What is vegan leather? That question is precisely what came to mind when I first heard of it around three years ago. Back then, I thought that leather could only come from animal hides. And when a friend asked me the same question, “what is vegan leather?” I told him that it was “an oxymoron.”
I was kidding, but it got me curious enough to do some research. A quick Google search for the term “what is vegan leather” came up with some interesting results. Some of what we found out may surprise you.
What Is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather is the new term for faux leather.
In other words, it does not contain any animal products. It’s a fabric that looks and may even function like real leather. It also has a plastic covering that makes the material water-resistant.
Faux leather has been around for a long time. It gained a following when Michael Jackson started wearing it. Its popularity bounced back later when top designers began using the material in the threads they were selling.
Soon, the biggest department stores began offering them as well.
Why the name change?
So it’s nothing new. However, if you think about it, the term “vegan leather” is much easier to market than “fake leather.” Plus, veganism or vegetarianism has been rapidly gaining popularity. Around 30 million American adults are already subscribing to the vegan lifestyle, and two out of every three of them are saying that their wish to protect animals is central to shifting their diets.
What Is Vegan Leather Made Of?
If animal hide isn’t used, then what is vegan leather composed of? According to the Australian Broadcasting Company, vegan leather generally has a polyester fabric that is polyurethane coating. Sometimes, manufacturers use polyvinyl chloride or PVC.
Uh-oh! There’s a catch!
There is no question that vegan leather is a whole lot kinder to animals. However, it might also not be as environmentally sound as you think.
Did you know that polyester, a kind of plastic, is the main material in vegan leather? What’s more, it is the most commonly used fabric, with a share of 49 percent of the world’s fiber production. In a year, we produce 63,000 tons of polyester.
Synthetic materials used in vegan leather can affect the environment for a very long time because they do not disintegrate. What’s more, some of the fibers go into our waterways every time you wash vegan leather.
In short, the polyester and other synthetic fibers in this material can add to the pollution in the world’s oceans.
But wait, there is non-plastic vegan leather
Aside from plastics, you can use other materials to make vegan leather. Designers and researchers have been creative in coming up with vegan leather that is both cruelty-free and more environmentally friendly.
First off, you can use cork. Cork is resistant to water and is organic. If you get tired of it, you can always recycle it. Cork oak trees can also help reduce greenhouse gases, as well as help avoid deforestation and minimize soil erosion.
For example, look at the Corkor Cork Wallet for Men. It’s water-resistant, trendy, stylish, and has a distinct look with a durable structure.
However, the holes are a dead giveaway, making it clear that its primary material is cork. These holes, however, give the wallet a one-of-a-kind look and character, the same way that the grain pattern on leather gives leather its elegant looks.
Further, there’s vegan leather made with upcycled rubber. The inner tubes of your tires look very much like leather, not to mention that it’s also tough. These make it an excellent material for products such as the Alchemy Goods Elliot Travel Kit.
Waxed cotton vegan leather
If you’re looking for a greener type of vegan leather, then you can’t go wrong with waxed cotton. This material is waterproof, easily washable, and pliable. The Walker & Hawkes Waxed Hunting Coat and Jacket is a perfect example. Waxed cotton with flannel fabric lining makes this jacket waterproof. It even comes with an optional hood.
You can wear it as you explore the great outdoors, even in the rain and against the elements.
But wait, there’s more
There are now handbags made with vegan leather that comes from the root structure of mushrooms, which are called mycelium. The mushroom leather is very durable, and has a pebbled texture and feels like foam.
If you’re finding it difficult to envision what mushroom leather looks like, Stella McCartney has the Falabella bag, which uses this material. You can see the prototype in person at the Victoria & Albert’s London exhibit. Meanwhile, another company, MuSkin, is creating vegan leather out of mushroom caps.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also lists down all the current research on different materials used in making vegan leather.
There’s kombucha tea, which researchers from the Iowa State University are making into faux teather, as well as vegan material made from coconut water, pineapple, soy, fruit waste, apples, teak, and coffee grounds, among others.
More advancements: vegan leather made in laboratories
Pretty soon, we will be seeing a type of vegan leather that is genuinely cruelty-free while also looking, feeling, and smelling like real leather.
A company called Modern Meadow has come up with a way to use yeast to produce collagen that is very much like the one found in animal hide. They then mix this collagen with a bunch of other materials to create genuine-like leather.
However, it will probably take a long time before we can get our hands on this type of vegan leather. For now, the company is still figuring out a way to mass produce this lab-grown material before making it available to their top designer-partners.
Wait, Is It Not That Different from Real Leather?
What is vegan leather and how does it compare to the real thing? Genuine leather comes from animal hides and is often more durable than the vegan variety. For that reason, actual leather products are distinctive because no two animal coats are identical.
Authentic leather can also last for years.
On the other hand, vegan leather can be much more affordable than real leather because it is mass-produced. Vegan leather is one of the most affordable leather alternatives available today.
Is vegan leather better than the real thing?
If you are looking for clothing with the look and feel of real leather but cannot condone animal cruelty, then choose vegan leather. It can be made into a stylish jacket, a bag, or wallet, or just about anything. Take for instance this crossbody bag.
This elegant-looking bag is from high-quality vegan leather, which can withstand scratches and water damage. You can wipe it with a damp cloth to clean it. Also, it comes with almost two dozen color options.
It’s great for fashion, but…
Outside of fashion and accessories, you might want to think twice about getting vegan leather products. To illustrate this point, look at protective footwear. Genuine leather is one of the materials required for protective footwear as specified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Due to its plastic raw material, vegan leather melts in some hazardous conditions. In daily life, vegan leather is also less durable than genuine leather. It can crack within a short time of use.
And unlike genuine leather, synthetic vegan leather does not contain the natural collagen fibers found in the real thing. Also, vegan leather does not develop a patina with wear or time.
In short, it doesn’t age well, the way authentic leather does.
Getting the Most out of Vegan Leather
If animal welfare is an important issue for you, then vegan leather is the material for you. Because it mostly uses plastics, it doesn’t have any animal material used in its production.
It’s cruelty-free. Add that to the lower cost of buying vegan leather products, and it’s easy to see why this material is very much in demand.
While the manufacturing processes differ, there is vegan leather that looks like the real thing, complete with the markings and grain patterns you find on genuine leather.
Also, because it’s plastic, vegan leather gives you more color choices and design options. However, knowing that vegan leather does have its limitations and shortcomings, you should take good care of it. Proper care will help your vegan leather products look great and last longer.
How to care for vegan leather
This query is probably the most often asked question after “what is vegan leather?” The biggest problem you have concerning vegan leather is that it tends to crack.
The reason for this is twofold. First, ultraviolet rays or UVB rays cause the plastic components to become brittle and break. Another reason is that the vegan leather you bought is of low quality and does not have natural fibers to strengthen it.
As such, your vegan leather bag or jacket will benefit from a regular wipe down with baby oil. Baby oil creates a protective layer that will shield the material from the harmful rays of the sun. Aside from oil, you can also use special leather conditions, the same one that you use on genuine leather.
Apart from avoiding the sun, you should always guard against color transfers when washing vegan leather. Also, avoid using bleach because it could dry vegan leather faster than you can say “oops.”
Repairing vegan leather: pray you won’t have to
With faux leather, maintenance and prevention are essential.
When the faux leather starts to crack or to peel, it may be a bit difficult to repair it. There are repair kits that you can buy that will help hide the damaged areas, but it will require utmost patience. In fixing cracked faux leather on couches, for example, you will need to trim any edges that are jutting upward then patch up the damaged area with a canvas.
Depending on how skilled you are, the entire process can leave your vegan leather looking brand new, or with visible patches that look worse than having a cracked upholstery in the first place.
What Is Vegan Leather? It Helps You Turn Your Backs on Cruelty
So what is vegan leather? It is an excellent alternative for those who want to end animal cruelty. But apart from that, it doesn’t have any clear advantage over genuine leather. Organizations like the PETA might love it, and they try to tell us that it is environmentally friendly. However, you have to remember that it’s still from plastic.
Or at least for now.
As science continues to develop vegan leather using other raw materials, we see more ecologically healthy alternatives. But, right now, because of the novel processes and materials involved in making them, these non-plastic vegan leathers are expensive.
The more modern vegan leather materials might look, smell, and feel like real leather more than ever, but they are also quite expensive, and these products are often only available from known designers. So even if you are willing to shell out more money for a completely green vegan leather, you might find it challenging to find one available for sale.
Do you have any favorite items made out of vegan leather? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.
Last update on 2021-08-03 at 15:32 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API