Vegan leather is an oxymoron come to life. It’s similar to macadamia milk, plant based meat, and sugarless candy. In 2003, none of those made sense. But, on the brink of a new decade, we are turning contradictions into realities. We have fur-free-fur, wheat-free bread, and are in the midst of rebranding faux, making it the prefix for every It-fabric of the future. What a time to be alive.
How Good Is This, Really?
A look at vegan leather
The excitement around innovative vegan materials is a wonderful sign for the future. It often goes hand-in-hand with similar sentiments being pointed at other eco-friendly alternatives. There’s a collective desire from consumers to make conscious purchases. That’s progress! To keep with that spirit and find real solutions to the problems facing our planet today, it’s important to look into our new alternatives as well as their predecessors. In doing so, you might come to the same question that many have ran into: how good is this, really?
Vegan leather is a solution to a handful of problems. It reduces the gaseous emissions from raising livestock. Animals aren’t farmed or harmed during its production. Subsequently, as there is no need to clear land for livestock to eat, it leads to less deforestation. According to the Washington Post*, vegan leather’s online availability rose “54% in America between the first half of 2018 and the same period this year.” In the same report, we learn that the demand for synthetic leather is estimated to grow to $45 billion in 2025, according to Grand View Research. There is a demand for different, and synthetic leather seems to filling it. But, should we let that happen?
Pineapples, mushrooms, cork, bark, and more materials are being used as leather alternatives. Paula Maldonado, creative director and founder of Dauntless, isn’t a fan though. No natural vegan alternative that she’s come across in her career has ever achieved the feel or look of real leather. For her and many other designers, it makes those alternatives non-options. A savvy customer understands quality.
Many of those customers are excited to try out vegan leather. According to Lyst**, searches for vegan leather increased by over 119% this year. Consumer’s care, and companies are noticing. Oddly enough, that may not be a good thing.
Greenwashing is a practice of some businesses wherein eco-friendly is used as a marketing tool. Whether or not their practices are indeed environmentally friendly is not the concern, which can sometimes offer customers a false-solution to the problems facing our environment. In British Vogue**, Amy Powney, creative director of Mother of Pearl, explains greenwashing well. “Brands and suppliers are jumping on this term to associate with an ethical movement, which instantly makes the consumer feel good. But, if you are buying faux leather, you need to consider that you’re buying plastic.” Not only can it be a false-solution, but faux leather can actually contribute to a much larger problem.
Apple Skin by FRUMAT, www.eco-age.com
The main issue with synthetic leather is its use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). Both are plastic based materials and will not decompose. Just as toxins are used to tan traditional leather, chemicals are used on PVC and PU to give them the leather texture and look that makes them so desirable. According to British Vogue**, the processes use “plasticizers such as phthalates, which are also toxic. Both derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen and carbon into the atmosphere, which contribute to acid rain.” As it turns out, synthetic leather is not the solution it’s been made out to be.
On a bright note, although they may not be perfect yet, we are closer to alternative leather options that are completely biodegradable. Frumat leather is made from apple peel**, and will be used in an upcoming Boyish collection. Piñatex is made from pineapple leaves in the Philippines. Mylo**, the mushroom leather, was only released in 2018, and has time to develop into the leather that we need it to be. But until then, it’s important to keep these faux leather woes in mind, whether you’re shopping for clothes or not.
Fabrics Of The Future, www.eco-age.com
False-solutions aren’t just popping up in fashion. Plastic alternatives and hybrid cars still have a long ways to go before we can truly call them sustainable. Maldonado put it best when she said that becoming conscious consumers is the smartest way live sustainably. It’s time to ask questions that we haven’t asked before. When considering a new alternative, find out if it is part of the solution, or creating another problem. We consumers are heading in the right direction. Understand labels, ask questions when necessary, steady the course, and move full steam ahead into 2020 and beyond.
Words: James Francis Kelley