Vegan leather? That sounds like a contradiction!
I remember the day my mum came back from Italy with a bright red leather handbag. She could not contain her excitement. “I’ve always wanted a real leather handbag from Italy!”
She paraded around the kitchen then stopped when she saw my face. “Ah, that’s not vegan”. No mum, that bag was not vegan. The bag was then christened Daisy, like Daisy the cow, as if that was her accepting the fact it was a dead animal. I knew that my parents did not really see what I could see.
It did however make me wonder, are there good quality alternatives?
It turns out there are plenty of great brands creating innovative, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, vegan leather for the high street and the cat walk! From using pineapple leaves and cactus skin to create the look and feel of leather to where you can find your own products to fall in love with – this is the ultimate guide to vegan leather.
By the way, if you want to learn more about what it means to be vegan and live a vegan lifestyle take a peek at my article on veganism.
What is Vegan Leather?
While there is not yet an official definition of what vegan leather is, consumers agree that it is a material which has not been made from the skin of dead animals.
It’s sometimes known as artificial leather, synthetic leather or even pleather. Whilst it is not made using animal products, it is made to look and feel like ‘real’ leather.
What is Vegan Leather Made Of?
Vegan leather is made from a range of different materials. It can be made from vegetan, pineapple leaves, PVC, glazed cotton, cork, apple skin, polyurethane (PU) and even cactus!
For vegan fashion newbies who are not too sure what PU or PVC is, PU and PVC are different plastic-based materials. PU leather is a synthetic material made out of a type of polymer known as polyurethane which is basically plastic. PU is a common ingredient in artificial leather because polyurethane is easy to form and mass produce.
PVC is another plastic material, though the website Plant-based News advise against buying vegan leather containing PVC. It reported you should avoid this material due to its “negative environmental impacts from the production and use of this material, which is considered to be the most toxic of all the plastics. In addition, it does not break down naturally, causing major problems for the planet.”
Luckily there are plenty of plant-based materials out there. For example, cork and cactus! Cork is harvested from the cork oak tree (Quercus suber). This tree can be found in southwest Europe and northwest Africa. The cork is taken from the bark without harming the tree or its development. Cork is also covered in suberin which acts like a water-resistant wax!
Another new plant-based leather material which is biodegradable is cactus skin! Recently entrepreneurs, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez from Mexico, developed leather made with nopal (a cactus). This is incredibly exciting as cactus needs very little water to grow, making this a wonderful sustainable alternative. They wanted to create biodegradable product which does not include any toxic chemicals, phthalates and PVC. What a world we live in where cactus can be made into leather!
What Does it Look & Feel Like?
Vegan leather is designed to replicate real leather. Depending on which material it has been made out of consumers may not even be able to tell the difference. For example, Stella McCartney proudly states:
“I think one of the biggest compliments is when I know people go in and buy a Falabella bag or a pair of shoes, or a faux leather skirt, and they have no idea they’re not real leather. I think that’s really where it becomes sexy. Where you’re not just providing an alternative…you’re creating a great product.” – Stella McCartney in Vogue, 2017.
Also, real leather has a rather distinctive smell which the vegan version does not have!
What to Watch Out For
There are a couple of things to look out for when you are buying vegan leather products.
If it is labelled PU-coated leather, it is not vegan! As it sounds, PU has just been used on the finishing.
If an item states it has PU, you should consider some of the negative environmental impacts. PU is made of polyurethane, which is a plastic product. Often, harmful chemicals are used during the process of manufacturing PU leather. These are toxic to the environment, especially our oceans. Also, some cheap PU leather products are not very durable meaning they often end up in landfills and take centuries to disintegrate.
Is Vegan Leather Good Quality?
The question as to whether vegan leather is good quality or not depends on the company and the item. Many of us have been buying faux leather for years from high street stores. Cheaper vegan leather jackets and fake leather shoes can be found in many wardrobes across the world.
Some of these items have contributed to the idea that real leather is much better quality than other leather alternatives. However, there are many vegan leather items out there that are good quality or even better than traditional leather.
Angela Lee, the creative director and co-founder of the brand Angela Roi states that the high quality, more processed Polyurethane that they are using produces high quality vegan bags by any standards, not just as a “leather alternative.”
Vegan Leather Brands
Do you need a new pair of boots or is your current handbag starting to fall apart?
If you have been inspired to invest in a new item or buy a loved one a vegan present for Christmas here is a list of vegan leather items for your ethical wardrobe.
Vegan Leather Shoes
There are now quite a few places you can find gorgeous vegan leather shoes from. Will’s Vegan Shoes, Matt & Nat and Vegetarian Shoes are just a few options. Here’s a bit about each of these amazing brands.
Will’s Vegan Shoes
Will’s Vegan Shoes have been creating vegan shoes since 2012. Their vegan leather shoes have been created using bio oil from organic crops grown in Europe. Their leather is eco-friendly “hard wearing, soft, breathable and is water resistant.”
Matt & Nat
Did you know that Matt & Nat are not actually two people? The brand name is short for “material and nature”. Therefore, not only are they vegan but they really care about using materials which have a minimal effect on the environment.
Matt & Nat uses various vegan leathers some include PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). They try to use PU wherever possible as it is less harmful for the environment than PVC.
They have some lovely vegan leather boots and shoes. Some of their vegan sneakers contain PU as well as recycled canvas. Whilst PU is a plastic-based material, meaning it is harder to recycle than natural materials, Matt & Nat are excellent at giving things another life and encourage their customers to donate their vegan leather items afterwards.
Vegetarian Shoes have been creating wonderful vegan leather products for quite a while. The brand started in the UK 29 years ago, back when it was difficult to get soy milk with your cup of tea.
Despite the brand name, all of their shoes are vegan. Some of their shoes are made in Britain so if you are based in the UK, you know you are supporting the local economy and can actually visit them in their store in Brighton.
On their website they have a huge sale section showing off their fantastic range of Vegetarian Shoes. This makes Vegetarian Shoes a great affordable option for purchasing your next pair of shoes.
Vegan Leather Bags
If you have always dreamed of a stylish leather bag without the cruelty, take a look at these great brands!
Maravillas vegan leather bags are made from an unlikely material: pineapple leaves! Known as Piñatex™ these leaves are by-products of producing pineapples! This means there is no extra water, pesticides or fertilizers required, thus minimizing waste.
Maravillas state that their leather is “water resistant, strong, versatile, breathable, soft, light, flexible, and has passed the ISO international standards tests for: seam rupture, tear resistance, tensile strength, light and color fastness and abrasion resistance.”
Maravillas Bags are made in Mallorca, Spain and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. For example, this vegan leather fold over bag looks perfect for vegan travelers.
If you have a lot of cash to splash about you may be able to afford this luxury vegetarian brand. Stella McCartney has a few very chic vegan leather bags in her collection.
This brand creates materials that use solvent-free polyurethanes. They also ensure that 50% of their coating is made with vegetable oil! Not bad.
Vegan Leather Jackets
Vegan leather jackets can be found across the globe and all along the high street. Many teenagers own one without even knowing it.
You can easily find vegan leather jackets at ASOS, Free People and Top Shop but bear in mind these may not have been ethically produced or high quality.
However, if you are looking for a vegan leather jacket these are affordable options. On the higher end of the spectrum, you can find high quality jackets from Nanushka.
Nanushka is a brand based in the capital of Hungary, Budapest, which prides itself as providing the same “sexy suppleness of the material [leather] we all love so much without the same environmental and ethical cost.”
The vegan brand focus heavily on the human element of fashion and ensures they give back to local communities.
Nanushka has some incredibly stylish vegan jackets on offer as well as this ultra-bad ass vegan leather dress!
Vegan Leather Wallets
For those of you who would like to try a small item before investing in a larger piece, consider buying a vegan leather wallet. Vegan leather wallets can be inexpensive and help you find the material that is right with you.
Many brands offer cool vegan leather wallets or purses. Three companies you might want to check out our Corkor, Tree Tribe, and Brakeburn.
Corkor are PETA approved. They offer wallets made out of locally sourced cork in Portugal. Their vegan items are designed with longevity and durability in mind. Corkor’s male wallets would also make a wonderful vegan Christmas gift for any special men in your life.
Tree Tribe is another great innovative company you can buy vegan leather wallets from. They use leaves to create their leather. Tree Tribe describes leaf leather as “an innovative plant-based leather alternative made from tree leaves. It’s better than traditional leather because it’s more environmentally friendly and created from trees so it doesn’t require harming animals.”
Tree Tribe also plants a tree for every purchase and have already planted over 400,000 trees! Do you want to help them plant one more with a cool vegan leaf leather wallet or maybe one of their leaf leather journals? These look perfect for making notes in the great outdoors!
Brakeburn is a British clothing and accessories brand known for its colorful patterned products. If you’re looking for a high-quality wallet but want something a bit more colorful then their cotton wallets with vegan leather (PU) accents (shown above) are a great choice.
Just make sure you check the materials as this brand does use real leather for some of their other products.
Watches are the classic accessory. We’ve been wearing them since the 1800’s and for as long, they’ve been made with leather straps.
Fast forward to the 21st century and there is a plethora of watch companies making vegan leather straps on the market. In fact, there are so many to choose from I wrote an article about the best vegan watch brands and personally reviewed several of them. My favorite brands making vegan leather straps are Solios and DAN & MÉZ.
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