What is vegan leather?
Internet is flooded with the information about the materials alternative to natural leather. You may find such collocations as eco leather, synthetic leather, vegan leather… Sometimes it is really hard to tell the difference between these terms, moreover, very often the authors of the articles are misinterpreting them, and after reading several articles it just feels too confusing. Let’s try to get a better understanding of this!
Vegan leather and faux leather are basically the same thing – essentially fake 'leather' material, some kind of fabrics that mimic the look and feel of leather, but does not use animal skin. This means no slaughterhouses, no animal products or byproducts, and no animal labor.
Vegan leather can be either synthetic or natural. The most commonly used materials for synthetic leathers are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), which are plastic based materials. There is even a term ‘pleather' that comes from combining words ‘plastic leather’. The two commonly used synthetic materials in particular have raised questions about the safety and dangers to the environment. They are usually manufactures from fossil fuels and take a long time to break down once they reach the end of their useful life. And if one is looking looking at net environmental impact, there's all the other environmental problems associated with fossil fuel extraction to consider too. It must be said that though that the synthetic leather industry in recent years has reached a level for which it is difficult for an enduser to distinguish real leather from fake leather.
Very few vegan leathers are made from natural materials although in the recent years the vegan leather from natural materials is becoming more and more popular. It is made from materials like cork, kelp, paper and even pineapple leaves. You can see the collection of shoes made from pineapple leaves fibre here.
The most misinterpreted term is eco leather though. Actually, eco leather is a genuine leather but the tanning process is "vegetal", following protocols that have a reduced environmental impact to protect workers and consumers. To be more precise, the tanning processes must meet the requirements of a specific standard (UNI 11427:2011). So the eco leather is still a real leather that has been obtained with eco-friendly processes. It is a greener answer to the important need to protect the planet and its resources.