Portugal Has Banned 'Vegan Leather'. Should We?

What even is "vegan leather" anyway?
LightFieldStudios via Getty Images/iStockphoto

Portugal has banned the use of the phrase “vegan leather” to describe leather-look products – and some are asking if the UK should follow suit.

The Portuguese government claims the term is “misleading” and now, any company that uses prefixes such as “vegan” or “synthetic” alongside the word “leather” can face a fine.

Following the news, Leather UK, the trade association for the leather industry, posted a Twitter thread asking its followers if the UK should also ban the phrase.

The organisation shared a link to their own research, which found over half of British consumers are confused about the term “vegan leather”.

For those confused, vegan leather is essentially faux leather – a product such as a bag, trainers or jacket that’s designed to look and feel like regular leather, without the use of animal by-products.

“There is a great variation in price and some alternatives are claimed to be much more sustainable than others,” Samantha Calvert, a spokesperson from the Vegan Society, previously told HuffPost.

Some products listed as “vegan leather” are made using manufacturing processes that utilise natural materials. They might be made from Piñatex, for example, which is a natural textile made from pineapple leaf fibre, or Muskin, which is derived from mushrooms.

Other vegan leather products contain rubber and cork, while some are made entirely from polyurethane or polyester – two common types of plastic.

In other words, you might buy vegan leather to save the planet, only to unwittingly contribute to the mass production of more plastic.

It’s for this reason that some people think the term “vegan leather” is misleading – though Portugal may well have banned the phrase in part as a move to help protect its large leather industry.

Whether or not we should ban the term is, of course, subjective. But we’re unlikely to see a universal ban, considering the European Parliament rejected a proposal to ban the words “sausage” and “burger” to describe vegan and vegetarian products.

Climate activist and vegan Venetia La Manna previously told HuffPost that she personally opts to use vintage (real) leather, rather than vegan leather.

“It’s a decision that divides the vegan community, and one that means some vegans would argue I’m no longer in a place to call myself vegan – which I totally understand,” she said.

“Ultimately, I’m vegan for planetary reasons as much as I am for ethical reasons, so my main goal when it comes to fashion and accessories is not to buy new.

“We are at peak ‘stuffocation’ and anything ‘new’ has gone through a process - be it in production, shipping, marketing, which adds to the burning of precious fossil fuels.”

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