Consumers today are much more conscious of the ethics of what they're buying. High on the list is an approach to fashion which takes care of the environment and the people who make the things we wear. And this is where vegan leather comes in.
What is vegan leather?
All the various materials that can replace animal leather and the process of their production doesn't involve animals can be classified as vegan leather. The most widely used type of vegan leather is a non-natural one. It is usually made using plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). Although it has advantages such as high durability, low costs of production and easy maintenance, it poses a great threat to the environment. In the end, plastics are one of the least eco- friendly materials society is using. The production of PU consumes a lot of energy, water and petroleum while the process of making PVC releases dioxins into the environment. Dioxins are the most toxic chemicals known to science that cause cancers and influence immune, nervous, and reproductive systems.
Fortunately, the other side of the story is brighter. These are the natural leather alternatives that are booming. The best examples include Piñatex and cork leather. The first one is made from the fibres of pineapple leaves and it has been used already on the red carpet. Cork leather, which has a very long list of benefits, has also made its debut in high fashion thanks to the big names such as Calvin Klein, Tory Burch, or Stella McCartney.
Cork leather is one of the best leather alternatives.(©Blackwood / goblackwood.co.uk)
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world and although it is a complex issue, animal leather can be singled out as one of the contributors. This is especially the case for cheap leather, which represents the majority of leather on the market. The use of hazardous chemicals to dye the leather and the release of toxic wastewater from tanneries into local rivers are just some of the examples of the negative impact of animal leather on the environment. With the rise of the environmental consciousness of society, the use of animal leather is expected to decline.
However, damage caused by the animal leather itself is only part of the picture when it comes to the environment. In many cases, the people who work with leather and live next to the leather tanneries have the biggest price to pay. They are in the greater risk of cancer and other diseases. Vegan leather is actually about the protection of basic human rights.
Last but not least, one has to remember that there is no leather without a dead animal. As PETA exposed, the death of the animal whose skin is to be used in fashion is often accompanied by cruel practices such as skinning alive or electrocution.
The Grand View Research report identified animal rights as one of the biggest reasons behind the increase of popularity of vegan leathers. It has been estimated that over the last 10 years the number of British vegans and vegetarians increased by 360%. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Combined with the number of people who eat meat but are against animal cruelty, it shouldn't come as a surprise that fashion is becoming more vegan.
It is clear that animal leather isn't ideal. Since it is mostly used in footwear, the researchers from Grand View Research chose vegan footwear as the major driver of change. However, footwear is experiencing the shift not only because of the bad name of animal leather. There are a few other factors involved. For example, the change of fashion (people choosing sports footwear more often for work purposes) or the need to have a bigger variety of shoes imposed by climate change. Those combined with the increase in the disposable income as well as the lower price of vegan leather are responsible for the rise in vegan shoe sales.
Animal leather has served humans well for centuries, but it is clear that the intensive use of it has made it detrimental to the environment. Vegan leather is on the rise. This trend shows that consumers are caring more and more about the consequences of what they wear.