What is vegan leather made of? In this guide to vegan leather alternatives, learn about the growing number of plant-based and bioleathers, the history of synthetic leather, and the debate over whether any leather alternative is truly sustainable.
Table Of Contents
- What’s Wrong With Animal Leather?
- Are Vegan Leather Alternatives Sustainable?
- Are Vegan Leather Alternatives Durable?
- What Is Vegan Leather Made Of?
- Traditional Alternatives To Leather
- More Sustainable Synthetic Alternatives To Leather
- Up-and-coming Bioleathers
- MIRUM: An Outlier in Vegan Leather Alternatives?
- Balancing Sustainability, Durability & Availability of Vegan Leather Alternatives
- In Closing…
When I first started to research vegan leather alternatives, I was not aware of how active and growing the field of artificial leather is today. To be honest, I initially intended for this article to be (for once!) a “simple,” listical-like collection of vegan leather alternatives. Rather than my usual process of in-depth research, fully-cited article drafting, and video production and animation, I’d “just” write a brief list of leather alternatives. It was meant to be a supplement to my article, video and eCourse “Is Leather a Byproduct of the Meat Industry?“
However, as I always find when I begin to research any topic, nothing is simple. And—as I should have known—I’m not a simple, “listical-like” kind of person. Still, I must stress that this cannot be said to be a fully comprehensive guide to vegan leather alternatives. Given the ever-developing field of alternatives, there was no way for me to include every single material, nor every startup. Additionally, for the sake of this not becoming a textbook-length guide, it remains more “surface level” than I’d ideally like.
I do want to note a few things up front about many of the sources cited in this article. In researching the manufacturing process of plastic-based synthetic leather, I found the overwhelming majority of the information comes from biased sources, like plastic manufacturers or faux leather outlets.
I faced similar issues with the developing field of bioleathers. The nature of covering new and developing products results in having to rely on limited and largely biased sources. What I mean by this is that for up-and-coming leather alternatives, there simply isn’t much—or any—third-party, independent research to verify the claims of the startups and companies.
I always strive to find unbiased, primary sources in my research. Due to the scope of this topic, and the admittedly limited and biased sources in numerous areas, I wanted to be fully transparent at the outset. I also encourage you to do your own research when considering which vegan leather alternatives to purchase.
The simple answer to “what’s wrong with animal leather” is: “everything.” From an ethical perspective, leather is a product of abject suffering and cruelty. As I explain in my video and article on this topic, the common belief that leather is “just a byproduct of the meat industry” is a total misconception.
However, were this to be the case, it would not make leather any more ethical. Even under the “highest standards,” cows within the meat and dairy industries are subjected to painful mutilations, repeated sexual violations, and ineffective slaughter methods. Additionally, not all leather even comes from animals slaughtered for their meat.
Further compounding these ethical concerns, leather production is one of the most toxic and environmentally devastating industries. The chemicals involved in leather tanning endanger the lives of tannery workers and those in surrounding communities,1 resulting in what are known as “cancer villages.”2 The deforestation brought on by raising cows is another aspect of leather’s environmental impact. The “cattle” industry is the primary driver of tropical deforestation worldwide and in the Amazon.3
But, outside of the extreme threat that leather production poses to the environment and public health, isn’t animal leather at least biodegradable? After all, leather is made from an organic, biodegradable source: the skins of animals. This too is a misconception: the tanning process is specifically designed to make leather last. Animal leather is therefore not biodegradable—even if tanned by the more “natural” process of using vegetable dyes.4
For an in-depth look into the realities of the leather industry, please see my article and video “Is Leather a Byproduct of the Meat Industry?“
It’s clear that animal leather is about the furthest from sustainable that a material can get. Animal agriculture as a whole is the leading cause of climate change, 5 uses a third of the Earth’s fresh water,6 and up to 45% of the Earth’s land.7 It is also a leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, and habitat destruction.8
Any material derived from animals is profoundly unsustainable. However, it’s important to understand that a material is not necessarily sustainable merely because it was not produced using animals. The question of whether vegan leather alternatives are sustainable hinges entirely on the materials used to produce a particular type of leather alternative.
The most common leather alternatives are plastics-based, derived in large part from fossil fuels.9 The production process for these plastic coatings involves toxic chemicals, produces harmful byproducts, and is far from sustainable.10 The resulting materials, when discarded, contribute to the mounting environmental issues of plastic and microplastic pollution.11
While synthetic faux leather has been around since at least the late 1800s,12 the modern rise of consumer focus on sustainability has led to companies “greenwashing” their products. Greenwashing is the practice of creating the false impression that a company’s products are more ecologically friendly than they actually are, or providing entirely unfounded, even incorrect claims of sustainability.13 Due to the environmental impact, plastic-based leather alternatives are not always viewed as fully inline with vegan ethics.
The need for viable, sustainable vegan leather alternatives has led to the rise of many plant-based “leathers,” lab-created bioleathers, recycled material leathers, and other innovations.
Some of these up-and-coming leather alternatives claim full biodegradability and zero waste,14 while others are transparent about their use of some amount of plastics and resins for durability, with a goal of eliminating this as soon as possible.15
With the development of plant-based polyurethanes, this is hopefully becoming more achievable.16
I want to note that greenwashing is just as possible for plant-based leather alternatives as for petroleum, plastics-based alternatives.
As I mentioned in my introduction, I personally found that the majority of information regarding up-and-coming leather alternatives comes entirely from the companies producing the alternatives.
While some are more open, transparent and informative about their production processes, others seem to present extremely slick websites with engaging images, but little to no solid backing of their claims. I will do my best to note this throughout the article, and welcome further sourcing.
Much like the sustainability of leather alternatives, the durability depends entirely upon the materials utilized. The need for durability is the reason some amount of plastic is used in almost all leather alternatives.18 Creating truly sustainable yet durable vegan leathers is a complicated balance that will require ongoing ingenuity within the field. There is promise with options like fungi (mushroom) leather, microorganism-generated leather, and even some of the fruit-based leathers.
As I go through the specific types of leather alternatives, I will note their respective durability where available. Again, please note that for many of the newer alternatives, this information does not appear to be independently verified.
More and more, the question needs to be “what is vegan leather not made of?” As we’ll see, there is an extremely active interest in developing truly sustainable, viable, eco-friendly yet durable vegan alternatives to leather. I will also be including plastic-based synthetic leather, though some within the vegan community debate whether these can truly be deemed inline with vegan ethics due to environmental concerns.
As discouraging as it’s been to delve into the very real environmental and ethical issues within the fashion industry, it is heartening to see a growing move for sustainability and ethical production.19
As I mentioned, the dominant leather alternatives at the moment are plastics-based, generally composed of fabric coated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and/or polyurethane (PU).
Synthetic leather dates back to at least the late 1800s, when leather rationing in Germany due to wartime necessitated the creation of a leather alternative.20 The artificial leather, called Presstoff, was created from treated paper pulp and resins, easily breaking down with use.21
Other similar approaches followed, but synthetic leather really took off with the invention and introduction of plastics, leading to the term “pleather,” a combination of “plastic” and “leather.”
While pleather wasn’t created to avoid harming animals, one of the most successful pleather advertising campaigns played rather expertly on the understanding of leather’s true source.
The faux leather Naugahyde was invented in 1914 at the U.S. Rubber Plant in Naugatuck, Connecticut—which gave the material its name.22 Originally leather-based, Naugahyde shifted to using plastic in the 1940s.
In the 1960s, the company (now Uniroyal) created a fictional animal, the “Nauga,” that just so happened to shed their skins naturally, producing a truly cruelty-free leather.23 I find this direct acknowledgement of the objectionableness of animals having to die for leather to be a fascinating advertising approach. The marketing campaign was apparently so effective that there’s even a Snopes article debunking the existence of the Nauga.24
Polyvinyl chloride (abbreviated as PVC and commonly referred to as vinyl) is a thermoplastic composed of 43% carbon (mostly derived from oil and gas via ethylene), and 57% chlorine (from industrial-grade salt.)25 Over the lifespan of PVC from production to disposal, dangerous chemicals are released, including dioxins, vinyl chloride, dioxins, plasticizers and—in older PVC—even heavy metals.26
PVC has many applications and uses, from pipes to flooring to medical devices. In order to be used in synthetic leather, PVC is softened with chemicals called plasticizers. The most common plasticizers are phthalates27—a word you may have heard linked to a variety of health concerns.28 Phthalates disrupt hormone functioning in the body, even impacting the health of fetuses when their mothers have high exposure.29 These phthalates and other plasticizers leach out from plastics overtime, contaminating air, soil, and water.
While PVC can be recycled, with some sources saying up to eight times,30 the quality and strength of the material is reduced every time it’s melted down.31 Additionally, the melting process itself releases more toxins.32 The rate of plastic recycling has also been deliberately exaggerated by industries.33
Polyurethane (PU) is viewed as superior to PVC, and has overtaken PVC in the faux leather market share.34 Synthetic leather coated with polyurethane is more flexible and breathable than PVC, with a higher tensile strength.35
Polyurethane has an extensive range of uses, from sponges and memory foam, to housing insulation, to protective coating and adhesives, to automotive parts, and more.
Due to this extreme variability, it’s difficult to give a brief and accurate summation of polyurethane. When it comes to leather, one important thing to note about polyurethane is that it is also used to coat animal skin leather. The resulting product may be labeled as “PU leather” or “bicast leather,” so be sure to always read labels carefully.36
The manufacturing process, recyclability, and even biodegradability of polyurethane may hold more promise than PVC.37 While polyurethane is still primarily sent to landfills, there are growing efforts to not only increase recycling of PU,38 but also to produce plant-based polyurethanes.39 Still, it would not be accurate to label polyurethane-coated synthetic leather as a truly sustainable option.
The emerging field of bioleathers, which we will delve into last, may hold the most promise for sustainable leather alternatives. However, there are synthetic leathers far more eco-friendly than PVC and PU. These artificial leathers can be created using more sustainable materials and/or through recycling or upcycling existing materials.
Waxed canvas is a pretty self-explanatory leather alternative. Canvas is a strong, durable fabric, usually made from cotton. When infused with wax, it becomes waterproof, and is a formidable replacement for animal leather.
The “vegan-ness” and sustainability of waxed canvas as a leather alternative hinges entirely upon the kind of wax and cotton (or other textile) utilized. Some waxed canvas faux leathers use beeswax, rendering the product decidedly not vegan.
From an eco-friendly perspective, one of the most common waxes used is paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum. Ideally, look for canvas waxed with plant-based waxes.
Textile-wise, current conventional methods of cotton production are not environmentally sustainable.40 However, waxed canvas artificial leather created with organic cotton will have a far more favorable environmental footprint—especially in comparison to polyester-based alternatives.
Overall, waxed canvas is one of the more widely-available and affordable vegan leather alternatives.
Using upcycled rubber as a leather alternative is an example of effectively repurposing an existing, problematically-abundant non-sustainable material. Upcycling is distinct from what we traditionally mean by the term “recycling.”
Generally, when we talk about recycling, we’re referring to downcycling, meaning breaking or melting down a material to its base to create a generally inferior product. Upcycling, on the other hand, recycles a material into a product of greater value and/or higher quality. Some definitions of upcycling draw the line of delineation at whether a material is broken down at all while others put weight on the value of the end product.
The majority of recycled rubber comes from car tires. Tires and other discarded rubber products have long been an environmental issue due to their slow rate of disintegration and the toxins they emit during burning or breakdown.41
However, the very same long-lasting durability that makes rubber an issue in any disposal site makes it a very effective, robust leather alternative. It’s also a way of prolonging the usage of a material already in existence and keeping it out of the landfill.
Artificial leather created from recycled plastic is another example of repurposing an existing, unsustainable material.
Some companies focus specifically on utilizing plastic pulled from the ocean.42 Plastic and microplastic pollution is one of many factors devastating the health of our oceans.
A report from the World Economic Forum predicts that, if things remain as they are, “the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”43
Still, it’s important to highlight here that animal agriculture remains the greatest single threat to the health of our oceans and our planet as a whole. For an in-depth look into the impact of animal agriculture upon our oceans, please see my article and video “Empty Oceans.”
While upcycling rubber and plastic pollutants are innovative ways to prolong these unsustainable materials while keeping them out of the environment, we ideally need to stem their production in the first place, and continue striving for viable alternatives entirely.
We’ve now reached the most actively-growing frontier of vegan leather alternatives: plant leathers, fruit leathers, and other bioleathers. Before diving in, I wanted to re-emphasize the lack of unbiased, third-party sources of information for most up-and-coming products and materials. Additionally, while bioleathers are moving in the right direction for sustainable leather alternatives, their current availability and affordability remain well below most of the options we’ve covered thus far.
Lastly, most (if not all) plant-based leathers still rely on some kind of plastic in their production. Some companies are more transparent about this than others, and there is valid criticism of what is seen as “sustainability hype” surrounding plant-based leathers and bioleathers. That said, the field of bioleathers is exciting, actively-developing, and holds potential promise for much-needed leather alternatives.
Pineapple leather is a natural leather alternative made from the waste of pineapple harvesting, primarily the leaves of the plants.44 The dominant “brand” of pineapple leather is called Piñatex and was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, originally a leathergoods expert. According to the Piñatex website, “shocked at the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning” and knowing that “PVC alternatives were not the solution…She was driven to research a sustainable alternative.”45
Piñatex has successfully harnessed an existing byproduct of pineapple farming in the Philippines; the leaves were discarded and often burned, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere. Now these leaves are put through a process called “decortication,” meaning the long fibers are extracted. The leaf fibers are then blended with polylactic acid (PLA)46 to create a non-woven mesh. According to Piñatex, their PLA “is a vegetable-based plastic material made from corn starch which comes from a renewable source.”47
Some Piñatex products are additionally coated with a polyurethane (PU) resin, though they note they use a bio-based PU with “no detectable volatile compounds.”48 Due to the usage of PLA and PU, pineapple leather (or at least Piñatex) is not fully biodegradable. Still, it’s a remarkable repurposing of existing, once-discarded food harvesting waste into one of the most eco-friendly, sustainable vegan leather alternatives available today.
The leaves of other plants and trees can also be made into eco-friendly natural leather alternatives. A predominant leaf leather is produced from teak leaves. Thai artisans have long been creating teak leaf leather by hand. After naturally falling from trees, the teak leaves are soaked and dried, fusing together in a sheet.
Cotton cloth is then sewn onto the leaf layer for an inner backing and stability.49 As we’ve covered in the section on waxed canvas and cotton leather alternatives, whether the cotton used is organic significantly impacts the sustainability of the end product.
In order to seal the leaf layer and provide durability, once again some form of thermoplastic polymer is employed. One company that produced teak leather states that they use a non-toxic biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP) coating, stating that, “While not perfect (yet), when incinerated BOPP film only gives off water vapor and carbon dioxide.”50
Apple leather is generally derived from the leftover materials of fruit juice and compote production. Known as AppleSkinTM, apple leather appears to have been the combined brain child of Italian inventor Alberto Volcan and Frutmat founder and CEO Hannes Parth.51
Apple leather is produced through combining leftover apple waste with polyurethane (PU), which is coated onto a canvas composed of cotton or polyester.52 The sustainable accessories company Oliver Co is refreshingly transparent about the usage of PU in apple leather, stating that:
“As it currently stands, the addition of a plastic plays a pivotal role in the durability of bio-based leathers. Without it, the materials wouldn’t endure the general wear of every day life, and extending the life cycle of a product is an incredibly important aspect of sustainability.”53
Within their FAQ, they are equally upfront about the biodegradability of apple leather with current production methods, stating that it’s not biodegradable due to the use of PU and polyester. They do clarify that while “polyurethane is actually degradable…it doesn’t respect 180 days, so it can’t [be] declared as biodegradable.”54 Additionally, while biodegradable polyurethanes are available, as I mentioned early on in this article, they currently aren’t durable enough to be viable options.
Mango leather differs slightly from the fruit leathers we’ve discussed thus far. Rather than being derived from discarded byproducts of harvest or juicing, mango leather is created from discarded fruit. Food waste is a massive issue within our global food system.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “each year, approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.” And almost half of all fruits and vegetables grown for food are wasted.55 Mango leather is an inventive way to make use of some of this wasted fruit. Mangoes are crushed into a puree and their fibers are extracted, much like with pineapple leather.
As with other fruit leathers, the mango fibers are fused with some backing material like cotton or polyester, and sealed with some form of resin or wax.
The company Fruitleather Rotterdam states that they use certified organic cotton, “natural additives,” and some kind of “vegan wax” for the water-repellent coating.56 As always, check with companies when investigating any vegan leather alternative.
Another exciting, innovative vegan leather alternative is cactus leather. Created by Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez, who launched their company Desserto in 2019, cactus leather is made specifically from the Nopal cactus.
The Nopal cactus has unique attributes making it perhaps one of the most sustainable plants on earth. It will grow on land where no other plants can and requires minimal to no irrigation.57
For the sealant aspect of their product, Desserto states that they use their own “Bio-Polymer” which is “partially made from organic renewable compounds.” For the textile backing, they offer recycled options like cotton, polyester, nylon and mixes thereof.
Desserto’s website states that their cactus leather is biodegradable “under anaerobic thermophilic conditions”—meaning 50°C (122°F) or above—and that “the biodegradation percentage varies from material to material depending on its formulation.”58 Their site also offers an overview of an Early Life Cycle Assessment (the methodical evaluation of a product or service’s possible environmental effects throughout the course of its full life cycle) for their cactus leather.59
Cork leather is made from the bark of cork oak trees. After a tree is between fifteen to twenty-five years old, the bark is harvested by hand every nine to ten years, which is how long it takes for the bark to re-grow.60
To make cork leather, the bark is cut into sheets, dried for six months, and then steamed and boiled before being cut into thin sheets.61 As with all of the plant-based leathers, the cork sheets are attached to backing fabric, so the same caveats apply regarding organic cotton and other materials.
I found some conflicting information about the finishing and adhesion used with cork leather. Some sources claim that because cork contains suberin, which acts as a natural adhesive, it doesn’t require any synthetic or plastic adhesives,62 also making it fully biodegradable. However, the Material Safety Data Sheet for the company PORTUGALIACORK’s cork leather does indicate the use of aqueous aliphatic polyurethane.63
Cork leather does appear to be surprisingly durable, resistant to abrasion, and elastic in quality. Not exactly what comes to mind when you think of cork. While it may not be as durable as animal skin leather, cork does have the upper hand with permeability. Cork, unlike animal leather, will not absorb liquid or dust, and will not rot. Though some manufacturers claim their cork leather will “last a lifetime,” this material is still too new to know its true long-term durability.64
Mushroom leather, also known as mycelium leather, is just one example of the incredible possibilities of fungi. While you may think of mushroom leather as a plant-based leather, fungi (plural for fungus) have their own separate kingdom—they are neither plant nor animal. Fascinatingly, fungi are actually more closely related to animals than plants.65
The truly astounding world of fungi is well beyond the scope of this article,66 but I’ll provide a very simplified summation of mushrooms and mycelium. Mushrooms grow from mycelium, a branching, root-like structure of thread-like tendrils that can cover thousands of acres. In fact, one species of mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) is the world’s largest living organism, with a single “individual” spanning over 2,385 acres (3.7 mi2, 9.65 km2) and estimated to be between 1,900 and 8,650 years old.67
The incredible and unique features of mycelia (plural of mycelium) are only beginning to be explored for alternative materials. In addition to a promising vegan leather alternative, mycelia are already being used to produce plastic alternatives,68 biodegradable product packaging,69 foams,70 building materials,71 and even bacon.72
There are several approaches to making mushroom leather. Some fungi leathers, like Muskin,73 use the cap of mushrooms—specifically the species Phellinus ellipsoideus—while others like MYX and Mylo utilize the mycelium.74 One of the many advantages of mycelium as a leather alternative is the fast growth rate. Producing leather from mycelium is a matter of days or weeks versus the resource-intensive years of raising animals.75
Mushroom leather also provides one of the most sustainable vegan leather alternatives, with the possibility of a completely closed-loop system (meaning a supply chain in which the same resources are repurposed to make new goods.) Some mushroom and mycelium leather companies purport to be “plastic free” and fully biodegradable,76 however the Mylo website casts some doubt upon this claim. Mylo states that its materials are “not currently biodegradable,” clarifying that this “is the case for pretty much all leather and alternative leathers that we are aware of.”77 While not plastic-free, the company states that Mylo doesn’t utilize petroleum-based inputs.78
Given the newness of the fungi leather field, we’ll have to wait and see for more comprehensive life cycle assessments.79
If you thought fungi’s speed and scalability for vegan leather production sounds promising, microorganisms may give mycelium a run for its money. Companies are now finding ways to “grow” leather.
Axel Gómez-Ortigoza, the CEO of one such startup called Polybion, told Forbes that “‘bacteria have simpler genomes and are easier to genetically engineer’ than fungi…offering faster scaling and more predictable, repeatable material outputs than fungi-based alternatives.”80 To create its leather alternative “Celium,” Polybion feeds food waste to bacteria, which then produce a cellulose membrane.81
Within the Forbes article covering Polybion, journalist Brooke Roberts-Islam relays the company’s claims about their comparative carbon footprint to animal and plastic-based leathers, but is sure to clarify that the final Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is still pending.82
Another bioleather created from microorganisms is Le Qara. I have to say that this company’s website is what I had most in mind when I made my early caveat about slick sites with engaging photographs and sweeping claims, but little solid information. Their site’s homepage states that “Le Qara bioleather is not only biodegradable, but also the residues from the process can be used as a liquid compost, making it a process that generates no waste.”83 This is quite a bold statement, but one for which I have yet to find solid grounding. The images of their lab-grown leather admittedly look incredible.
If growing leather sounds innovative, a start-up called Modern Meadow developed a way to essentially “brew” leather with yeast.84 To be scientifically clear, yeast is actually a unicellular speciess of fungi. I’ve included yeast-grown leather in the microorganism section with bacteria due to the similarity of methodology.
I’ll admit that I am still a bit confused with Modern Meadow. I found articles and coverage from 2018 referring to their leather alternative as “Zoa bioleather.”85 Yet, if you go to Modern Meadow’s (seemingly-infinitely-scrollable and visually-overwhelming) website, they now refer to a product called “Bio-Tex,” achieved via their “proprietary Bio-Alloy™ technology.”86 Unfortunately, when clicking the link to learn more about Bio-Alloy, nothing happens.
I don’t mean to paint the potential of leather made by microorganisms poorly. This approach may hold a great deal of promise for upcyling food waste into extremely sustainable lab-grown leather. The idea is certainly exciting. I am just not finding this to be an available alternative at this time, nor do I feel I have enough of a factual foundation to relay the reality of microorganism-grown leather.
MIRUM is a bit of an outlier in the vegan leather alternatives world. Purportedly completely plastics-free, MIRUM isn’t made from any one ingredient, but rather sourced from a variety of natural materials selected to suit the particular application.87
Natural Fiber Welding, the company behind MIRUM, distinguishes its material from what it calls “plant-plastic hybrids,” referring to many of the plant-based leathers we’ve covered.88 In an article by Paula Lorenz at The Circular Laboratory, Natural Fiber Welding’s CEO Dr. Luke Haverhals is quoted as saying: “There is not really strong evidence that the resource footprint of those materials is reduced at all due to the extra complexity of manufacturing and shortened product lifetime. Using any plastics at all entails all of the negative externalities associated with fossil resource exploration, extraction, transportation, and processing that goes towards making plastic.”89
Dr. Haverhals is openly critical about the use of plastics in the majority of bioleathers, and Paula Lorenz’ article rightly advises caution when it comes to sustainability claims and hype surrounding the world of plant-based leathers.
While Natural Fiber Welding has a blog post dedicated to how MIRUM is made, the specifics are still overall vague, referring—for example—to their “patented plant-based curative” that is “entirely plant-based and sourced from renewable feedstocks.”90 MIRUM claims to be both 100% recyclable and 100% circular, meaning it can be “endlessly recycled into new MIRUM.”
The concerns over the true sustainability of plant-based yet plastic-using leather alternatives that MIRUM is aiming to address are legitimate and important to consider. As with every developing field, at this point the “flash” of is far more readily available than the facts.
The world of vegan leather alternatives is truly a balancing act.
Durability can mean sacrificing sustainability. Sustainability can mean sacrificing availability—or, more so—affordability for the general public.
While we’ve seen that there is much promise in this field for continuing to improve this balance, it can be overwhelming as a consumer.
The Mylo FAQ for their mycelium leather rightly explain that:
“new technology…always requires an investment in the beginning, which means the first pieces to market will cost more. As demand scales up, the cost will come down.”91
Also, as we’ve seen time and again, many sustainability claims are at this point just that—claims.
The inclusion of plastics in many plant-based leather alternatives is an important consideration, as is the transparency each company affords this inclusion.
An option I want to re-emphasize is second-hand products. I personally purchase all of my clothing from second-hand stores, though I admit that I find little need for leather alternatives at all in my life. But I know that there is a need for sustainable, durable leather alternatives.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that animal leather remains the very worst option on all fronts. It is the most environmentally devastating,92 the greatest threat to public health, and by far the most unethical option.
Yes, we should be aware of and concerned about the sustainability of the products we purchase. And unfortunately, in the still-developing field of vegan alternatives to leather, this often means selecting the best of many non-ideal options. We as consumers must strike our own balance of what is available, what we can afford, and what most aligns with our values.
I hope that this guide on vegan leather alternatives has been helpful. Please do share it with anyone curious about alternatives to leather!
I do wish I had more solid absolutes to offer. As I said at the outset, I was not expecting this to be the profoundly complex topic it turned out to be. I will return to this article in the future with updates, and may also explore some of these options in their own dedicated write-ups.
If you found this exploration of vegan leather alternatives useful, please consider making a donation. Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter or follow the Telegram channel to be notified of new Bite Size Vegan content. Now go live vegan, and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick