Vegan Leather: High-Quality Leather Alternative or Cheap Imitation?
June 28, 2019
The vegan leather industry has gone through massive growth in the last couple of years. New materials are coming up constantly, offering more and more trendy alternatives to vegans and non-vegans as well. But buying a new pair of shoes or a new bag is a big investment. Does vegan leather worth the hype?
Is vegan leather good quality at all? Vegan leather is just as high-quality as real leather if you’re willing to invest the same amount of money for it. On the other hand, cheap fast fashion faux leather shoes and bags that are made of PVC don’t last very long.
As you can see, the price and the materials matter, keep reading to find out which one to choose!
Vegan Leather: Quality Without Cruelty
The truth is that leather is not some magical material that cannot be replaced. The times are changing, technology is advancing, we don’t need to wear the same materials as we were wearing in the stone age. And we certainly don’t need to kill animals anymore for fashion.
We have discovered better building materials since then, why does it look so impossible to some people that we could have discovered better (or at least equally good) clothing materials as well?
Thanks to recent advancement in the fashion industry, vegan leather is now capable of incorporating all the advantages of leather as a clothing material while reducing some of its disadvantages. Vegan leather is now more strong and more durable than a couple of years ago.
My three pairs of vegan leather shoes are the most massive shoes I’ve ever owned. I also have a vegan leather backpack for one and a half years that I wear almost every day, and it still looks the same as when I bought it. And my vegan leather watch is far more durable than my boyfriend’s real leather watch of the same price.
Leather as a material is very limited because it is produced by an animal. The skin of the cow hasn’t changed much in thousands of years and the method we process it also stayed more or less the same.
Conversely, vegan leather is a man-made material that has been only discovered some decades ago. It has come a long way so far since then and in the last couple of years, it gained upon traditional leather. But the research and the advancement hasn’t stopped here yet. We can further improve this material however we want. We can make it even stronger, softer, more breathable, less water resistant, more eco-friendly, or whatever we’d like. It’s only a matter of research and technology.
As for today, I can confidently state that vegan leather is not a cheap imitation anymore, but a viable competitor to leather. In my opinion, leather is a thing of the past while vegan leather holds countless opportunities for the future of fashion.
I’m not saying that everything that’s tradition is bad, and everything that’s technology is good. But I’m saying this: if we can do the exact same thing two different ways, we should choose the way that doesn’t involve killing.
Leather Alternatives: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
No matter how optimistic I am about vegan leather, I must disclose that vegan leather is an umbrella term for many different materials and unfortunately, not all of them are equally good.
PVC: Bad & Ugly
PVC is the old school vegan leather. At first, it wasn’t even marketed as vegan leather. It is the cheap alternative fast fashion brands are using to make inexpensive shoes that won’t even last a whole season.
PVC is a type of plastic, it’s very low quality, and it’s one of the worst materials for the environment! It is used in construction for pipes and for flooring for example because it’s very cost-efficient and water resistant. These are not the qualities that make clothing comfortable unless if we’re talking about raincoats and rainboots.
Otherwise, never, ever buy clothing made of PVC!
PU Leather: Better
PU is also plastic, but it can be made using vegetable oils instead of petrol.
It is much stronger than PVC and more suitable for creating beautiful and durable shoes and handbags, and it is the most popular vegan leather alternative at the moment. All my vegan leather accessories are made of PU and I’m a 100% content with their quality.
However, one might argue against PU for the same reason I’m arguing against PVC: plastic pollution. But I think there’s such a huge difference in quality between the two that we don’t need to produce that much PU as PVC. Also, animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, soil degradation, ocean dead zones, and global warming, and leather tanning is one of the most chemical-intensive processes of the fashion industry, so I wouldn’t say that leather is a sustainable material either!
Recycled Plastic: Good for the Environment, Bad for Quality
Recycled plastic is a great concept because it helps us reuse plastic waste and create beautiful clothing. On the other hand, recycling is not as effective as most people think. With our recent technology, we can only create plastic of worse quality than the original material. That’s why it is still rare to find items that are made of 100% recycled plastic. Matt & Nat, one of the largest vegan leather brands, makes the exterior of its bags with PU leather but uses recycled plastic for the lining.
So even though recycled plastic is something I would love to see more of in the fashion industry, it still needs some improvement in terms of quality.
Plant-Based Leather: Good
Apparently, we can make leather from almost every plant!
There are tons of brands already using Pinatex which is leather produced of pineapple skin.
Cork accessories are also getting more and more popular, and they have a very unique look.
But new plant-based leather alternatives are popping up so fast it is difficult to keep up with them. I’ve seen bags made of apple peels, mushrooms (technically not a plant but whatever), and leaves, and all of them were stylish and beautiful!
I really think that plant-based leather is the future of leather. It is just as good as leather, it has a much smaller environmental impact, and it is also more kind to animals! I don’t see any reason why NOT to buy this instead of traditional leather!
How Much Should You Pay for Vegan Leather That’s Actually Good?
The price is always the biggest issue when we’re talking about sustainable fashion. But the reality is, if you pay more, you get better quality (usually).
I used to wear cheap, fast fashion shoes for so long, but when I bought my first pair that was more expensive, I could feel a huge difference in terms of comfort and durability.
Because cheap PVC was the vegan alternative to leather for so long, people associate leather with better quality and they’re willing to pay more for leather items than for vegan leather.
I met a girl recently who was transitioning to veganism, and she was complaining about how expensive vegan shoes are while she used to pay the same amount for leather shoes before.
In reality, leather shoes aren’t superior to vegan shoes, so we shouldn’t perceive vegan leather as something less valuable. Realistically, you should pay the same price for vegan leather as you’d pay for traditional leather because you get the same quality for both!
Is vegan leather ethical? If it was made by fairly paid workers and in safe conditions vegan leather is ethical. Vegan leather is actually more ethical than traditional leather since chemicals used in leather tanning factories often cause severe skin diseases to workers.
Why is leather not vegan? Leather is the skin of the cow (or other animals) that is removed and processed after the animal is slaughtered. Vegans don’t eat or wear anything that comes from animals: leather, fur, wool, silk, etc.
Should vegetarians buy leather? Vegetarians should NOT wear leather because the animals are killed in order to make leather of their skin. Also, leather is also the byproduct of the meat industry, so by buying leather vegetarians would indirectly support the meat industry.
Written by Csilla Herbszt, a sustainably stylish fashion blogger living her vegan life in Switzerland. You should follow her on Instagram!