Vegan leather is a material made from plant-based or sustainable sources. It is an eco-friendly replacement for animal leather. It has rapidly gained popularity in the mainstream fashion industry. It is used to make clothes like jackets and accessories like bags.
Read on to learn about vegan leather, what it's made of, its benefits, and more.
What Is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather is artificial, synthetic, or “faux” leather made from agricultural waste products and sustainable biomaterials. It can also be made from polymers like polyurethane and other recyclable materials. Vegan leather is an alternative to animal leather and is made without using any animal products. It's environmentally friendly, biodegradable, and animal-cruelty-free.
What Is Vegan Leather Made of?
Raw materials for vegan leather usually come from agricultural waste sources. Some of the materials most commonly used to manufacture vegan leather are:
Polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride. Synthetic leather is made using recycled plastic materials like polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride. Many people choose to avoid this kind of vegan leather, as its manufacture contributes to the depletion of fossil fuels.
Cork. Cork is a great alternative to plastics and animal skin for making vegan leather. Manufacturers can even get it from corkwood trees without damaging the trees.
Cactus. Cactus is another innovative animal-skin replacement used to make vegan leather.
Kombucha cellulose or SCOBY.Kombucha, or kelp tea, is a fermented sweet drink made using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, also called a SCOBY. The bacteria and yeast share nutrients and ferment the tea. Over time, they multiply and form a mass of cellulose, called a “mother.”
The mother floats on top of the liquid and takes the shape of the container. Within a few weeks, it grows as much as 10 millimeters thick. The mass of cellulose is harvested to make new batches of kombucha. However, it can also be used to make fully biodegradable leather.
After harvesting the mother, manufacturers wash, oil, and air-dry it to obtain a flexible, leathery sheet. They then cut the material in strips and stitch, glue, or mold it into new shapes.
Mushroom.Mushrooms grow through a network of threads called mycelium. Manufacturers use it to make vegan leather. The mycelium grows within a few weeks and can be easily processed using mild acid, alcohol, and vegetable dyes to modify it. The material is then compressed, dried, and textured for use. Mushroom or mycelium leather closely resembles animal leather in appearance and strength.
Yeast collagen. Biofabricated vegan leather can be made using the skin protein collagen obtained from yeast in a laboratory.
Silicone. Silicone leather is made from refined silicone material. It is similar to plastic-based materials, but more eco-friendly and durable.
Bacterial cellulose and agricultural waste. Similar to SCOBY, bacterial cellulose can also be harvested, dried, and used to make vegan leather. Agricultural waste like maple leaf pulp, apple peels, and fruit pulp can be good sources of bacterial cellulose.
Vegan Leather vs. Leather: What Is The Difference?
Conventional leather is a warm, breathable, durable, and flexible material made from animal skin. It is used to make clothes like jackets, shoes, belts, bags, and other accessories.
However, leather production comes with several environmental and ethical concerns. Harvesting leather from skin requires farming. Farms house cattle for meat, dairy, and leather production. Some farms may cut corners with respect to the well-being of their livestock in order to produce large quantities of goods.
Additionally, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that farming produces approximately 14% of all greenhouse emissions caused by human activity. This includes the traditional leather industry, which has a huge carbon footprint and is not environmentally sustainable.
Leather making and tanning require a lot of resources, including energy and water, which can lead to waste. It uses chemicals like chromium salts, which create toxic wastewater that pollutes land and water alike.
Vegan leather is easier to make and requires fewer resources than animal leather. Its production is energy and water-efficient. Manufacturers make vegan leather in many ways and process it to resemble conventional leather in strength, texture, and appearance. Vegan leather requires low-cost natural fibers, agricultural waste products, and recyclable materials, making it both environmentally friendly and animal friendly.
But faux leather made with plastics isn’t 100% biodegradable, and large-scale production of plastic-based vegan leathers produces an amount of waste comparable to traditional leather manufacturing. That's a big part of why non-plastic vegan leathers are on the rise.
What Are Vegan Leather Benefits?
Here are a few of the benefits of vegan leather:
- Cheap, easy, and fast to make
- Can be made using various sustainable materials
- Highly versatile and available in many textures and finishes
- Produced ethically and is environment and animal friendly
- Stain-resistant and doesn’t fade easily
- Doesn’t wear or crack easily
- Water and UV-light resistant
- Has aided the growth of many sustainable fashion brands
Where to Buy Vegan Leather?
Many of your favorite brands offer vegan or sustainable fashion alternatives. You can find vegan leather products like clothes and accessories at their outlets. You can also find them on online shopping websites.
When you buy products, check for the certified vegan leather logo. Certification assures that the vegan leather contains no animal products and that no animal testing is done during manufacture. It also provides verification from the manufacturer that the certified vegan leather is ethically produced.
How to Care for Vegan Leather?
Animal leather is sensitive to water and light. You must take good care of your leather products in order to maintain them.
In contrast, vegan leather requires little or no maintenance. The material is resistant to stains and is not sensitive to water or UV light. It is strong and flexible. It doesn’t break or wear easily. It's still important to treat it with care because it's vulnerable to puncturing and tearing.