Gen Z and millennials are the catalysts for facilitating the acceptance of previously marginalised ideas, like veganism. Leather is one of the most horrid materials for the environment as animal skin is turned into finished leather with a variety of much more dangerous substances including mineral salt, formaldehyde, coal tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes and finishes (some of which are cyanide based). Many brands have turned to high quality animal free leather made from many different materials including non animal microfibres, recycled nylon, polyurethane (PU), and even plants including mushrooms and fruit, as cleaner and healthier alternatives.
The leather dilemma
Cow leather is biodegradable, it’ll disappear of the face of this planet. It is also a durable material and has longevity that plastic doesn’t have but at the same time plastic is a replacement for animal cruelty but is not biodegradable.
Fast fashion uses Petroleum for the production of cheap leather, which also a bad alternative for the environment.
In their treatment they also produce very toxic chemicals but most importantly, it will take forever to biodegrade given their plastic component (PVC) or (PU).
So what’s the most viable option?
PETA approved vegan leather
According to PETA, Vegan leather is often made from polyurethane, a polymer that can be made to order for any designer’s whim. It can also be made from innovative and sustainable materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, other fruit waste, and recycled plastic and used to create products that put animal skins to shame.
Stella McCartney is on the growing list of designers who feature only vegan leather in their collections. Tesla recently became the latest luxury automaker to offer vegan leather seating, joining BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Ferrari.
Can vegan leather offer a sustainable solution?
New trend: Vegan fashion
Just as veganism has taken the world by storm, vegan fashion was the inevitable next trend in the realm of fashion. With a new choice in conscious clothing, the conscious consumer has the choice to buy clothing and accessories made from cruelty-free sources which includes no animal harm nor cruel testing in the making of the material.
From only producing high end clothing made from animal skin like leather, luxury houses have gone a long way by vowing to limit their use of animal skin, leather or completely eradicating animal cruelty. 2018 saw a number of fashion houses pledging to ban fur and exotic skins from their collections. Gucci, Chanel, Burberry and Versace are just a few of the major luxury brands which promised to no longer indulge in the use of fur or skins.
Well known high street brands like H&M, New look, M&S, Topshop have continued the vegan movement.
Topshop has joined the trend with its inaugural vegan shoe collection, PETA approved. PETA has also recognised Marks & Spencer for its vegan efforts by awarding the British brand with the ‘Vegan- Friendly High Street Retailer’ title.
The process of making plant based leather is an expensive and time consuming process which is why many brands specially fast fashion brands don’t use such biodegradable materials and turn to pleather (plastic leather) and as mentioned before, luxury brands have taken the first step in the making of this biodegradable leather.
Fast fashion or high street brands are using petroleum in the use of faux leather due to cheap production and cost means, which means the cost of PU, PVC or other plastic based materials will be a more cheaper option to a consumer. People who can’t afford expensive leathers or plant based alternatives will naturally lean towards the obvious and cheaper option.
Brands are taking bold and greener initiatives to lead the way to change whether it’s because they’re following the voice of the change or for the greener good. Newer and creative options have come into the market like- Apple fibers, tree bark leather, waxed
cotton, recycled rubber, cork, paper etc.
The only problem is that many of those eco friendly vegan products that are out there cost you close to or if not the same as real leather. Brands that think they’re doing justice to the whole leather dilemma by making plastic based leathers are not doing justice to the sustainable and biodegradable theme.
Whether you’re a lover of the real thing or a lover of the environment, the choice lies with you, the consumer.