Vegan Leather is About the Earth, Not a Diet
Have you ever considered buying vegan leather?
Don’t worry if the answer is negative. There is a chance you have actually never heard of it before. Global vegan leather industry is estimated to be worth $85 billion by 2025, according to this report.
That’s why I am going to unveil for you the future. The future that is already happening now behind our back.
Are you ready?
So, actually, 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…
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.
Why Should I Care?
It may come as a surprise, but fashion is the second most polluting industry after the oil and gas industry. 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.
Clothes we are wearing contribute significantly to the climate change.
Leather’s Impact 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.
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, 50 million litres of highly toxic water is generated from tannery waste. That’s the equivalent of 20 Olympic swimming pools!
And the worst thing about it?
Only 20% of this water is treated.
The toxic waste water 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.
Leather’s Impact on People (and You!)
A lot of research has found the connection between the metals found in the tannery waste water 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.
If you are worried about your own safety, well, you should be actually.
Scientists found traces of the hazardous metals in some of the analysed gloves and clothes.
Shocking documentary unveiling the truth behind animal leather.
It is clear, that animals are not the only ones who have to suffer the consequences of animal leather goods.
As it comes to animals, what is the price they have to pay?
Leather’s Impact on Animals
There is a big misconception that animal leather is just a by-product of the meat industry. The reality and facts indicate, that it is actually the biggest co-product.
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 the high-end fashion thanks to its quality. Since small calves have a young skin without many bruises and wounds, it is a perfect choice for the ‘luxury’ items. That’s why we see so many calves skinned when they are little.
Let’s also remember, that the way the calves are being killed is far from ideal and human. But cows are not the only animals that are the part of this chain of death. Remember that ostrich, snake, and crocodile are also often used in haute couture. A few years ago the conditions of some of the alligator farms have been exposed by PETA investigators.
They are simply cruel.
The crocodiles spend either almost 2 years in small cages that are often smaller than their total 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 beating or cutting their neck and pushing a metal rod through their spine. Since they can survive without oxygen for 60 minutes and more, the death isn’t instant – they have to wait few hours in agony, often surviving skinning.
Also, some farms skin alligators completely alive.
In other inhumane cases, snakes are being drowned by pressuring water inside their body to expand it before flaying, while ostriches are electrified and beaten up.
Not all animal leather is equal. Some brands are more ethical than others. You have to be very selective and, of course, pay a high price for ethical animal leather. But be aware. Price is not the only indicator of how ethical the leather is and some brands can pump up their prices to trick you.
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. As a vegetarian, I cannot stand that. If like me, you are already thinking that you don’t want to be part of this system anymore, let’s have a look at what vegan leather has to offer.
Is Vegan Leather Really That Great?
To be honest, the question is far more complex that one could have imagined. Although there are no animals harmed in the process of making artificial leather, there are other problems involved.
There are two categories of vegan leather:
While both of them do not require to kill the animals, non-natural leather is quite troublesome.
In the process of making it plastics are being used. And as you may know, they are not the best invention that has happened to Earth.
The plastic bottle you used today is going to hang around for quite a long time.
There are few varieties of non-natural faux leather and most of them use PVC, which brings to the environment, including our food chain, 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.
It has to be remembered that it can take plastics few hundred years to resolve. While it is happening, 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 with the biggest one called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 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.
Is it something we really want?
The oceans aren’t as blue as we think they are. They are more 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.
The Best Leather Alternatives
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. Even 100% natural.
How cool is that?
Some of the natural leather alternatives are:
Cork leather 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.
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.
Can you believe this dress is made from pineapples? (©Getty Images)
- Piñatex – An innovative and new leather substitute made from pineapple leaves fibres. 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.
Maybe not my type of bag but, perhaps, you like it? (©MuSkin)
- MuSkin – A 100% natural skin coming from a mushroom, the phellinus ellipsoideus. It’s very soft. When you touch it, it resembles a leather suede.
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. However, if you are worried that you could possibly be worse off when replacing animal leather, I have prepared a table comparing it to the cork leather.
Why the cork 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:
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.
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.
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.
Love it! (©Christian Louboutin)
- Calvin Klein – The famous designer has experimented a lot with cork leather. He has made vegan totes, cork leather shoulder bags, and other sustainable items. Let’s hope for more!
Well done! (@Calvin Klein)
- 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)
Cork Leather – The Best Alternative To Animal Leather?
If you are as practical as I am, you may be wondering, how durable those alternatives to animal leather are. Obviously, same as with any other material, it varies. For example, waxed cotton is known for its waterproof property but it’s too light to make a nice wallet. However, I dare to say that cork leather is the best vegan leather.
Here is why:
- Eco-friendly – Cork leather is made from the bark of oak trees. These trees are harvested every 9 years. This is the process which allows oaks to live for 300+ years. Since the trees need to rebuild their bark, harvested oaks can remove 3-5 times more carbon dioxide from the polluted air than the unharvested ones. By using cork leather you are actually helping to clean the air.
- Unique – Cork leather is like wood. Each piece is unique and stands out. No two pieces of cork will ever be the same. And it has to it a special feel when you touch it.
- Durable – Cork is highly versatile. It is waterproof, wear and tear resistant, and it burns slowly. Not surprisingly NASA has used it in some of its rockets. So if it can survive space travel, it shouldn’t have any problems with your daily activities.
- Light – Thanks to its ethereal structure, cork leather is very light. Actually, it’s among the lightest natural materials available. Despite this, cork has great durability, making the cork products hard wearing and functional.
- Naturally vegan – No animals are involved in the process of making our products. Cork is a 100% vegan and cruelty-free material. Also, there are no plastics in it.
- Easy to maintain – Cork leather products could serve you for decades. Cork leather is stain resistant and can be washed with just some soap and water.
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?