Vegan Leather: Not only is it a more humane choice, it could be argued that it’s the only type of leather that can contribute to biodiversity, and to a brighter future for our fragile planet.
What is Vegan Leather and What is it made of?
According to an article entitled “What is Faux Leather Fabric: Properties, How it’s Made and Where”, “Synthetic leather came onto the international fabric scene with the invention of Naugahyde in 1920. This substance was formulated by U.S. Rubber Company, which had been founded in 1892. After years of dedicated research, the engineers at U.S. Rubber developed this viable alternative to leather, which was originally used in handbags.” i
Why Using Animal Leather Is Not Beneficial To The Environment
According to PETA, “most leather produced and sold in the U.S. is made from the skins of cattle and calves, but leather is also made from sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. Other species are hunted and killed specifically for their skins, including zebras, bison, kangaroos, elephants, crocodiles, alligators, ostriches, lizards, and snakes.” ii Too many exotic animals are killed because many people cannot go without leather. Granted that leather gives the wearer a sense of style, sophistication and wealth, consumers should start looking at other alternatives which are less costly and which look and feel just like real leather.
In addition, an article called “How Many Cows Does It Take?” stated that “18 leather shoes take one cow hide on an average. In 2015, 2.2 billion shoes were sold in the United States. Assuming 25% of them were made from leather, 550 million leather shoes were produced, which equates to 30 million hides.” iii So, is there a need to wear real leather as many people cannot tell the difference just by looking at it?
The Independent has reported that “Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together. Burning fuel to produce fertiliser to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it – and clearing vegetation for grazing – produces 9 per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. And their wind and manure emit more than one third of emissions of another, methane, which warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.” iv Now, considering that such livestock are also bred for meat, and the hide is considered the end-product of the production line, 18% is still a huge number.
Fortunately, there are some innovative brands which are producing vegan leather without the need for animals to die.
Three Brands that produce Vegan Leather
Veggani’s products are made from various types of vegan leather. The first kind is made from polyurethane and synthetic microfibers called Microfiber Leather where the “microfiber strands are thinner than a strand of silk and 1/15th the diameter of a human hair. This material is the most luxurious vegan leather available today.”
Another type of vegan leather produced by Veggani is Apple Peel Leather which is bio-based and consists of industrial waste from apple peel harvesting from a juicing company in the Italian Alps. The peel is made into powder after going through a drying process. Sheets of leather are produced by mixing the powder with PU (Polyurethane) which are then sewn into bags. This line which is called “Apple Skin” and “is a USDA Certified Bio-Based Product with 31% composed of apple peels. This material also holds the VEGANOK Certificate – International Vegan Standard.”
The third kind is called Cork Leather which is gathered from trees without killing them. Therefore, this is the most sustainable method in producing non-animal leather. Veggani stated that “Cork is a great leather alternative due to it’s impermeable and moisture-resistant properties.”
PU Leather is the fourth type and “is a composite material made of one or more layers of PU and a woven or non-woven textile. PU is known to be a greener alternative to PVC Leather in both production and after-care. It does not require the same chemical plasticizers and will eventually degrade over time.”
Lastly, we have Faux Fur which “is made using acrylic & polymeric fibers that are processed, dyed, and cut to emulate real fur. Our faux fur material feels like a fuzzy teddy bear and has black & blue-colored roots to promote its synthetic, cruelty-free nature.”
Their website states that “Piñatex® is a natural, sustainably-sourced, cruelty free material” vi which is made “from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant. These leaves are a by-product from existing pineapple harvest, so the raw material requires no additional environmental resources to produce.” vii
After extracting the long fibers from the pineapple leaves, they are dried and purified in order to extract a fluff-like material which is “mixed with a corn based polylactic acid (PLA) and undergoes a mechanical process to create Piñafelt, a non-woven mesh which forms the base of all Piñatex collections.” The Piñafeltare then shipped to Spain or Italy for the final stage of production. Well-known brands who use Piñatexinclude Hugo Boss and H&M. viii
Piñatex does not produce finished goods like bags, clothes and shoes. Instead, the Piñatex Leather is sold to famous brands which use the material to make their own products.
Like Piñatex, Desserto does not manufacture clothing and accessories. The leather they produce is taken from their own cactus farm in Zacatecas, Mexico, where they “cut only the mature leaves of the plant without damaging the cactus itself, so every 6-8 months (they) will (have) a new harvest. Also, (they) do not use an irrigation system for the cactus, it grows with rainwater and the earth minerals which are rich in Zacatecas and great for the variety of cactus that we plant. The selected cactus is very resilient and strong, it can handle low temperatures during winter without dying and its thorns are very small so it’s easier and safer for our agriculture team to harvest.“ The cactus plants need to be planted only once and can last for 8 years.
According to Desserto, the cactus also “absorbs CO2 during (the) night because only when the environment is fresh the plant opens its stoma capturing CO2, generating oxygen and absorbing water present in the atmosphere which normally comes from the morning dew.” The cactus cultivated here is a CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism) plant and is native to the region.
Only the mature leaves from the cactus are made into vegan leather and “the remaining organic cactus material not used in our process is exported and sold nationally in the food industry.”
As the title suggests, we do not need to be a vegan to use vegan leather. We can choose to support vegan leather as a way to conserve the environment for our children.
This article was published in Unsustainable Magazine on 7 October 2020.