Lately, I’ve been hearing about vegan leather. It’s supposed to look like an exact replica of real leather, but without all the environmental damage and animal cruelty. That’s win-win, but I couldn’t really find what vegan leather is actually made of. I did some deeper digging, and I’ve found the answer:
Plastic. Vegan leather is just plastic.
You might also know it as PU leather, pleather (plastic leather), or fake or faux leather.
Commonly used materials are PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and PU (polyurethane). Both are plastic-based materials.
Since lots of chemicals are needed for the production of pleather, concerns have been
raised about the safety and dangers of vegan leather to the environment.
PVC leather uses a plasticizer, named phthalates, which has been described by
Greenpeace as the single most environmentally damaging type of plastic. PU leather
uses oil based polymers, which are made with the use of fossil fuels. It also releases
hazardous toxins. The chemicals give vegan leather a strange smell that can be hard to
get rid of.
Very few vegan leathers are actually made from natural materials. The only plus side to
vegan leather is that it’s not made of animal skin.
When comparing real and vegan leather, quality and durability should be considered.
Vegan leather is thinner, lighter, and cheaper than real leather. At the same time, this
lowers the quality and makes it less durable. Good quality real leather, when taken care
of properly, can last decades. Annually replacing your pleather shoes has a higher
environmental impact than replacing your leather boots once every five years. Also,
pleather is not biodegradable.
Real leather also breathes, whereas pleather does not, causing the material to feel sweaty
and uncomfortable. And, not unimportantly, leather ages really well, pleather does not.
Plus side of plastic leather: it’s waterproof! This not only comes in handy in rainy
Dutch autumns, it also makes for easy cleaning. Use a mild detergent, or wipe it with a
damp cloth. Be careful with pleather and sunlight: too much exposure can cause the
material to crack.
Can’t live with either pleather or leather? There are organic alternatives. Have you heard
of fruit leather? Founded in Rotterdam, Fruitleather converts left-over fruits (mangos)
into eco- and animal-friendly, leather-like material. They offer brand-to-brand services,
meaning fashion designers can buy sheets of fruit leather and convert it into anything
and any piece they want. Similar to Fruitleather is Pinatex, from Ananas Anam. As the
name suggests, this fruit leather is made from pineapple. As the development of
Pinatex started back in the 1990s, the brand has had some time to grow, resulting in a
long, long list of brands working with Pinatex. And those are not the least of brands:
Pinatex has been used by Hugo Boss, Selected Femme, Sézane, Be Mine Bags (check
out their Luigi line, made with Pinatex; a-ma-zing!), and many more (vegan) brands.
I’m a big fan of leather, I love its look and feel, but I also have to admit I also own
quite a lot of fake leather, because, well, it’s much cheaper. After realizing faux leather is
basically just plastic, I’m committed to not buying any new fake leather items, and
looking into alternatives or invest in real leather pieces. What’s your opinion on the
matter? Are you team real or fake? Let us know in the comments!