What’s so great about vegan leather? Only everything. First, it’s not made from the skins of dead animals. It’s also easier on the planet– and très chic.
But what is it?
The term “vegan leather” is used for a variety of different materials – both natural and synthetic.
Most vegan leather is made of polyurethane (PU), a polymer that can be made to order for any designer’s whim. It can sparkle, have a nice glossy sheen, or be saturated in all kinds of shades that put leather to shame.
Natural vegan leathers– made from pineapple leaves, wine, apple, cork, mushrooms, or even kombucha tea – are growing in popularity.
Stella McCartney is one designer who features only vegan leather in her collections. And no wonder: it’s highly versatile. You can find vegan versions of moto jackets in every cut and colour, stiletto heels, boots, handbags, billfolds, and seat covers for your car.
If you have deep pockets, Tesla recently became the latest luxury automaker to offer vegan leather seating, joining BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Ferrari. The recently unveiled Polestar 2 – part of Volvo – goes into production next year and will have a standard vegan interior.
Not only does vegan leather make you look good, it also makes you feel good because it’s cruelty-free. More than a billion cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, and even dogs and cats are cruelly slaughtered for their skins every year. The tails and horns of many of these animals are cut off without painkillers, and some are even skinned and cut apart while still conscious. Vegan leather offers a killer look without any actual killing.
Planet Earth loves vegan leather, too. Turning skin into leather takes loads of energy and a toxic brew of chemicals, including mineral salts, coal-tar derivatives, formaldehyde, oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. Tannery waste contains water-fouling salt, lime sludge, sulfides, acids, and other pollutants.
Plus, fossil fuels – the very same ones used to make plastics – are used throughout leather production, from growing the crops necessary to feed animals to tanning and finishing the skins.
The 2017 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report found that leather was the most environmentally damaging material on the market. In contrast, PU leather was found to have just half the negative environmental impact of cow leather.
And since the bulk of the environmental impact – a whopping 93 per cent according to the luxury fashion conglomerate Kering – associated with leather production occurs before the skins are sent to tanneries, when manufacturers tout “green” processing methods, such as those used to create vegetable-tanned and chrome-free leather, it’s really just greenwashing.
Leather production is also terrible for humans. The overwhelming majority of leather processing occurs in countries where environmental regulations are lax or non-existent. An estimated 90 per cent of leather workers in top producer Bangladesh – many of whom are children – die before the age of 50, as a result of exposure to the toxic chemicals. Plus, there’s the wasted water and the crops that are used to feed animals instead of hungry, malnourished humans.
So what’s in your closet? Start shedding your skins today with these fabulous fashion finds:
The range of vegan leather bags has expanded rapidly in recent years, and Australian brands such as Sans Beast and Urban Originalshave led the way. Products from both of them are available through David Jones. Browse through the selection of beautiful bags at Ahimsa Collective, Ethical Gallery, Neena, No To Tears, Thea & Theos, and the X Nihilo vegan range!
If you’re after sturdy boots, you can’t go past a good pair of vegan Dr Martens. For sandals, check out Holster or Twoobs. For heels, browse at Neena, and for a good mix of every fashion and function, there are Australian shops dedicated to vegan shoes from Vegan Wares or Vegan Style. Rubi Shoes has plenty of cute options that don’t use animal skins, as do department stores such as Target and Kmart. Just make sure you read the label to check the material.
Whether you’re on the hunt for work boots with steel caps or dress shoes for the office, you can find a vegan version. International fashion house Hugo Boss even makes vegan sneakers from Piñatex– pineapple leaf fibres!
Jackets, Pants, and Skirts
James&Co’s beautiful vegan leather jackets are a must-have for a kick-ass cruelty-free wardrobe. Vegan leather options are plentiful at shops such as Zara and H&M and through e-tailers like The Iconic– just search for the word “vegan”. The “it jacket”at New York Fashion Week was a vegan leather puffer by Nanushka.