Vegan Leather: Everything you need to know + TOP 7 Fabrics

Clemens
18. May 2019

Introduction

Since more and more people are become vegan for such products have grown a lot. Vegan leather has gained attention over the past couple years and designers as well as brands all over the world startet offering vegan leather products. But what is vegan leather exactly and why should we bother switching to it?

Probably the most important question for the customer how is it feel and last with regards to durability and quality. All these questions plus vegan leather product recommendations are answered in this article. 

What is vegan leather?

The term “Vegan Leather” is often referred to products that feel like animal leather or are supposed to imitate / substitute leather but are entirely vegan. No animals are harmed or killed during the process of making it and the materials are therefore 100% vegan. Since the definition means it just has to be vegan there are a lot of vegan leathers out there.

What is vegan leather made of?

Vegan Leather is not made of one material or fabric per se, it is rather a term used for a wide variety of materials that are vegan and feel just like leather. These materials do not use or involve any animals or animal products during the manufacturing process. Since there are quite a few on the market we have listed the most common and practical vegan leather fabrics below to give an idea what is actually possible.

Side Note: Many people refer to pu leather when they are talking about vegan leather because it is perhaps the most common used vegan leather fabric. This might lead to confusions since there are many other alternatives available.

TOP 7 Vegan Leather Fabrics

There is a lot of experimentation and research going on when it comes to vegan leather all over the worlds. Scientists are constantly trying to improve the quality, durability, feels as well as sustainability of vegan leathers to set new standards for the market. Since there are quite a few vegan leather fabrics out there we have listed the most common, practical and promising vegan leather alternatives.

PU / Polyurethane Leather

Probably the most common vegan leather is pu leather or polyurethane leather. It has been on the market for quite a long time. Polyurea, as it often called in other industries, has been originally used in the construction and engineering field for coating all kinds of things. It is an ultra durable and long lasting “plastic” that has innovated a whole industry.

Pu leather is also used for vegan leather products and is probably one of the most used materials right know. It is also quite durable when used for vegan leather products. Usually it lasts quite long when treated correctly.

Since it is an artificial man made material it is not really sustainable per se. A lot of chemicals are used for the manufacturing process and it is obviously the opposite of biodegradable.  It is not easy to recycle and requires quite a lot of resources to make. Compared to animal leather it is still better with regards to ethics and impact on the environment.

When bought brand new in the shop it has a. very synthetic and plastic kind of smell which goes away after a couple of days or week. After that the smell is neutral and it lasts quite long without having to treat it with special pastes or anything like that. It is also water resistant and very light. It might look very similiar, especially from distance, to real leather but does not feel the same. It is not as soft and feels a little more artificial. 

Pinatex / Pineapple Leather

Moving on the our favorite material at the moment – pineapple leather (also called pinatex). These leather fabric is literally made from recycled pineapple leaves that are normally thrown away after harvesting the pineapples. Our whole leather strap collection is based on pinatex and we simply love it.

In order to make it the pineapple leaves get harvested, dried and the fibre is taken from them. The fibre of the pineapple leaves is basically the core resource used for the manufacturing process of pinatex making it a natural. Compared to pu leather it is more natural, eco friendly and overall sustainable. 

Furthermore local farming communities in the philippines now have an extra income source by process the leaves. Ananas Anam the original company behind it ensures all workers are treated correctly and get paid fair wages. Pinatex is a rather sustainable, ethical and eco friendly leather alternatives that is quite promising.

The durability and quality if treated correctly is quite good. Especially when treated with otter wax it gets even more water resistant and lasts longer. The feel is quite soft, not like leather, but it feels very nice on skin. The smell is very neutral and natural, almost non existent.

With the current formulation it is still not bio degradable though.

pinatex pineapple leather

PVC Leather

PVC Leather is another artificial plastic like fabric that is often used for vegan leather products. It is similar to pu leather with regards to the feel and look. But during the manufacturing process more chemicals are used and other toxic substances like dioxine are part of it. This is makes it, although vegan, suboptimal for as a leather replacement. It is still not sustainable because dioxine is not only toxic for humans but also the environment.

Mushroom Leather

Mushroom leather is another great natural leather alternative made from mycelium. It very much feels like real leather, lasts very long and is very versatile in use. Currently all kinds of leather goods like shoes, handbags, belts and wallets are made from mushroom leather. Mycoworks is currently the leading company when it comes to mushroom leather.

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Cork Leather

Cork Leather is quite unique when it comes to vegan leather alternatives because it really feels like cork rather than leather. Still it is considered to be one of the best leather alternatives. It is made from the bark of the cork oak tree.

Used for all kinds of leather products it is very durable and long lasting. It is flexible, water resistant and does not crack or wear out easily. 

On top of that is a very natural fabric and does not require a lot of resources to make. no chemicals are used during the manufacturing process. The trees are also not harmed when the cork is “harvested”. It actually increases the lifespan by up to 300 years.

Kombucha Leather

Kombucha is absolutely trending right now. Not only the beverage itself but the leather that can be made with a similar recipe. It is similar because the base for making it is the same:

  • Water
  • Kombucha Tea
  • Sugar

After leaving this mixture for a couple weeks bacteria strains start to form a little coat that is flexible but still durable. As seen in the video, depending on how you process it, the substance can be used for a lot of thing including leather. Since there are so many outcomes when it comes to kombucha leather there needs to be more research done.

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Grape / Wine Leather

Leather made from grapes is probably the newest invention on the market right now. Is is not available to the public yet but first trials seem to be very promising. Researches from Italy it will be released for mass production in late 2020 / early 2021. Grape leather is 100% vegan, eco friendly, bio degradable and natural. 

In 2017 the company VEGEA already won the global change award and was rewarded with 300.00€. They also won the Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation program. The company has also been recognized by the European Parliament as one of the best start-ups of the new millennium.

They use leftovers from the wine industry and use them for their leather products.

Why choose Vegan Leather? 3 Benefits

First of all because of ethics. This should be common sense but still a lot of people still go for animal leather because of tradition and their are used to it. Looking at animal leather objectively it is very unethical. To slaughter innocent animals just because we are used to it although there are better more ethical alternatives out there is absolutely ridiculous. Some animals like snakes are even bred just for their skin. This is very common in the leather industry.

Secondly there is a huge problem when it comes to the environmental impact of animal leather of any kind. Over 250 different toxic heavy metals and chemicals are used during the manufacturing process. This includes substances such as aldehyde, cyanide and lead. This does a lot of damage not only to the environment but is also harmful for the workers that manufacture leather. To feed animals, make them grow just to slaughter them and use the skin is a very resource demanding process itself. It is way smarter to use a byproduct of a natural growing plant and process that to leather (pineapples, mushrooms, grapes…).

Third point is a logical consequence of the first two points and that is sustainability. Animal leather is not sustainable because it does not naturally renew itself and requires a lot of resources to make. Sustainability is becoming more and more important due to global warming and a lot of environmental issues. This forces us to be more conscious when it comes to the way we live and think more long term. Vegan Leather, although it still has a lot of room for improvement, is already the future and there is no way around t.

Durability & Quality

When it comes to the overall durability and lifespan of vegan leather there are a lot of differences amongst vegan leather. Some have been developed and improved over years and have a very good lifespan such as pu leather. Some still need more research in order to compete wit the longevity of leather such as grape / wine leather. So it really depends on the type of vegan leather one is referring to.

Furthermore it is a challenge to make a product as long lasting and durable as possible and require as little chemicals / resources as possible while making it still recycleable and biodegradable. This is an ongoing challenge that scientists have and will face. To this date there is no perfect solution that will hit all these requirements.

Sustainability & Ethics

As mentioned above generally speaking vegan leather is way more sustainable and than animal based leather. It is also more ethical since no animals are harmed or killed for the manufacturing process. 

When it comes to sustainability there are still huge differences between the different kinds of vegan leather. So just because something is 100% vegan does not mean it is 100% sustainable. There are still differences and that one need to pay attention to. Especially since sustainability is an increasing concern when it comes (leather) fashion.

How to take care of vegan leather?

In order to get the most out of vegan leather one should really take care of it as much as possible. Obviously this goes for all leather products.

In our experience a great product that significantly improves the overall quality and lifespan is “Otter Wax”. It makes the leather smoother, more flexible and increases water resistance. It is very cheap, can be applied very easily and is of course vegan.

Vegan Leather Products

After mentioning all those great things about vegan leather and the potential it has for the future we decided to feature our favorite products on the market right now. All of these are entirely vegan and use different kinds of vegan leather for the manufacturing process.

Vegan Shoes

Shoes are the ultimate test for a fabric when it comes to durable and longevity. When a material is suitable for shoes it usually can be used for other products as well. Will’s Vegan Shoes is a great company based in the UK that offers a wide variety of vegan leather shoes. Especially business and suit shoes are very nice. on top of that they are also trying to be as eco friendly as possible according to their website.

They mainly use plant based italian leather for their products.

Will’s Vegan Leather Shoes

Vegan Wallets

Wallets are another product that is mostly made from animal leather. Over the past couple of years many brands like Corkor, Matt & Nat and use have used materials like cork, pu and pinatex to create outstanding ethical wallets. There are also new wallets coming out made from wood leather. But the market is already huge and vegan wallets are definitely an up and coming trend.

The Future of Vegan Leather

We certainly believe that vegan leather is the future and animal based leather will be gone within the next decades, especially for common leather products that sell in large quantities such as shoes, wallets, bags and belts. Furthermore leather will not only be vegan but also sustainable. With the ongoing improvement of current process as well as the development of new leather alternatives less resources will be used during the manufacturing process and the impact on the environment will lessen. We will update this article continuously and are excited what is coming out soon.

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