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Vegan Leather

Vegan Leather: An Ethical and Sustainable Alternative Transforming Society

December, 2023
Vegan Leather

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA)  says, Vegan Leather is often made from polyurethane, a polymer that can be made to order for any designer’s whim. It can also be made from innovative and sustainable materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, other fruit waste, and recycled plastic and used to create products that put animal skins to shame.

Vegan leather has also made significant strides in curbing the environmental damage caused by the fashion industry. Traditional leather production is notorious for its heavy use of toxic chemicals, deforestation, and immense water consumption. Leather tanning industry is responsible for production of more than 600 million tons of waste each year. On the contrary, vegan leather is more sustainable, emitting fewer greenhouse gasses and consuming considerably less water. By choosing vegan leather, consumers can actively participate in mitigating the environmental impact caused by the leather industry.

Renowned designers and fashion houses are now incorporating vegan leather into their collections, signaling a paradigm shift towards more sustainable and cruelty-free fashion choices.

By integrating vegan leather into mainstream fashion, the industry has not only raised awareness but also influenced consumers to make responsible choices. The availability and variety of vegan leather options have empowered individuals to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle without compromising on fashion. This shift in consumer preferences reflects a changing societal mindset, where compassion and sustainability are valued over traditional practices.

Let’s go back to the plant-based substitutes like apples, oranges, and bananas mentioned in the beginning. Most of these alternatives are gaining popularity, such as vegan leather MuSkin, made from mushroom caps. It is said to be softer and more water-resistant than conventional leather, as it is tanned with non-toxic substances.

There are different types of vegan leather such as 

  • Pinatex Leather, which is manufactured from the discarded parts of pineapple trees, is mostly similar to animal-based leather such as it is waterproof and protective. 
  • Apple leather is one of the leading substitutes accepted by many clothing brands, it is leather-like material which is widely used to make hand-bags, jackets, boots and sandals. The first apple leather was created by using 15% apple waste which reduced the CO2 impact by 20%-25% compared to others. 
  • Another vegan leather which is made from the cork is also a unique form of leather which does not exactly mimic animal-based leather or some other materials, but it is one of the non-traditional options. This concept has inspired a lot of incredible brands such as, LaFlore Paris which is a popular French vegan brand. 
  • MuSkin, is one of the most popular vegan leather in the fashion industry as it has a share of 26.6% in the plant based leather market in 2021. Tests show that this eco-friendly leather alternative is as durable and attractive as traditional leather but with enhanced strength. Its earthy tone makes it an elegant choice for boho-chic shoes or beautiful handbags.
  • Leaf Leather is an innovative leather which is created from ethically harvested teak leaves. This leather is woven with fabric and sealed. Leaf Leather is one of the most eco-friendly leather alternatives. Another vegan leather which is considered by most of the people is Grain-based Leather, this idea traveled from Italy that uses Biopoly Oil which provides a classic leather look without any ethical concerns. 
  • If you have not heard about leather made from the Recycled bottles then astonishingly this eco-friendly, sustainable type of vegan leather is both stylish and good for the environment. One of the most famous of all is the Cactus Leather, the newest eco-friendly leather alternative option made from the leaves of the nopal cactus. It is 95% degradable and most preferred by the industrialists. 
  •  “Fleather” is new sustainable alternative hailing from the leather city of India, Kanpur. It is made from the enormous amount of flower waste from temples and mosques, being dumped into the River Ganga. 

In recent times, the fashion industry has faced increased scrutiny over the level of environmental damage it causes and the cost to animal lives, some of these victims are alligators and crocodiles. Crocodile skin is considered one of the world’s finest leathers and features in collections by some of the world’s most elite luxury brands. Brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Versace use crocodile skins in their highest priced items. Various methods are used to stun and kill crocodiles before their skin is taken, none of the methods we have seen can be described as ‘humane’. Some involve the severing of the spinal cord and others include skinning the animals whilst they are visibly still alive. 

Not just animals but the process of making leather has caused immense effects on the people who are involved in it. One such incident was reported from Kanpur which  is home to more than 300 tanneries that treat various animal hides and skins, manufacturing them into a wide array of leather products including shoes, clothes, belts and bags. The city’s industry has become so successful that it has recently risen to become the country’s leading leather exporter, with more than 90% of its products destined for markets in Europe and the United States. In 2008, a study by scientists at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research found that tannery workers had double the risk of morbidity. The main findings suggested that increased exposure to leather dust, which contains high levels of chromium, was responsible for the significantly higher rates of morbidity. Carcinogenic compounds and a variety of highly toxic chemicals were found in the tanning process.

The emergence of vegan leather was initially hailed as a sustainable, ethical alternative, yet its reality is more complex. While it spares animals from harm, the production of synthetic leathers involves harmful chemicals, posing health risks to both workers and consumers. Moreover, the environmental toll of these materials is considerable, with toxic byproducts and non-biodegradable components contributing to pollution and landfill issues. Despite its cruelty-free label, the processes involved often fall short of true sustainability, raising questions about its eco-friendliness. As we navigate toward a more conscientious future, true progress in ethical and environmentally friendly alternatives must prioritize health, sustainability, and animal welfare in equal measure.

Malai, derived from coconut, serves as a burgeoning dairy alternative, particularly in South India’s processing units. This creamy substitute is crafted from raw coconut material, offering a rich texture and taste akin to traditional dairy malai. Its popularity stems from being a versatile, plant-based option for various culinary uses.   

Fashion-forward companies are continuously innovating and investing in eco-friendly vegan leather alternatives, making sustainability more accessible and enjoyable. However, the term ‘sustainability’ has turned into a marketing trend, similar to ‘organic,’ prompting consumers to carefully examine the details and educate themselves on the complexities involved to avoid falling for deceptive practices. Brands must thoroughly research alternative materials, considering the negative effects of plastic-based products, making the choice between real leather and vegan options a complex decision for both brands and consumers. Responsible consumption demands vigilance, understanding, and a dedication to aligning choices with personal values.