So Long, Leather: A Guide to Cutting-Edge Vegan Materials

The struggle is real: you don’t want to be responsible for animals’ death, but you don’t want to contribute to Earth pollution either. Real leather and faux leather can both be very harmful to our planet, and as conscious women, we’re called to make conscious choices that reduce the number of chemicals and polluting agents out there.

Why would you even choose faux leather if you’re concerned about the environment? Shouldn’t you just go for real leather?

Real Leather vs Vegan Leather

A whopping 60% of the world’s leather production comes from India, China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The reason is that it’s cheaper and easier to produce leather in these countries – they have very few laws regarding the fair treatment of animals. If you think that India should be all right because cows are sacred there, you are wrong. Cows are sacred only to Hinduists: they farm cattle anyway and then transport them to other provinces where they can kill them according to the law.

I honestly don’t want to list all the ways in which animals are mistreated because if you are reading this article you are probably already aware of that.  What you might not know yet is that the tanning process in leather production is one of the most toxic industries and one with the highest output of chemicals in the environment (90% of Bangladesh’s leather workers die before the age of 50 before of exposure to toxic materials). This causes pollution and the death of other animals, and it creates a whole lot of disease in humans, too.

If you think about it, leather is skin and it should rot as any dead animal body. That skin goes through a long artificial process to make it durable and wearable. The tanning process involves formaldehyde, chemical dyes, alcohol, formic acid, sodium acid, naphthalene, and chromium.

But tanning isn’t the only villain here. the environmental cost of the leather industry would be really high even without the tanning process – it is of course intertwined with the meat and dairy industry, which are the top cause of global warming (farm animals are the first cause of methane emissions in the atmosphere) as well as deforestation.

 

Cuttin-edge vegan leather options: Pinatex tm

 

On the other hand, what we call “vegan leather” can cause a lot of harm to the environment too. The most-used materials that resemble leather are PVC and polyurethane.
Polyvinyl chloride is nothing short of pure plastic, and while it’s completely waterproof, it’s not breathable and therefore isn’t always very comfortable to wear. The production process releases a lot of toxic chemicals into the environment and the disposal of PVC is no less harmful either. Some of those chemicals are dioxins, chlorine, and phthalates.
PVC is also one of the less recycle-friendly materials because it contains additives such as lead and cadmium (which by the way end up in our landfills and threaten to pollute water supplies).

This Greenpeace report shows that a very low percentage of PVC is actually used in clothing – polyurethane is a much more common option nowadays. It’s still made from oil but it is much more sustainable than PVC. For once, it can be recycled and given a second life. It can also be used for power generation. Last but not least, the newest generations of PU are biodegradable: the materials are made in such a way that given some specific conditions (darkness or moisture to name a few) they degrade in the landfills without releasing any harmful chemical into the soil.

Are you disheartened already? Don’t be – sustainable vegan, and human-friendly alternatives to real leather and PVC abound on today’s innovative market..

Conscious & Good Vegan Leather Options

We walked on the Moon, we went from massive computers that filled a whole room to smartphones in less than twenty years, the ozone hole has finally started to close. These are all good news, but my favourite piece of good news is that we have a lot of good, green and stylish leather alternatives these days.

Recycled poly – like I mentioned above, PU can be recycled and given a second life. Many vegan brands like to use recycled materials for their clothes and accessories and we love that they care about the environment and not just the animals (in the end, aren’t the animals living in the environment too?). This is an example of recycled polyester: Dinamica, an ecological microfibre made in Italy that looks and feels like suede.
Some brands that use recycled plastic in their products: Matt and Nat (recycled PET lining), Cykochik (recycled PET canvas), Gunas (recycled PET lining), Freedom of Animals (recycled PET lining and recycled veg-based dyes).
 
Recycled rubber – Maybe we should use the word “repurposed” instead of recycled, but you get the drill. Rubber (for example tires, hoses or industrial waste) can be repurposed into accessories, saving a lot of space in the landfills and having a virtually eternal life because it’s very resistant.
Some brands that use recycled rubber in their products: MeDusa Bags, Alchemy Goods, Landfill Dzine
 
Glazed cotton – Canvas is a very common eco-friendly material. It’s commonly used in coats, jackets, and bags.
 
Muskin – An avant-garde material made in Italy from mushrooms. This very peculiar fake leather looks and feels a lot like real leather, and it’s even softer to the skin. It doesn’t have any toxic chemical in it and it also limits bacteria proliferation thanks to its natural origin. You can even order it and start making your own muskin accessories here. Brands that already use Muskin: VeLove, Lucky Nelly.

 

 

Pinatex – Much like Muskin, Pinatex uses a very natural source to create a leather-like material. You guessed it, it’s pineapple! Pinatex is made of 80% pineapple leaves fibers and 20% PLA (a bioplastic made from renewable sources such as sugar cane, corn starch or tapioca roots).  You can buy Pinatex supplies here.
Brands that use Pinatex: Vegatar (bags), Nae Shoes, Vegetarian Shoes, Muso Koroni.
 
Flexible stone – This one is really amazing. There’s a stone that can be cut very thin, so thin that it becomes flexible and sewable! Now, how’s that for avant-garde? Have a look at the different uses you can make of flexible stone here.
One brand that already uses it in fashion is Luckynelly.
 
Cork – Ethically cut from cork trees, this material is environmentally friendly, soft to the touch, easy-cleaned, waterproof and durable. It’s similar to leather for quality and durability; that’s why it’s a very common material to replace the cruelty-ridden animal skin. Almost all cork used for production comes from cork trees in Portugal.
Cork brands: Corkor,  Portugalia Cork,  Rok Cork, Corature, as well as Nina Bernice and Jentil
 
Barkcloth – Much like cork, barkcloth is made out of tree bark. Its production is eco-friendly as the bark is extracted from the trees and boiled – no chemicals are used in the process. Barkcloth doesn’t fray and it’s waterproof. This material was frequently used in the Fifties, so you might find a lot of vintage items made of barkcloth (mostly bags).
Learn more about barkcloth here and have a look at this raincoat made exclusively of barkcloth  here.
 
Jacroki –  A material made from cellulose that is EU Ecolabel certified. 25% of the cellulose comes from FSC forests (ethically grown and harvested) and no chlorine is used to whiten the cellulose.
Look at how this brand is using Jacroki (and recycled seatbelts!) or learn more about Jacroki.

 
Designers looking to start a fashion label are spoiled for choice when it comes to cruelty-free and sustainable alternatives to leather. The options are out there, it’s just a matter of starting taking advantage of them.

 

Header photo by Daniela Cuevas via Unsplash. Previously published at StyleOnVega

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Elisa Bini

Elisa is the founder of StyleOnVega.com and author of Your Cruelty-Free Wardrobe. She’s a costume designer, a fashion and lifestyle blogger and a yoga enthusiast. She has a vision: the human race is living on a healthy planet while not harming any other living creature, other humans included. She’s determined to fulfill this vision and spread the love through her blog and her books. Buy her book here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WDIJ8Z0.

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