What is Vegan Leather?  What are the Real Options?

Central to veganism is the aim to do no harm. As both a mindset and a lifestyle, veganism is mindfulness towards the body, the Earth, and all other living things. Sustainability and environmental consciousness is a motor in the veganism movement.

Brands in varied industries have moved in with the growing trend; linking buzzwords like vegan, organic, and cruelty-free to their products like jingling bells. For some consumers, the jingle is enough and no other considerations are made or necessary.

The buzzwords seem loudest in fashion with minimalism and sustainable wardrobes taking off. There are countless initiatives today promoting a more holistic approach to fashion and manufacturing. Changes are happening and it is a time of great innovation and creativity. But then there are trends that don’t quite add up. Enter ‘vegan leather’.

The synthetic vegan leather option:

Once affectionately termed “pleather”, as in plastic leather, these so-called vegan leather alternatives are produced with plastic polymers polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC, more commonly known as vinyl). The synthetic fibers are easily stretched and softened with more chemicals and gasses to create that gentle, wrinkled look resembling leather. Green Peace singles out PVC to be the most environmentally damaging kind of plastic and the material remains notorious. The environmental effects of PU, the tamer of the two, is monitored only by the country in which it produced. Though even with environmental regulations, PU remains highly toxic and destructive.

For the mindful consumer, this poses a dilemma. How does one willingly buy accessories made of toxic synthetics with the vegan aims to do no harm knowing the environmental costs?

Real leather comparatively, outlasts their synthetic counterparts. The retired, distressed look of real leather is the appeal and the plastic stuff just doesn’t age or wear the same. Synthetic leathers are then sent to the landfills at a quicker rate. PUs and PVCs eventually break down but when they do it’s into microplastics that take hundreds of years to decompose.

If these vegan alternatives are synthetically produced, wastefully disposed, and carelessly promoted, can they be truly vegan? In the absence of the commoditization of animals, do these efforts align with veganism’s ultimate aims to do no harm?

Comments (1)
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September 15, 2020

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