Vegan Leather: (Advantages Over The Real Thing)
Being a vegan is hard enough with the limited food options, but there is a lot more vegans have to take into account for their lifestyle. Clothing is a big factor, especially when it comes to fashion items like leather and furs. While most vegans do not even go near the idea of wearing anything that was made from an animal, you have to admit, leather looks damn good. Well, have I got good news for you. Vegan leather is a thing. So what exactly is vegan leather? Well, that is why you are here is it not? I’m here to tell you what’s what.
Vegan’s are all about not consuming or purchasing anything that was made from animals. From their food and drinks to their clothing. And with being vegan and vegetarian hitting a popularity rise, it makes sense that vegan leather would pop up. But what exactly is vegan leather? Well, it is actually just faux leather or pleather under a different name. Now, before you get all mad and storm off, there is more to it. With a lot of clothing items, it is sometimes hard to know if there are any animal products included in the production of them. Same goes for faux leather products. By rebranding the jackets, pants, bags, hats and many other items as vegan leather, it is basically reassuring customers that absolutely no animals were harmed in the making of these products.
Faux leather has been around forever. Mostly because real leather is extremely expensive and can be even more expensive depending on where the leather comes from and whether it was made by hand or not. Faux/ vegan leather has also raised some concerns regarding the type of materials used to produce it. More specifically, the environmental effects that production of vegan leather has. In fact, very few vegan leathers are made from natural materials, though it is possible to find them out there.
What Vegan Leather is Made From
When making any kind of synthetic leather, there are two very common materials that people use. Polyvinyl chloride or PVC, and polyurethane or PU. Both of these are plastic based materials (surely most people are familiar with PVC). The process of making vegan leather involves the use of chemicals, plastic coatings, and other not so eco-friendly materials. Some of the other materials used for the production of vegan leather include the following:
- Vegatan: a microfiber material that is specifically designed and used as an animal-friendly leather alternative.
- Lorica: this material is made from several different microfibers.
- Birko-Flor: a synthetic material made from PVC and fleece. Used by Birkenstock, a popular leather retailer.
- Kydex: an acrylic-PVC alloy. Used by Kleerdex, a manufacturing company.
Vegan leather comes in a few different forms and qualities, some being more “leather-like” than others. Most of the time, it is easy to tell quality pleather apart from its cheaper counterpart. However, the average retailer will sell good quality vegan leather which is hard to distinguish from real leather, unless you look very closely. However, faux leather is less breathable than real leather because you do not have the natural pores that real leather has. When making vegan leather, the texture has to be basically printed onto the surface. But, honestly, there is not a whole lot of a difference in terms of feel between real and vegan leather.
Vegan Leather vs Real Leather
Now of course this question is easily answered by vegans, but when it comes to the average person it is a valid debate. What is the difference between vegan leather and real leather and which is better? There are a few questions you should be asking. Like, is vegan leather durable? Quality and durability are major factors to take into account. Vegan leather is often times much thinner than real and more lightweight. This makes vegan leather great for fashion and essentially makes it easier to work with. The thinness of faux leather is better when made for a jacket, rather than a bag or a pair of shoes, as they will not be as durable. However, you can usually find great quality vegan leather with the same durability as regular leather, just be more expensive than average faux leather.
There are a few other factors to take into consideration. For instance, is vegan leather waterproof? Yup, mainly due to its plastic coating. This also makes it a lot easier to clean. Faux leather can also be repaired more easily than real leather, which usually requires a leather expert for manufacturer.
On the other side, real leather ages much better than faux leather, that is if the vegan leather actually lasts that long to age. As real leather ages, it forms a patina which many think gives the leather more character. Lastly, the price. Of course, even extremely good quality vegan leather will still be cheaper than most real leather products. This is purely due to the fact that the materials used to make vegan leather are much more inexpensive than actual leather. However, with that price tag, you also have the assurement that you own something that can essentially last a very long time.
Vegan Leather vs The Environment
Now onto the reason vegan leather has a lot of concerns around it. The environmental impacts that vegan leather has during the production of the items. Of course, most people know that anything plastic is not great for the environment, but it is more than just the material used. It is how vegan leather is made. PVC releases dioxins, which are potentially dangerous in enclosed spaces and defiantly dangerous when burned. When the material is burnt, it can release even more particles and toxins which are highly dangerous to humans. These dioxins can cause developmental and reproductive issues and even cause cancer. In addition, manufacturers also use plasticisers such as phthalates to make the material more flexible. These are highly toxic and considered among many environmentalists to be the most environmentally damaging type of plastic.
Other environmental issues surrounding vegan leather are related to the disposal of the materials used in the manufacture of the leather. Since they are plastic based, they take a very long time to decompose. Though there are methods to break down the materials, they end up releasing highly toxic particles and other phthalates. These can affect the health of animals and the environment. Quick fact, the fashion industry is the fifth most polluting industry on the planet, equal to livestock.
Eco and Animal Friendly Leather
While most vegan leather is made from PVC and polyurethane materials, there are other options out there if you look hard enough. Certain companies have prided themselves in making truly vegan leather. That is leather that is both eco-friendly and cruelty free. These products are often made from materials like cork, kelp, waxed cotton, or even pineapple leaves. Most commonly though you will find cork leather. Here is a list of eco-friendly and cruelty free vegan leathers.
- Yup, you read that right. Paper. But this isn’t like looseleaf paper you use in school. It is more like that paper you often find in cardboard boxes used for packaging, but obviously put through a much different process. For example, washi is a type of paper leather made from the bark of the fast growing and sustainable kozo tree (Japanese relative of the mulberry). Once made, it is cut and its edges left raw. Finally, it is woven into whatever you are buying, be it a handbag or wallet or whatever. It can come in the natural brown color or in black, as well as other colors.
- Many people are familiar with the uses of cork in fashion. Especially with cork wedges (Yes, I know what wedges are, I have a fiance). Cork is actually regarded as one of the most eco-friendly materials around today. It is easily recycled, completely natural and using it helps prevent desertification and deforestation. Due to its waterproof qualities and organic texture, many huge fashion companies have made use of cork many time and for a while now. However, some people just do not like the look of cork, which is possibly its biggest drawback.
- Rubber: I have seen this one around a bunch of places. It blew up about 6 years ago. It already has a leathery texture which makes it appealing in that sense, as well as being durable. Mainly, rubber is used for making bags and backpacks. I even owned a recycled rubber backpack a while ago.
- Here, we are talking about organic waxed cotton. It has been around for years as a leather substitute for jeans and bags by companies like Marc Jacobs and others. It is pliable, waterproof, and easily washable.
- This is a fairly new kind of faux leather made from sewable slate stone. It has a grey matte finish has the look and feel of paper combined with stone. It really has a cool old and battered look to it. AND it actually ages like leather. Only it gets little scratches instead of pores, which also ends up softening the material a bit as well.
- Made from sustainable timber, this vegan leather is durable, string and each piece is unique. This is due to the varied natural grains of the product. Tree bark leather can be made to replicate any form of leather from jackets and pants, to hand bags and wallets. It is made from fast growing, renewable wood and even treated with non-toxic chemicals to make it durable, well preserved and flexible.
- You know those apple cores, orange and banana peels you always throw away? Well now, you can use them to carry all of the things you need. Next time you think about just throwing away your apple core, recycle it. Could be your next favorite handbag.
- For those of you who love pineapple on pizza (yes, it is awesome!) this might be your next favorite thing. Pinatex is a material made from the wasted part of the pineapple bush. It feels like cowhide leather and is watertight and durable. It is great for shoes, bags and a lot more. Also, who else had no idea pineapples grew on bushes?!
- This is very similar to recycled rubber, only it has less applications due to the style of the original product. Like the recycled rubber, these recycled tyres have an incredible leathery feel and look. It is often for belts, guitar straps, earrings and a bunch more.
- Here is a new one for you. Mushroom leather. Now you can have hallucinations while looking awesome. Totally kidding but this is pretty cool. You can actually grow this leather to whatever shape or size you need it for. Only thing it needs is to be waterproofed. Its 100% biodegradable also, which makes it incredibly eco-friendly.
The Hana Plant (Agave):
- If you have ever seen an actual agave plant, you know the leaves are big and thick. Many artisans have begun using these leaves to yield fine fibres and weave them into accessories that are usually made of real leather. Turns out, agave has other uses besides Tequila.
Final Verdict on Vegan Leather
When it comes to leather, many people end up paying a small fortune for products that require a lot of care. If they receive any damage, you have to seek out a professional who will charge you almost half of what you paid for it. If you are looking for an alternative for real leather, vegan leather might just be the answer, as long as you are not environmentally conscious. Really, it comes down to where your priorities lie. With animal cruelty or with preserving the environment. If the answer is both, search out for the many eco-friendly vegan leathers that are out there. Only issue is that many of those products will cost you about as much as real leather. The question boils down to you. Animals, the environment, money. What matters most to you? I can not tell you that, it is for you to decide.
Either way, vegan leather is a great leather substitute that involves no animal cruelty whatsoever. And the branding of faux leather as vegan leather is more than just for marketing, it can help people fully understand that no animal products are in this product. Which is a nice reassurement for a lot of people. What do you think?