Let’s take a look at a question many people in the garment industry and beyond have been asking themselves. Is vegan leather more sustainable than animal leather?
Well, it actually isn’t as simple as you might think.
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The meat industry has received a lot of critic in recent years. People are starting to understand how much CO2 emission and pollution meat and animal farming are causing every single year.
Animal agriculture is usually said to be responsible for around 15% of the world’s emission of greenhouse gasses, but some scientists claim it is actually around 50%. So no wonder, the production of leather isn’t exactly great for the environment.
How sustainable is vegan leather actually
In recent years the fashion industry has been working on greener alternatives and vegan leather, meaning leather that isn’t made out of an animal product, is one of the innovative alternatives now available on the market.
But when new fabrics are released, and especially one that claims to be a sustainable option, I think you should take a closer look at it and identify how sustainable it actually is. So that is what we are going to do here.
First of all vegan leather is of course better for the animals, since no animals are harmed in the process. Considering how bad most animals are treated in the animal agriculture industry, this already makes vegan leather a much more appealing option.
But we also need to take a closer look at how the production of the fabric is affecting the environment.
The most common leather alternative is made out of petroleum-based plastic, called polyvinyl chloride, which isn’t particularly great for the environment. Polyvinyl chloride is actually just as bad for the environment as any other synthetic material.
Want to learn more? Then check out our guide to sustainable fashion here.
Clothing made out of synthetic material, such as polyvinyl chloride is a big source of microplastic pollution, and therefore the production of the most common fake leather alternative isn’t your best environmentally friendly go-to fabric.
In conclusion, you can say, that vegan leather is much better for animal rights and animal care, but the most common kinds aren’t great for the environment.
Is vegan leather biodegradable?
As stated above, the most commonly used vegan leather is made out of polyvinyl chloride, which is carbon-intensive. In other words: The vegan leather you come across in regular stores is not biodegradable.
The synthetic materials used to make vegan leather aren’t able to biodegrade, and therefore the fabric only adds to the toxins in landfills. So you shouldn’t just buy vegan leather without looking at what it is made of and how it was produced – because it might not be as sustainable as you think.
Ethical leather alternative: Pineapple leaves, cork, or apple peels
Vegan leather often contains plastic and sometimes most of an ethical leather product is made out of plastic. But in the last couple of years, both scientists and prominent fashion brands and designers how experimented with the use of other materials that can make vegan leather more eco-friendly.
One of the new materials used to produce environmentally friendly fabric is called Pinatex. This is a natural material, which is made out of the fibers from pineapple leaves. It is a non-woven material, and the process of making it into a bag is much less polluting than the usual synthetic fabrics used to make vegan leather.
While we are talking about fruits, let’s have a look at another leather alternative – one made out of apple waste. A cellulose-based material called Apple ten Lork is also used as a substitute for leather and is even used to produce “leather” sofas and other furniture.
But one of the most popular vegetable leathers at the moment is actually made out of mushrooms. It is called Muskin, and you might have heard of it, if you are interested in the subject, since the material seems to bee at everyones lips at the moments.
Muskin is made of the cap of the gigantic mushroom species, Phellinus ellipsoideus, which you can find in subtropic forests. Thanks to its surface and the material it is used of, it is ideal to make vegan leather of – and a vegan leather that is sustainable.
Is vegan leather good quality?
As with all other kinds of fabric and material the quality of vegan leather can vary. The quality depends on multiple factors such as how it is produced, what materials it is made of, and how it’s processed.
If you compare the quality of ethical leather with the quality of real leather you will of course see a difference. Vegan leather is often thinner and lighter, which makes it easier to work within fashion processes.
Some will argue that ethical leather tends to break easier, because of this, but fashion designers, such as Steall McCartney have experimented with creating sustainable fake leather of high quality. So today you can actually find ethical leather of very high quality that also looks good.
How is vegan leather made?
The production of vegan leather of course varies according to which material is used to make the item. But most synthetic leather is produced by the use of chemicals, where the bonding together of a plastic coating to a fabric backing is the most commonly used method to make fake fur.
The types of materials and the types of plastic used in this process is what determines whether the production of the “leather” is sustainable and eco-friendly.
Is ethical leather expensive?
Well, most vegan leather won’t’ be as expensive as real leather, since the materials used aren’t as expensive as animal skin. Of course, the price can vary and some synthetic leather might be more expensive than real leather if the quality of the first one is much better and innovative.
As with everything else, you pay a higher price for quality and brand names, and the ethical leather you find at Stella Mccartnye’s stores will probably be more expensive than the ones you find in H&M. But you are able to buy fake leather on a budget, and it isn’t more expensive than a lot of other material you find out there. It all comes down to the quality and what materials it is made of.
Is vegan leather waterproof?
Yes, most fake leather is waterproof primarily because of the plastic coating, and therefore it doesn’t need the application of a waterproof spray to resist water – but you probably shouldn’t use it as a swimsuit material, that I can’t imagine that would be very comfortable.
Th fact the fake leather is waterproof also makes it a lot easier to clean and keep it that way. That can actually be quite a positive thing in the long run, and something you might appreciate 😉
So is Vegan leather good for the environment?
Now we have looked at fake leather vs real leather. We have discussed it’s quality and price, and we have investigated what it is made of.
So what is the conclusion? Is it really that good for the environment? Can it fall under the category sustainable clothing material? Well, first of all no animals are harmed during the production, which is a great thing. So if you care about animal sights vegan leather is of course the ideal alternative.
When discussing how sustainable the material is, we have to take production and the materials used to the produce it into mind. Is it made out of an innovative and biodegradable material? or is it entirely made out of plastic, which of course isn’t biodegradable (unless you wait a thousand years).
Animal farming is one of the biggest to climate change, and therefore real leather would never be a sustainable choice. Therefore it is great that scientists and fashion brands are developing new leather alternatives that don’t affect the earth in such a harmful way, and many of the new innovative vegan leather alternatives would fall under the categorization of sustainable clothing.
The conclusion must be, that you have to look at how the vegan leather is produced and what it consists of to be able to decide, whether it is a sustainable material.