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Vegan leather, what it is and is it actually sustainable?
Vegan leather products

Vegan leather, what it is and is it actually sustainable?

Vegan leather has become exceedingly popular but some of us wonder what exactly is vegan leather and is it actually “vegan” as many claim or is it harmful instead? If you have been wondering what vegan leather is, you have come to the right place.

We have gathered some information about vegan leather and its different types. We have made our best efforts to remain unbiased and put together a list of pros and cons of various types of vegan leather.

 

What is vegan leather?

There is no specific answer to that as vegan leather varies greatly due to the use of different materials and processing methods but generally speaking the term ‘’vegan leather’’ refers to fake leather, ‘’pleather’’ or ‘’faux leather’’ which has been around for a long time.

The main selling point of vegan leather is that it is environment-friendly and no animals are killed for making it. While this may be true to some extent the reality – as we will soon see – is often quite different.

The two main types of vegan leather are synthetic (PVC, PU) and plant-based (derived from leaves and fruit peels). We have selected some examples of both and analyzed them based on their merit.

 

Synthetic vegan leathers

Polyvinyl chloride leather also known as PVC

Polyvinyl chloride leather (PVC)
Polyvinyl chloride leather (PVC)

Polyvinyl chloride leather which is more commonly known as PVC is a widely used type of vegan leather. It is rather similar to polyurethane leather, is made from plastic and has a seemingly endless list of applications, for example, pipes, plastic furniture, car parts, everyday accessories and so on. But in the context of faux leather, it is made in the same way as polyurethane which means that the end result is also very similar to that of polyurethane leather.

The pros are also similar – it is cheap, readily available, very flexible and comes in a plethora of colors.

Unfortunately, the cons are equally horrifying as it is made from non-renewable fossil fuels which makes it unsustainable. It often looks very shiny and cheap and it is non-biodegradable. It lacks the traditional characteristics of real leather and does not last nearly as long as the real thing. It is just as harmful for the environment as polyurethane leather.

 

Polyurethane leather also known as pleather

Polyurethane leather (PU)
Polyurethane leather (PU)

Polyurethane leather which is also known as ‘’pleather’’ or ‘’PU leather’’ is made by applying a polyurethane coating to a base material like polyester, nylon or cotton. Once the base is coated the surface will be treated to emulate the grain by running a textured roller across the surface of the fabric.

Properly made polyurethane leather is durable, resilient and flexible and can be easily applied to various products. It is also easy to customize and a variety of colors are available. In addition to previously mentioned points it can mimic the appearance of leather very well. This makes it very difficult to determine whether the product is made from real leather or if it is so called vegan leather.

As for pros, polyurethane leather is cheap, readily available, flexible and comes in a variety of colors.

But the cons are notable as polyurethane is made from non-renewable fossil fuels which makes it unsustainable. It is made from non-biodegradable materials which have wreaked havoc in the oceans all across the world due to floating micro-fibers which the animals consume. In addition to the environmental impact, it does not age well and will not last nearly as long as real leather.

 

Recycled plastic and rubber

Recycled rubber
Recycled rubber

We live in a world with huge amounts of plastic waste and this too can be treated and processed to produce faux leather. Some examples include plastic bottles and car tires. Unfortunately, the end products don’t often look as appealing and it is not a widely used practice.

As for pros, it is definitely sustainable and environment-friendly as it helps recycle plastic and rubber waste. It is also sturdy and the processing methods could definitely be improved for it to be more widely used.

Unfortunately, it lacks applications for everyday use and it is not as readily available as other materials. The color palette is limited and it hardly mimics leather patina.

 

Plant-based faux leathers

Apple leather

Leather made out of apple residue and leftovers
Leather made out of apple residue and leftovers

If you know a little about the beverage and cider industry, then you surely know that a lot of food waste is produced every year, and this has proven to be a new source for a sustainable type of faux leather. Apple leather was developed in Copenhagen and it is made by treating apple residue from the pulp, after which it is rolled out into strips and heated. This results in a very flexible and sturdy material which is completely biodegradable. Also, each meter of apple leather requires only 1 liter of water during production, which is far less than required for manufacturing bovine leather.

As for pros, it is 100% biodegradable and made by utilizing a waste product that would otherwise not be used at all. Plus, it has a highly textured surface which looks rather appealing.

As for cons, its actual longevity is still to be tested so we do not know how durable they such products are in real life conditions. It is not very widely produced or applied yet and only one producer makes apple leather 100% from apple residue while others tend to add polyurethane, plus a smooth texture cannot be achieved.

 

MuSkin

Leather made out of mushrooms
Leather made out of mushrooms

Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, this alternative is 100% vegetable based. MuSkin is made from a fungus called Phellinus ellipsoideus. Once harvested, the mushroom caps are processed and treated with natural substances like wax. The outcome of this completely natural process is highly textured leather which is similar to some animal leathers. It is also a thermal insulator absorbing moisture and releasing it immediately thus limiting bacterial proliferation.

As for pros, it is 100% natural which is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to vegan leather. It is made from a sustainable, eco-friendly and biodegradable material which is unique, breathable and resembles animal leather.

Unfortunately, it is not widely produced yet and the longevity is still to be tested. The color options are also rather limited.

 

Pineapple leather

Leather made out of pineapple leaves
Leather made out of pineapple leaves

Pineapple leather or “Piñatex’’ is a brand-new type of faux leather which is slowly gaining traction. It is made from pineapple leaf fibers – a waste product that is normally discarded after harvesting the pineapples. Producing Piñatex requires no additional resources but it does unfortunately require a polyurethane coating during production. That being said it is still a much better option than polyurethane alone.

As for pros, it is made from organic residues that remain after pineapple harvesting so no additional raw materials are required to produce it save for some polyurethane. It has a very unique texture and it is becoming more accessible (brands like Puma and Hugo Boss have already started using it). And it is available in a variety of colors.

As for cons, we can say that it currently still requires polyurethane treatment and its longevity is yet to be tested. Also, it cannot be produced with a completely smooth texture.

 

Are vegan leathers really vegan?

As mentioned in the beginning, not all vegan leathers can be considered ‘’vegan’’ although there are some options that are notably more environment-friendly than others. Unfortunately, the “greener” materials are not very widely used but it is likely that they will become more mainstream in the near future.

However, until they do, real leather seems to be the best option, and you can buy your Design de Valeur hand-made top-notch leather products here!

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