Vegans argue that nothing manufactured from animals or animal products should be consumed or used. 

It involves avoiding animal protein and dairy products and buying fur coats, leather boots, belts, and jackets manufactured from the skin of animals.

The argument over the morality of the classic material is one of the only elements that appear to be more ageless than a leather coat. 

Like animal fleece and plumage, leather is fiercely disputed in the fashion business as it is usually created from the skins of cows and lambs, rendering the process “inhumane.”

However, what exactly is vegan leather? We understand that the term “vegan leather” is a little impenetrable. Furthermore, the sentence appears to be a paradox!

Vegan leather is exceptionally adaptable. It offers everyone something, ranging from winter jackets in every size and structure to the classic little cocktail suit. 

Well, that is just the beginning. Vegan leather shoes, boots, purses, wallets, and car seat liners are also available and highly prized.

Vegan leather refers to a variety of material replacements to animal-based material. These products offer the same appearance, texture, and properties as leather but without slaughtering mammals in the process.

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What is Vegan Leather made of?

Manufacturers can create vegan leather from various substances, such as vegetables, pineapple leaves, PVC, glazed cotton, cork, apple, polyurethane (PU), and even those useless seeming prickly cacti.

PU leather is an artificial product composed of polyurethane, an essentially plastic polymer. 

Polyurethane (PU) is a critical element in synthetic leather since it is simple to shape and produce in bulk.

PVC would be another type of plastic; however, plant-based news advises against purchasing vegan leather that contains PVC

As per research, consumers should ignore this substance because of its harmful ecological repercussions from the manufacture and usage of this polymer, which is regarded as the most poisonous of all plastics.

It does not decompose organically, posing severe environmental issues. Fortunately, there are many plant-based products available such as apple peels! The cork oak tree is used to manufacture cork, a raw material for plant-based leather. 

Southwest Europe and northwest Africa are home to this tree. The cork is extracted from the tree’s bark without damaging its growth. Suberin, which works as a water-resistant wax, is applied to cork to give it a sleek look.

Cactus skin would be another revolutionary plant-based leather substance that is compostable. 

Mexican entrepreneurs Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez have produced nopal leather from cactus. 

This material is quite intriguing because the cactus requires very little water to thrive, offering it a fantastic sustainable option. Cacti leather is a compostable product free from harmful chemicals, phthalates, and PVC.

Faux(Vegan) Leather Versus Animal Leather

traditional and faux leather manufacture - vegan leather
Traditional Leather and Faux Leather manufacture differences| Infographics by Vocative

Producers can make more money trading skins than they do by selling flesh, primarily uncommon species, which pushes farmers to produce cattle only for the intent of selling hides. 

Livestock grazing has been connected to deforestation, and the sector produces a significant amount of greenhouse emissions. No wonder animal farming is responsible for 14.5 to 18 percent of global carbon emissions!

As a result of these causes, the market for vegan and cruelty-free leather increases, and manufacturers and retailers are increasingly exploring leather replacements. 

After all, vegan leather has several advantages over animal leather, including:

  • Vegan leather is both animal-friendly and abuse-free as it is created without the use of any animals.
  • The majority of vegan leather is ecologically sound and sustainable.
  • Vegan leather can also be custom-made to your specifications. There is no resource waste because all components and diameters are trimmed to the designer’s specifications.
  • Vegan leather emits less carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses by minimizing the expansion of livestock.
  • Dangerous substances are used to ‘tan and finish’ animal hides into leather. But for vegan leather, most components used are organic.
  • Vegan leather is water-resistant and simpler to keep clean whereas, animal leather isn’t always waterproof. Furthermore, the upkeep can be costly.

Vegan Leather and Animal Cruelty

Vegan leather not only leaves you feeling nice, but it also keeps us happy since it is devoid of suffering. 

Annually, over a billion cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, dogs, and cats are slain for their hides. 

Several of these creatures had their tails and antlers chopped off without anesthetics, and others were stripped and hacked apart while fully awake. On the other hand, vegan leather has a sharp aesthetic without bloodshed.

Planet Earth, too, is a fan of environmentally-friendly vegan leather. It requires a lot of energy and a deadly cocktail of ingredients to transform flesh into leather, combining trace minerals, coal-tar by-products, formaldehyde, hydrocarbons, and dyes, some of which are cyanide-based. 

Water-fouling salt, limestone slurry, sulfides, acids, and other contaminants are all uncovered in tannery effluent.

Vegan Leather and Environment

pros and cons of vegan leather
Pros and cons of vegan leather to environment| Comparison table by Human Kind

So, let’s look at why vegan leather is causing so much controversy. Undoubtedly, most consumers are concerned that everything made of plastic is detrimental to the environment, but the issue with vegan leather isn’t limited to the ingredients used. 

It is the way vegan leather is created. PVC in vegan leather emits dioxins during manufacturing and dumping, possibly carcinogenic in confined settings and undoubtedly hazardous if torched. 

If the substance is burned while being disposed of, it might emit even more nanoparticles and chemicals that are incredibly harmful to humans. 

Dioxins, for instance, have been linked to developmental and reproductive issues and cancer.

Plasticizers like phthalates are also used to make the product more bendable during the production process. 

These are highly poisonous, and many conservationists believe they are the most harmful plastic.

Additional environmental concerns with vegan leather are around the disposal of the resources used in its production. They take many years to degrade because they are made of plastic. 

Although technologies to dissolve the materials exist, they produce hazardous compounds such as phthalates. Hence, these can have a detrimental impact on animal and environmental health.

Sustainability Check

Whether vegan leather can genuinely be called “sustainable” ultimately hinges on the manufacturing proceedings. 

When evaluating vegan leather’s green credentials, we must consider its fundamental characteristics and production methods. 

Well, not all vegan leather is produced in the same manner. Some vegan leather is derived from natural resources, while others are constructed from synthetic elements. 

Nanushka, for instance, uses polyurethane-based vegan leather, which is a thermoplastic polymer. Sustainability difficulties may occur due to the use of these manufactured items.

Even though vegan substitutes have a more negligible environmental impact than animal products, they have evident downsides, especially when made of plastic. 

According to Sandor’s assertion, the environmental effect of vegan-leather manufacturing can be up to a third less than that of genuine leather, as mentioned in Kering’s Environmental Profit & Loss report from 2018.

Regrettably, the most frequent leather substitute is polyvinyl chloride, a petroleum-based material. And it is made from fossil fuels that pose health risks and aren’t compostable.

In the end, it simply boils down to what aspects of sustainability are most relevant to individuals. There is no such thing as perfect environmentally friendly merchandise. 

Lambskin leather can endanger animals and is treated with toxins. In contrast, plastic-based leather can not abuse animals directly, but it may not disintegrate and produce harmful pollutants harming the ecosystem. It is typically kind of a “lesser of two evils” situation.

The bottom line is you can make your purchase of vegan leather jacket sustainable by opting for the following plant-based leather options:

1. Mushroom Leather

The heads of the Phellinus Ellipsoideus mushroom are used to create vegan leather. But, the product must be waterproofed after getting through the manufacturing operation. Most leather makers use natural ingredients rather than fossil fuels or chemicals.

2. Cork Leather

Cork leathers promote tree planting, which benefits instead of harming the environment. The truth that many buyers dislike the aesthetic of cork leather is a significant disadvantage. 

Its decorative value is lower than that of other leather products. It is, nevertheless, safe to use and even healthier for the environment.

3. Waxed Cotton

Waxed cotton is the most explicit vegan leather to produce. Wax is applied to cotton to create this exotic form of vegan leather. 

Unlike regular animal leather and other vegan leather products, waxed cotton is washable. It is also flexible and water-resistant.

4. Apple Leather

Apple leather is assembled from tossed apple peels or guts from beverage industries. It has the same ecologically favorable properties as mushroom leather.

To Wrap Up

Real Leather and Vegan Leather| Picture from Gentleman’s Gazette

Therefore, how can we stay away from animal leather and plastic-leather substitutes? 

Well, the only sustainable choice we are left with is plastic-free vegan alternatives, ranging from kombucha cultures to pineapple leathers. 

Although petroleum-based chemicals are still utilized to glue the strands together in these leather replacements, they are substantially less harmful than PVC leather.

Purchasing vegan leather reduces animal products’ uses; its substitute may be plastic-based, which is environmentally damaging and takes years to disintegrate. 

Because genuine leather is a naturally occurring substance, it is not the animal-hide harmful to the environment. 

Nonetheless, because the solvents used in the tanning procedure are toxic, and the leather business contributes to rainforest degradation, it is preferable to pick plant-based leathers.

(Last Updated on February 7, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!