it Eco-friendly? And Durable?

Have you ever considered buying vegan leather?

I’m sure you’ve heard about it before.

Because it’s getting huge!

The global vegan leather industry is estimated to be worth $85 billion by 2025, according to this report.

This is why I wanted to tell you more about how to shop more eco-friendly by buying vegan leather products.

Are you ready?

What is vegan leather?

Vegan leather is a fabric that is able to replace animal leather while being made without harming any animals. There are two categories of vegan leather:

Natural ( e.g. cork leather, ocean leather, or Piñatex)

Non-natural ( mostly made from plastic such as poromeric imitation leather, corfam, Leatherette)

You may obviously wonder how those materials look, if they are durable, and if there is a chance that they will ever be more popular than animal leather. According to the statistics, it is possible…

 

Statistics about the growth of the vegan leather industry.

That’s because more and more people like us care about ethical fashion.

Animal-friendly lifestyle is on the rise with the number of British vegans being 350% higher than a decade ago.

That’s why the predictions shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Let’s then find out, what is going on here.

What are the benefits of vegan leather?

It may come as a surprise, but fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil and gas. It is also the second biggest industry after agriculture as it comes to the use of water.

The animal leather is one of the main contributors to the issues.

But there is more to it.

Animal leather has a significant impact on the environment, animals, and people working in the factories.

The size of the impact of fashion on the environment. Vegan leather can improve it.

Clothes we are wearing contribute significantly to the climate change.

The negative impact of animal leather on the environment

Once the animal is killed, its skin undergoes many processes to become a final product – a usable piece of leather. In the past, tanneries were using natural materials and methods, such as air-drying and using vegetable oils.

Pieces of animal leather in tanneries.

Leather undergoing various processes in the tanneries.

Nowadays, to increase the production and to cut costs, the industry has shifted far from nature. Tanneries around the world use hazardous substances.

For example, Kanpur became in 2013 India’s leading exporter of leather goods. Now, on daily basis, tanneries release 50 million litres of highly toxic water. That’s the equivalent of 20 Olympic swimming pools!

And the worst thing about it?

Only 20% of the water undergoes any treatment.

River in India polluted by animal leather tanneries. Vegan leather doesn't destroy the rivers like that.

The toxic wastewater from the tanneries puts the people and the environment in danger.

The remaining water, carrying chromium, lead, and arsenic, ends up on local farmland and in Ganges – the main source of water for millions. The presence of chemicals hasn’t just resulted in the polluted environment and destroyed agriculture. It has also had a life-changing impact on the people working with leather and living next to the tanneries.

The impact of leather on people (and you!)

A lot of research has found the connection between the metals found in the tannery wastewater and health problems.

For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in one residential area close to a tannery in Kentucky, there have been five times more accidents of leukaemia compared to the national average. Having said that, the worst cases of health problems take place in India, China, and Bangladesh, where a fierce competition, corruption, and the pressure to cut costs do not allow to respect any environmental and health regulations.

Lucy Siegle points out:

To end poverty wages and unacceptable conditions for the 60-75 million people who work in the global garment supply chain, we need to stop letting billion dollar brands define our activism.

There have been countless examples of Indian children born next to the tanneries with mental illness, blindness, and undeveloped body parts. Kids and adults who have the river full of chemicals as their only source of water have been found suffering from cancers, asthma, tuberculosis, eyesight problems, and skin rashes. Talking about the latter, the factory workers who are most of the times not provided with gloves or protective clothes find themselves having their skin discoloured.

Scientists also found traces of the hazardous metals in some of the analysed gloves and clothes, putting the customers at risk.

Shocking documentary unveiling the truth behind the animal leather.

 

The impact of the leather industry on animals

Animal leather is considered to be a by-product of the meat industry. But it is actually the largest co-product.

Sad truth about animals aborted on purpose to be skinned. No animals die to produce vegan handbags

The leather is not a by-product of the meat industry – It is an important co-product.

Calf leather is the most popular material in high-end fashion. It’s thanks to the fact that small calves have a skin without bruises and wounds. However, the way people kill calves is often far from ideal. Same applies to ostriches, snakes, and crocodiles that are also often used in haute couture.

A few years ago PETA investigators exposed the cruel conditions of some of the alligator farms.

The crocodiles live in cages that are often smaller than their body length or they have to share a bigger enclosure with other gators – sometimes with few hundred of them. Once they reach 4-6 feet, they are being killed by cutting their neck and pushing a metal rod through the spine. Since they can survive without oxygen for 60 minutes, they have to wait for death in agony, often surviving skinning.

Some farms skin alligators alive.

In other cases, snakes are being drowned by pressuring water inside their body to expand it before flaying, while ostriches are electrified.

However, there are some ethical brands. You have to be very selective.

The expert, Livia Firth says:

As consumers, we need to realise how powerful we are. Every time we buy something, we actually vote, and if the brand still wants a business that is profitable in 15 to 20 years, they have to address the environmental impact and the social injustice. Because it’s only going to get worse.

And remember, even ethical leather isn’t perfect. Ultimately, all animal leather requires killing animals. Let’s have a look at what vegan leather has to offer.

Is vegan leather really that great?

There are two categories of vegan leather:

  • Natural
  • Non-natural

While both of them do not require to kill the animals, non-natural leather is quite troublesome.

Why?

The process of making it uses plastics, which come with many problems.

Statistics that plastic requires lots of time to degrade. The reason why non-natural vegan leather is bad.

The plastic bottles are here to stay for a while.

There are few varieties of non-natural faux leather and most of them use PVC and other plastics that pollute the environment with dioxins. Dioxins are one of the worst chemicals that are a by-product of many industrial processes. They can cause malfunction of immune and nervous systems, a damage to a liver, and a skin rash.

They also raise significantly the chance of having cancer – up to tenfold increase.

While plastics resolve, they release to the environment chemicals such as phthalates and Bisphenol A. They contribute to the rise of cancer, hormonal disruptions, and birth defects.

Plastic is a global problem. Tonnes of it are being dumped on daily basis into the oceans where they are moved by currents to form 4 big ocean garbage patches. It causes a massive threat to the marine life, the environment, and animals.

But what about humans?

Everything in nature is interconnected. That’s why we should take extra precautions, especially as the last link in the food chain.

The statistics showing that there is more and more plastic in the oceans.

Is it something we really want?

The oceans aren’t as blue as we think they are. They are like a dense plastic soup with tonnes of tiny pieces of floating plastic. The pieces that are then eaten by fish and other animals. Oceanographers analysing the issue found up to 80 pieces of plastic in a single fish stomach. The fish that could have possibly ended up on your plate.

That’s why we should decrease our plastic production and non-natural leather alternative won’t help.

6 eco-friendly vegan alternatives to animal leather

I would like to apologise if I made you feel uncomfortable or disgusted. The worst thing is that I don’t make up those facts.

It is all happening around us.

Although it looks like there are just two options, which seem to be equally bad, let me introduce you to other available solutions. As you may remember, vegan leather can be also natural.

How cool is that?

Some of the natural leather alternatives are:

Cork leather

The zoom in on the cork leather - the best vegan leather.

It can be a very stylish alternative to animal leather.

Cork Leather – One of the best leather replacements. Cork leather is a sustainable material made from the bark of cork oaks that is very unique, durable, and fashionable. (Read more about what cork leather is.) It’s also totally waterproof.

Waxed cotton

 

Jacket from Qorkit made from waxed cotton - vegetarian leather.

Would you guess it is vegetarian? (©Qorkit)

Waxed Cotton – A textile made by soaking cotton in beeswax (or paraffin) and weaving it into the cloth. As it has been used since the 19th century, it is the oldest vegetarian leather fabric. Note: As it uses beeswax, this is vegetarian but isn’t properly vegan.

Piñatex

Can you believe this dress is made from pineapples? (©Getty Images)

Piñatex – An innovative and new leather substitute made from pineapple leaves fibers. Although still in the research phase, (you can check out their website to follow the progress), celebrities such as Livia Firth have already worn it on a red carpet.

MuSkin

Vegan leather handbag made from fungi

Maybe not my type of bag but, perhaps, you like it? (©MuSkin)

MuSkin – A natural skin coming from a mushroom, the phellinus ellipsoideus. It’s very soft. When you touch it, it resembles a leather suede.

Ocean plastic

Sneakers made from Plastic from the Ocean

Please Santa, I want those sneakers so much. (©Adidas x Parley)

Ocean plastic – I know plastic is not a natural material but using this one actually contributes to saving the planet. It deserves a shout out. As I mentioned earlier, oceans are full of plastic. And even if we clean them up (which is extremely hard), we need to utilise the material. That’s why Adidas has collaborated with Parley to design awesome sneakers made from ocean plastic.

 

I hope I have proven you that you are able to still have a varied wardrobe while helping out our planet.

Why cork leather is the best type of vegan leather

As mentioned earlier, I believe it is the best animal leather alternative and I have been working with it for a while. I am confident to stand by it. I have even dedicated the separate section to it below.

For now, here is the teaser:

 

The table comparing vegan leather (cork leather) and animal leather.

Those are just some of the features of cork leather – Scroll down to learn more!

 

Designers who have Worked With Natural Leather Alternatives

Although there are plenty designers and fashion brands that offer vegan leather goods, few big names deserve a special recognition thanks to their willingness to experiment with natural leather alternatives.

Stella McCartney

The fashion house has been advocating for animal rights in the fashion industry for 16 years now. All of the items are fully vegetarian (not vegan though). Although they sadly use a lot of non-natural leather alternatives, they have worked with cork and have recently announced the collaboration with Parsley to launch shoes made from ocean plastic.

Cork leather vegan handbag by Stella McCartney

Personally, I prefer more simplistic design, but I still admire the material. (©Stella McCartney)

 

Marc Jacobs

The designer uses all types of materials. He has worked with vegan leather-like waxed cotton. His current collection features 100% cotton handbags.

Cotton vegan leather handbag by Marc Jacobs

I love the design. (©Marc Jacobs)

 

Christian Louboutin

The famous designer created a few pairs of his iconic heels coating them with cork leather.

Although the shoe itself is not vegetarian – it contains animal leather – thanks to the renowned name and the famous red sole, it is a perfect way to spread the message and to make people fell in love with cork.

Famous red sole Christian Louboutin heel made from cork - vegan leather shoes.

Love it! (©Christian Louboutin)

 

Gucci

Recently we could see a significant rise in the number of shoes with cork. However, Gucci won over my heart with the combination of dark brown cork and sexy red.

I just adore those shoes! (@Gucci)

Animal Leather – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Now that you know more about the fashion industry, I understand you might be quite confused with all the options. Obviously, animal leather is a material that has been around for centuries. However, the same could be said about horses that eventually got replaced by cars.

The fashion industry hasn’t experienced any drastic changes for years (excluding the fast fashion movement). Perhaps this is one of the reasons it is the second most polluting industry after oil and we, as people who care about the environment, should initiate the change. That’s why I am very happy to see the increase of ethical and sustainable fashion movement.

Will you join us?

If your answer is yes, let us know, and we will inform you once our collection is available. You can already check out our designer cork leather cardholder.