If you’re planning on buying an ‘alternative’ to leather, make sure you know exactly what its manufacturing actually involves

When someone says ‘leather’ we automatically know what they are talking about – namely, a beautiful, durable, sustainable material made by treating animal (usually cow) hide.

But what is vegan leather? Well, basically it could be anything from a plant-based fabric to a fossil fuel derived one. And the chances are it will be less durable, not as beautiful and nowhere near as sustainable as the real thing.

Providing no animal products are used at any stage of manufacture, marketing mavens often refer to material designed to look and feel like real leather as vegan leather.[1]

Vegetable matter used includes pineapple leaf fibre (Piñatex) and mushrooms (Muskin). Other plant-based materials use rubber or cork, but many are made entirely from polyurethane or polyester, both plastics derived from oil.

The problem with newer materials is that it is not yet clear how biodegradable they are. Although they are natural, the structure of the plant material used is changed so dramatically they do not rot in the same way as vegetation.

The content of plastic alternatives can vary hugely from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some companies use recycled plastic while others use newly created materials. But either way, they will all take up to 500 years to biodegrade.

Leather has been defined for millennia as animal skin dressed (cured) for use.  The use of the oxymoronic term ‘vegan leather’ obscures origin, at worst it is made from oil-derived plastic and at best, it is still not clear how long it takes to biodegrade.

While there is still a lot that is not clear about synthetic alternatives, we know plenty about real leather. It is a by-product and using it saves hides from being dumped, usually in landfill. It is natural, and durable and it biodegrades up to 50 times quicker than synthetic alternatives. We know what we’re choosing!



[1] In some countries, including Italy, with a long history of leather use and production the use of leather to describe materials that do not originate from curing animal skins is considered a deceptive practice and is illegal.