Vegan Leather: All Just Greenwashing? – ISPO

Whether in shoes, backpacks and bags or in clothing – if they are well cared for, leather products are long-lasting, look sleek and are as flexible and supple as they are sturdy. Ideal, for example , for hiking boots that have to withstand great stress over a long period of time and still need to be comfortable.   But leather also has its downsides.   Anyone looking for information on sustainable materials in the textile sector these days will quickly stumble across vegan leather.

What Is Vegan Leather?

Vegan leather is made without the use or processing of animal materials. Strictly speaking, the material cannot be real leather, as this is obtained from animal skin and then processed. As a vegan alternative, instead of animal pores and skin, synthetic material and plant fibers are processed in a similar manufacturing process to create a material that looks very similar to conventional animal leather.

Vegan Leather: What Are the Advantages?

Vegan materials are considered sustainable and environmentally friendly, so is the alternative to leather. In addition , there is no animal suffering in the manufacturing process. Moreover, even bone glue is completely dispensed with in the production associated with vegan leather.

In addition to sustainability aspects, there are also price advantages . Genuine leather is known for being expensive, but the vegan alternative is usually far less expensive. Of course , it should be noted that the price is ultimately strongly oriented to the processing and the sales brand.

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Vegan Leather Manufacturing Process: Not as Sustainable as Thought?

A look at the manufacturing process makes it clear that vegan leather not only offers advantages in terms of sustainability plus environmental protection. The production is namely carried out through the use of synthetic materials. A wide variety of chemicals and fossil fuels are used in the process, for example. Commonly used substances such as polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride lead to health problems in the worst case. The plasticizers they contain are also a cause for concern.

Due to the high demand for vegan leather, new methods are constantly being developed and implemented. For example , there are already leather alternatives made from pineapple leaf fibers or mushrooms. But even here, environmentally harmful processes such as the PU coating are used to extend the durability of the material.

The label “vegan leather” gives the impression that it is an environmentally friendly alternative to classic animal natural leather, and considering the animal welfare aspect, this is quite true. However , the synthetic components used in its manufacture are usually anything but sustainable. In addition , vegan leather is also not biodegradable . Although the label vegan is associated with sustainability by most consumers, this is unfortunately not the case in the case of leather. Regrettably, depending on the production process, the materials are even partly harmful and can endanger health.

The Production of Genuine Leather as a Comparison

It may sound surprising to some, but genuine leather offers several benefits over the vegan variety. Namely, animal leather is biodegradable, breathable, long-lasting, comfortable, and sometimes leftovers from meat production are utilized in the manufacturing process .

From some aspects, authentic leather is even more sustainable because of its durability. And as we all know, it is best for the environment if new products are bought in the first place. Moreover, biodegradability is an important criterion for sustainable products.

Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that leather production is directly related to the particular meat industry . Even though production of leather goods from leftovers reduces the amount of waste, meat industry will be anything but sustainable. In addition to the immense amount of water used (15, 415 liters for 1 kg of beef), animal agriculture is also responsible for approximately 15 to 20 percent of environmentally harmful carbon emissions.

In addition , the production of leather-based involves chemical treatment through chrome tanning. takes place. Chrome is a toxic color and therefore not harmless to human health, which can also have negative effects on the environment. A more sustainable alternative is usually, for example , vegetable tanning, but unfortunately not all leather manufacturers resort to it.

Vegan Leather or Genuine Leather: Which Is Better?

It is not possible to make a general statement about which variant is better. The most common manufacturing processes associated with both variants are not entirely harmless to the environment plus health. The question is therefore to what extent you can reconcile the purchase of a product with your own values. Vegan leather is undoubtedly better for the animal world, but the products can be harmful to humans and the environment, as the products are not biodegradable and environmentally harmful and hazardous chemicals are used in the manufacturing process.

Therefore , before buying a product, it is recommended to take a closer look at the manufacturing process. This applies to both animal and vegan variants. As already explained, genuine leather, for example , is definitely partly made from vegetable suntanning and vegan leather often consists of pineapple, mushroom or cactus leather. Unfortunately, these manufacturing methods are not guaranteed by all suppliers.

Therefore , you should consider these types of criteria when making your decision.

For Whom Is Vegan Leather-based a Good Alternative?

The alternative to classic leather is particularly suitable for people who care about animal welfare. If it is purely about the sustainability aspect, it must be individually checked for the respective product whether it meets the criteria mentioned.

In addition , vegan leather is suitable for anyone who wants to save some money when buying their products. Of course , you may have to sacrifice something in terms of appearance and quality, because textiles made of genuine natural leather often have a higher quality appearance and are also more durable. But that doesn’t mean that textiles made of vegan leather can’t be stylish or are even inferior within quality, quite the opposite. Even with furniture and accessories, the visual differences are often minimal.

How Is Vegan Leather Made?

In the meantime, vegan leather-based is no longer made exclusively from polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). manufactured. In the meantime, the following raw materials are also used in production:

Mushroom Leather

A hitherto rather unknown manufacturing method is the production of leather through mushrooms. The mushroom species “Zunderschwamm” has its home in Bavaria and in some other regions of Germany. This is a good alternative for those who also consider regional aspects. Mushroom leather is ideal for textiles, because the material can be comparatively breathable and also very soft.


Cork is considered a very lasting material. It is made from the particular cork oak tree as well as the trees do not have to be felled for the raw material extraction. Peeled trees produce cork by themselves and also produce four times as much oxygen as unpeeled trees. Cork natural leather is also considered breathable, waterproof and warming.

Wine Leather

This production method is based on grapes plus their skins, stems and seeds. The processing method combines oil and the materials to create a leather-like surface.

Apple Natural leather

The particular so-called “appleskin” is created from the remains of the apple industry . In this process, approximately 70 % consists of apple residues and the remaining 30 percent of polyurethane material. Even though this substance is responsible for the particular stability of the manufactured products, polyurethane is not good for the environment. Therefore , Appleskin cannot be classified as an environmentally friendly alternative.

Cactus Buckskin

The unique structure of the Nopal cactus looks confusingly similar to real leather. In addition , during the production of Cactus leather hardly water needed and it completely avoids the use of synthetic materials. Due to its high durability, cactus leather is perfect for processing into fashion, accessories, furniture plus clothing.

Pineapple Leather

Many vegan buckskin varieties are made from fruits. Most famous is pineapple leather, also known as Piñatex . The leather is made from the fibers of pineapple leaves. This makes the material robust and because the fruit is readily available, products made from piñatex are relatively inexpensive.

How to Clean and Care For Vegan Leather?

Products made of vegan leather also require care so that they last as long as possible. Shoes are best cleaned with a soft brush with which you can gently apply pressure. Car seats should be wiped in the direction of the grain. Handbags, on the other hand, are best impregnated with a spray beforehand and then cleaned with a damp cloth because needed.

Important: General tips like these do not apply to all items. Therefore , it is best to always follow the care instructions for the particular leather to be on the safe side.

How Does Vegan Leather Differ from Faux Leather?

Contrary to many assumptions, vegan leather is not a greenwashing -trick to sell products better, because there are actually crucial differences to artificial leather. The main feature of vegan leather-based, as the name suggests, is that it is manufactured without any pet products. The production of artificial leather, on the other hand, only avoids the processing of animal skins, Bone glue is still used .

So synthetic leather is not the same as vegan. Therefore , pay close attention to the designation, because imitation leather may only be called vegan if actually no pet products were processed.

Conclusion: Vegan Leather

What is clear is that vegan leather offers an animal-friendly and affordable alternative to genuine natural leather. However , mostly at the expense of the environment. Although buckskin alternatives made from fruit in particular are comparatively environmentally friendly, chemical substances are often used here as well. Anyone who really wants to live sustainably should therefore find out exactly about the manufacturing process plus weigh up which leather variant fits better with their personal values. In any case, it is important to care for the products properly, no matter which material you finally choose. This way you can wear the leather goods for years without having to buy new products, which is ultimately best for our environment.

FAQ: Vegan Leather

What Is a PU Coating?

It is a protective layer made of polyurethane (PU). The coating serves as a durable impregnation procedure to provide protection against moisture. However , PU coating is certainly harmful to the environment and health.

Is Vegan Leather Waterproof?

Vegan buckskin is waterproof in most cases, yet only with an appropriate plastic coating.

Is Vegan Leather-based Plastic?

In most cases, the basically environmentally friendly materials such as pineapple leather or natural, are coated with a plastic layer of polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane. Thus, the products are vegan, but not environmentally friendly.

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