What’s The Deal With Vegan Leather?
If you’re a vegan you will have sworn off consuming any animal products, which means you’ll also then likely have sworn off using any leather goods too. But just what is vegan leather? And how does it compare to the real deal?
We take a closer look at fashion’s latest darling.
What is vegan leather?
Vegan leather is a type of material that is man-made and is designed to look and feel like real leather, without actually being leather. It is most commonly derived from plastic-based materials.
However, vegan leather can also be made from a number of other natural materials including sustainable materials, for example pineapple leaves, apple peelings, recycled plastic or even cork.
Is vegan leather just pleather?
Plastic leather (or pleather) has had concerns raised around its environmental impact of late, as two of its most commonly used materials, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), are just plastic. And the world is currently fighting a war on plastic.
So, yes, whilst vegan leather can be pleather, it can also be made from sustainable materials too, as mentioned before.
Is vegan leather good quality?
Fashion designers such as Stella MacCartney swear by vegan leather and insist on using it in their lines. Heralding its versatility and ability to imitate any item of leather clothing including leather jackets, trousers even dresses.
But whilst vegan leather has improved a great deal in recent years, it is of no match to actual leather in terms of how it feels to wear a real leather jacket, as opposed to a vegan leather jacket.
However, vegan leather does have many uses and as such it can be used in shoes, boots, even car seat covers, with Tesla now offering a vegan leather seat cover as an add on extra.
Is vegan leather eco friendly?
The way in which vegan leather is made will determine if it’s eco friendly. Because if the vegan leather is manufactured from synthetic materials, then no, it is definitely not eco friendly, as this pleather is made one of two ways:
- Either by sticking a plastic coating onto a piece of fabric (PVC),
- Or with oil based polymers (PU).
And PVC, the first form of pleather, is known to release dioxins when worn, which are dangerous especially if they’re burnt. PVC is also made with plasticisers, like phthalates, to prevent it from becoming brittle, and some types of phthalate are incredibly toxic, with Greenpeace calling them the ‘single most environmentally damaging type of plastic”.
PU based vegan leather is made using solvents. PU is painted in liquid form onto a fabric material, but turning the PU into a liquid means using a solvent - which is incredibly toxic.
Will vegan leather last?
One of the key differences between vegan leather and real leather is the quality and the durability of the two products.
Real leather will last for decades if looked after well, however that does come at a price. Whereas vegan leather is much cheaper, it is also thinner and therefore more lightweight, making it ideal for fast fashion, but it won’t last. For example, a pair of vegan leather shoes will see you through a year, if you’re lucky.
8 differences between vegan leather and real leather
- Vegan leather is synthetic and therefore it can’t age like real leather.
- Vegan leather doesn’t smell like real leather, and so to give vegan leather that ‘leather smell’, it is sprayed (with yet another chemical) to make it smell more authentic.
- Vegan leather is not breathable because it is artificial, unlike real leather, and so if you get warm whilst you’re wearing it, you will sweat and the sweat won’t evaporate.
- The outer layer of vegan leather is printed with pores so that it resembles the surface of real leather, whereas the surface of real leather is as unique as our own skin.
- Depending on which type of vegan leather you opt for will depend on whether it has a detrimental impact on the environment or not. Because PU pleather releases toxins when it is manufactured, as does PVC, which releases dioxins which are known to cause reproductive issues as well as cancer.
- Real leather biodegrades. Vegan leather, unless manufactured from sustainable material like cork, won’t.
- Vegan leathers wear out at different speeds, and when they do, it isn’t pretty. Whereas real leather, as it ages, forms a patina, a sort of film that develops on the surface of the coat the older the leather gets, giving it a distinguished appearance and adding character.
- It takes real craftsmanship to produce an item of leather clothing, with bespoke leather items costing well into the thousands of pounds. Vegan leather on the other hand is cheap and thin and can be knocked up quickly and at a low cost.