UPDATE: We have had news from the brand that the court case was won – the court ruled that “apple leather” was an acceptable term to describe vegan bags. A win for progress!
In rather absurd news from the fashion industry, a vegan fashion startup is being targeted by a leather-producing giant over a fabric name. This David-versus-Goliath scenario sees German vegan fashion brand Nuuwaï, whom we included in our edit of the best apple-leather products, being taken to court by the German Leather Federation (VDL) for…using the term “apple leather” to describe their bags. The VDL’s motivation is – wait for it – that the term “apple leather” is misleading, and that consumers might not realise that they are not, in fact, buying a dead animal’s skin.
Nuuwaï CEO Svenja Detto tells Vilda: “The German Leather Federation (VDL) sent us a letter a couple of weeks ago asking us to sign a cease and desist form. They argued that the term “leather” can only be used to describe material that comes from an animal and that “apple leather” is misleading the consumers since they will expect animal leather. ”
*insert facepalm emoji here*
The number-one reason why this lawsuit borders on the surreal is that…nothing about Nuuwaï’s communication can possibly be seen as misleading. The PETA-Approved Vegan brand is very clear in the Materials section on their website that the material is plant-based. When it comes to how exactly apple leather is made, the brand could not be any clearer or more detailed. Frequently using the word “vegan” in their communication and description of themselves is another way that Nuuwaï is transparent with their production methods.
So what should Nuuwaï – and at this point, other brands that use apple leather and similar vegan materials, call their fabrics, according to the VDL? Svenja continues: “We spoke to them and asked them what we should call our material and they said the only appropriate term to use in Germany is synthetic leather (“kunstleder” in German). We don’t think that synthetic leather would be a good description of our material since it contains organic components and is not a regular synthetic leather, and that term would be confusing to the consumer. We did not sign their cease and desist form and because of that, the matter will be discussed at the regional court in Hanover tomorrow (editor’s note: 20th August) at noon.”
In a time when transparency is being largely discussed in the fashion industry, more brands than ever are converting to animal-friendly practices and events such as Helsinki Fashion Week are banning leather from their catwalks – which of course terrifies the industry. This year Australia saw a significant drop in leather prices, as vegan leathers continue to gain ground. This is of course enough to send the leather trade into a frenzy over defending its profits by any means possible – including attacking material names.
The truth is that whatever you call them, vegan leathers are gaining popularity thanks to the growing ethical concerns of customers who have realised that if meat is terrible for the environment, then of course leather isn’t any different – and with studies proving the environmental damage of leather, it is steadily heading for the history books. Today’s conscious consumers also don’t want to support an industry that kills over one billion animals every year, when we have options such as cork, Piñatex, wine leather, mushroom leather and apple leather. These vegan material innovations are set to be worth $85 billion by 2025 – a date that is rapidly approaching, and has the animal leather industry shaking.
But as sustainable materials grow, consumers get more savvy about fabric provenance, and it could be argued that expecting them not to know the difference between a cow’s skin and a plant-based material is patronising and incorrect. Especially when speaking to a customer base that is knowledgeable and read-up on ethical material innovation, which is an apt description of the customers who choose apple leather.
Svenja agrees: “Apple leather is a term that many people know, use and search for. People are not confused by it, and it’s not misleading in our opinion, because vegan leather alternatives are more and more common now and many people are using terms like “vegan leather” or “apple leather” in their everyday life. We also explain the production of our materials thoroughly on our website, state our PETA-certification and don’t believe that anyone would think our bags are made of animal-based leather”.
And we at Vilda believe that anyone producing animal leather should (well, stop – but also) call their products what they are: dead animal skin. Anything else would mislead people into thinking that animals’ body parts are fabric, which is simply not the case. We wouldn’t want consumers to be misled, right?
VDL have been contacted for comment
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All photos courtesy of Nuuwaï