Vegan leather – an ethical alternative to leather
In simple terms, vegan leather is an ethical alternative to traditional leather and it can be classified into two categories: Synthetic leather and plant-based leather. “Any leather that is made without the use of any animal products/hide is called vegan leather. There are several varieties in vegan leather, from manmade leather, polyurethane (PU leather) etc to leather made from pineapple, cactus and other plants,” explains Shweta Nimkar, founder of a vegan footwear brand.
She adds, “A 2017 report from the Copenhagen Fashion Summit has brought the world’s attention to one pretty significant truth: Synthetic leather is less harmful to the planet than cow leather. The 2017 Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report compares the environmental impact of animal leather versus synthetic leather, and other textiles. When you compare genuine leather to vegan/synthetic leather, this report found that materials such as genuine leather are amongst the top five least environmentally sustainable products. In comparison, synthetic or vegan leather has far less impact in terms of greenhouse gases, water used for production and depletion of fossil fuels, not to mention the animal abuse and cruelty that follows in order to produce genuine leather.”
From cactus to pineapple: Variants of plant-based leather
Plant-based or bio-leather is a new and emerging subset within the vegan leather category. They go beyond being cruelty free with the focus being on low environmental impact, minimising plastic, using organic waste. “Plant-based leathers are essentially leather alternatives derived using bio-material from plants as the primary source. For example, you have Piñatex, a new-age non-woven natural textile fabric made from pineapple leaf waste. There is also Desserto (cactus leather), that’s made from the pulp of the nopal cactus and cork. Then there’s apple leather made from crushed apple skin and mushroom leather made from mycelium. I also recently saw some research being done on palm leather where the leaves of the areca palm are softened using a proprietary process to make them pliable,” shares Arundhati Kumar, founder of a vegan leather accessory brand, Beej, who discovered these different types of material in 2019 when she was researching for her business idea. “I knew I wanted to do something with accessories and not work with leather or PU leather, but I didn’t know what alternatives existed,” she adds.
The growing popularity of vegan leather
From designers switching from traditional leather to vegan leather to brands investing in research on bio-leather, popularity of vegan leather has definitely been on the rise. One of the reasons for this is an increased awareness on sustainability and consciousness among consumers. Says Rumika Sharma, founder, Broke Mate, a PETA-approved brand, “With the consumer becoming more conscious about sustainability and wanting to make more ethical choices when it comes to what they purchase and what they wear, vegan leather is gaining popularity. While plant-based vegan leather is still new in the market and relatively expensive, in the coming years, it will become affordable as the demand and popularity grows. The largest fashion brands of the world have also launched vegan product lines in recent years and the trend is growing very rapidly.”
Shivani Patel, founder of the brand Arture, known for using cork fabric for creating bags and travel accessories, adds, “As the consumer is becoming more aware of sustainable choices, there has been an increase in demand for vegan leather and we only see this trend growing in the future.”
Celebs who have endorsed vegan leather:
- In the video of her Don’t Call Me An Angel, Miley Cyrus wore a ‘vegan costume’
- Emma Watson has been spotted in a Stella McCartney vegan leather jacket
- Serena Williams launched a ready-to-wear collection under her fashion label with jumpsuits in vegan leather
- Rooney Mara is known for her vegan fashion label and is spotted quite often in vegan outfits