Vegan ‘leather’ is a term used to describe leather-like materials that are completely free from animal products. These days vegan ‘leather’ comes in many forms including PU-based, lab-based and bio or plant-based, which we’ll look at in more detail in this post. We like to put ‘leather’ in inverted commas to be clear that we are not referring to animal skin, we’re referring to the ethical alternative.
At LOM Australia we choose to work predominantly with Desserto cactus ‘leather’ as we believe it is one of the most premium, sustainable, bio-based vegan ‘leathers’. However, we are always sampling with a variety of alternatives.
WHY CHOOSE VEGAN 'LEATHER'?
There are many reasons to choose vegan 'leather', here are some of ours:
- Environmental: from cradle to gate, the process of creating a vegan ‘leather’ product has significantly less environmental impact than animal leather products. It is less stressful on resources using fewer fossil fuels, less water, and producing less air-pollution, chemical waste, bio-waste, and causing significantly less eutrophication. However, not all vegan ‘leathers’ are environmentally sound, so be sure to do your research.
- Cruelty-free: our bags are 100% vegan, using zero animal products. More than a billion animals including cows, pigs, goats, sheep, crocodiles, ostriches, kangaroos, and even dogs and cats, are cruelly slaughtered for their skins every year.
- Safer for workers: the animal leather tanning process often uses chromium-based chemicals to colour the leather, which is highly noxious for workers. Studies undertaken in Kanpur City, India’s home to leather tanning, suggest that long-term exposure has led to chronic asthma, bronchitis and tuberculosis amongst tannery workers.
- Consistent colour, quality and texture: quality vegan ‘leather’ is very hard to distinguish from premium animal leather. In fact, with LOM cactus ‘leather’ handbags it is close to impossible to pick the difference. With today’s innovative production processes of vegan ‘leather’, the consistency in colour, texture and quality is excellent, not to mention reduced material waste when working with rolls of material in linear meterage versus an animal hide.
VARIETIES OF VEGAN 'LEATHER' AVAILABLE TODAY
Vegan ‘leather’ comes in many forms, too many to list here. These are the varieties we are/have sampled with or know a little bit more about.
Bio-based or plant-based vegan ‘leathers’:
Cactus: Desserto launched in 2019 and hasn’t looked back. It is a beautiful, premium material to work with and has many applications from our very own luxe LOM handbags to the interior of the latest Mercedes-Benz concept EV. It is created from the nopal variety of cactus, known for its carbon sequestering capacity and regenerative nature. The leaves are dried and macerated, before mixing with a small percentage of water-based polyurethane and bio-resin. This mixture is then added to a substrate (backing) of either cotton or cotton/polyester. We choose the recycled substrate range.
Apple: We are sampling with Vegatex apple ‘leather’. Using a similar process to cactus ‘leather’, the waste of apples (cores, skins and residue) is mixed with a larger percentage of polyurethane than cactus ‘leather’ to protect and add longevity to the material before adding to a polyester substrate.
Silicone: Sileather is a silicone-based fabric made from silica that is completely free from toxins, PVC, polyurethane, and BPA. It is extremely durable, stain resistant and recyclable. Composed of 100% silicone material on the surface layer, 100% silicone adhesive on the middle layer, and various base fabrics such as polyester, spandex, and microfiber as the basic fabric.
Pineapple: Derived from a biproduct of pineapple farming, the leaf fibres from existing pineapple harvests (which would otherwise be burned as agricultural waste) form the base of the Pinatex material. The leaves are then dried and undergo a filtration and fibre extraction process eventuating in a non-woven mesh felt, which is shipped to Spain for the finishing process including the addition of polyurethane.
Mushroom: fashion designer and vegan activist, Stella McCartney in partnership with Bolt Threads has created Mylo, a mushroom based “unleather”. The mycelium used to make Mylo is grown in less than two weeks using just mulch, air, and water in a vertical agriculture facility that is 100% powered by renewable energy. It is then harvested and processed into material form using Green Chemistry principles. This highly efficient process is rigorously designed to reduce environmental impact from start to finish.
Leaf: Not many vegan or animal ‘leathers’ are completely biodegradable, however Treekind by Biophilica in the UK is creating bio-based leathers from the leaves of various plants that are! Their leather is water resistant, and when placed in a large body of water it will biodegrade over 8 months. It is also fully compostable.
Cork: Made from the bark of Cork Oaks, cork ‘leather’ is one of the purer material forms. The cork is hand cut from the tree, which stimulates regeneration, dried for six months, boiled in water, flattened and pressed into sheets. A fabric backing is then pressed on the cork sheet, which is bonded by suberin, a naturally occurring adhesive present in the cork.
Grape, mango, coconut, corn… the list goes on and on.
Lab based vegan ‘leather’:
There are also innovators like Modern Meadow creating sustainable biofabricated materials in labs.
Plastic-based vegan ‘leathers’:
Polyurethane (PU): Most vegan ‘leathers’ contain some form of PU, either as the base material or coating. PU is a polymer plastic that increases the durability and water-resistance to ensure the product lasts. It is considered greener than vinyl and PVC as it does not produce dioxins.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Watch out for this one, it is the least environmentally friendly option in the mix. PVC is one of the most harmful plastics in the world due to the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine during the manufacturing process. The creation of PVC also releases dioxins that are hazardous to the environment and people.
IS VEGAN 'LEATHER' BETTER THAN ANIMAL LEATHER?
That’s up to you to do the research and decide! We believe that premium, plant-based, sustainable, responsibly made, cruelty-free, vegan ‘leather’ is the best choice. Future fabrics are here to stay.
We conduct our research through various platforms, some of our main sources for this post include: