Leather is a great material – it’s stylish, tactile, durable and flexible. It’s also quite a miracle of nature as the tanning process needed to create it permanently alters the proteins inside the animal skins and rawhides, effectively creating something wholly new that is less susceptible to decomposition.
But, of course, the animal skins needed to make real leather require animals to be slaughtered and, while a lot of leather comes from the hides of cattle whose meat is eaten, the recent link between the Amazon Forest fires and our insatiable appetite for meat, should also make us question our love for real leather goods… But is there an alternative?
Well, in so many words: yes, there is vegan leather!
Wait, what is vegan leather?
Glad you asked! So, according to Peta’s website, vegan leather is more often than not made from a made-to-order polymer or even materials that are totally unconventional but still innovative. These are, to a certain extent, more sustainable and the list includes materials like cork, fruit waste, and recycled plastic.
Why would I switch?
Well, around one billion animals, including cows, sheep, pigs, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, dogs and cats, are killed to make real leather products every year. On top of that being cruel and unfair on the animals, raising and slaughtering them uses up a lot of our resources, which ultimately affects our environment. Nevertheless, the process of making vegan leather still uses chemicals that end up in our seas or in landfills.
Are there are designers that use it?
Oh, quite a few brands! Stella McCartney is probably the most famous one, but there are other lesser-known but just-as-trendy labels out there that have go
ne completely vegan. Vaute Couture by animal rights activist Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart is one such eco-friendly, 100%-vegan brand; as is the French fashion house Cri de Couer, which literally translates to ‘to cry from the heart’. Elizabeth Olsen’s OlsenHaus, meanwhile, is a pioneer in the industry and the founder donates hundreds of products to help animal organisations. Umasan, which headlined the Mercedes-Benz Berlin Fashion week, also has some beautiful vegan items.
Fashion isn’t alone, either. Ferrari, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Tesla all offer vegan leather seating for some or all of their models.
Is it any good quality-wise, though?
Look, the answer to this is the same as that for any other product: if you invest in high-quality vegan leather, then you are more likely to have a longer-lasting product. Nevertheless, vegan leather doesn’t smell as nice as real leather (it’s often described as having a ‘fishy’ smell). Synthetic leather also tends to age badly.
So what’s your verdict?
Well, that’s a hard one. On the one hand, animals suffer for us to have leather shoes, bags, and car seats; but, on the other, we need something to make these items from and synthetic leathers still pollute the environment and don’t last as long. So, whether you switch to synthetic leather out of respect for animals or stick to real leather, the best way to make a difference is to always buy quality products that will stand the test of time, and to take good care of your (real or synthetic) leather goods to lessen the need for replacement.