What is vegan leather?


Here´s an observation on textile terminology and marketing tricks. If they call it "vegan leather" it is really plastic, usually polyurethane (labelled as PUR or PU). It is a soft surfaced fake leather that looks and feels like the real thing, but it is 100% plastic. There is no such thing as vegan leather. If it is leather it comes from an animal. Vegans don´t use animal originated products. Polyurethane is comfortable to use and usually affordable apart from being a bit hot and sweaty as it is plastic, but it does not last or get a worn surface like real leather does. Nor does it do well in cold weather. So if it is a shoe, jacket or a bag and you´re planning to wear it in below zero (Celsius) temperatures, leave it to the stores. Designers that refure to use real leather in their collections might call it also pleather (sounds much more fashionable than faux leather!) and give it a long list of positive qualities. "It doesn't wrinkle. It travels really well. It's waterproof, so if you wear it in the rain it completely repels water. There's something sort of magical about its properties." All true, but it is still plastic. PETA celebrates faux leathers as "cruelty-free” and that´s true when examining the ethical side of production. BUT making new plastic requires loads of chemicals and oil so it cannot exactly be called green. So in my mind recycled leather, real used leather beats this. The only ethically produced leather I know is reindeer leather and other free-grown animal leather. Of course it is still real leather so it does require a tanning process with chemicals, but when the production is made in a country with proper standards and environmental laws it´s still better in my book than PU produced in Asia.

A good tip is that if the material tag says something you don´t know, ask. "What is PU?" "It´s polyurethane." "What is it?" "It´s vegan leather." "But WHAT is it made of And how?" "It´s basically plastic..." Not complaining really, but just making a point. Anthropologie for example sells PU as "vegan leather" and Stella McCartney pleather.

On just a side note, I´d love also real leather to be labelled as what it is. Not just as "leather" or "genuine leather", but as "cow leather" or "pig leather". It would make it all much more clear. If someone asks me what material my fashions are, I usually say the animal instead of just the material. My sense of humor is a bit darker that way. But maybe this is just me. I often also ask the waiter while ordering a fish burger, what fish it is. Just so I know I´m not eating anything endangered. If they don´t know, I´ll go with the veggie option. Same goes for my fashions.

Photo: Nymag.

Outi Les Pyy

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8 comments:

  1. Good entry! I just need to point out that the quality of fake leather differs ALOT between brands. The cheap fake leather that we find in store crack & breaks really easily. But other brands, like Vegetarian Shoes and Vegan Dr Martens, have exceptionally good quality. I have a pair of Vegetarians Shoes boots that I have worn for more than ten years - they are still intact, havent cracked & they are the most comfortable shoes Ive ever had. Unlike leather boots that needs to be oiled up in order for them not to break, Vegetarian Shoes dont need any special attention, part from some occassional cleaning.

    So all i wanna say is - not all fake leather materials act the same, and some brands DO last atleast as long (or longer!) as leather boots.

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  2. Great article! This makes it much clearer to me, and I think you have a good point of view :) I especially like it that you stand by it in different things (not just fashion)

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  3. Amazing and insightful Piece. I have a fall coat from bb jack dakota and it says it is made from pvc. I know it's plastic but is it polyurethen? Also maybe there is a way to make this pleather from recycled plastics. If only I understood the science of this.

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  4. I can't say that I agree with you. If you're looking for non-animal material that is eco-friendly, there are quite a few options. Microfibers (still PU i think) are a great alternative IF they are made somewhere in the west. Then you can be sure that, aside from not being animal derivative product, it follows the same laws as so-called "ethically produced leather", at least concerning the impact on the environment. :)

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  5. I can't say that I agree with you. If you're looking for non-animal material that is eco-friendly, there are quite a few options. Microfibers (still PU i think) are a great alternative IF they are made somewhere in the west. Then you can be sure that, aside from not being animal derivative product, it follows the same laws as so-called "ethically produced leather", at least concerning the impact on the environment. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fake leather is the devil. It shouldn't even exist. It is a hazardous material made out of petroleum products. It's the last material I would want to wear next to my body. When plastics break down, they leech out chemicals, if it is on your skin your body will absorb that. If people don't want to wear animal skin they have much better options; like wearing fabrics made out of plants such as cotton or linen.

    There is nothing ethical about this "leather" at all. PVC has phthalates in it which are toxic and polyurethane can cause respiratory problems (not to mention, if it comes in contact with fire it releases hydrogen cyanide).

    In trying to avoid wearing animal skins, we must also try not to poison our bodies and the environment. If people are resorting to harmful plastics which are anything but eco friendly, fashion has gone too far.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Fake leather is the devil. It shouldn't even exist. It is a hazardous material made out of petroleum products. It's the last material I would want to wear next to my body. When plastics break down, they leech out chemicals, if it is on your skin your body will absorb that. If people don't want to wear animal skin they have much better options; like wearing fabrics made out of plants such as cotton or linen.

    There is nothing ethical about this "leather" at all. PVC has phthalates in it which are toxic and polyurethane can cause respiratory problems (not to mention, if it comes in contact with fire it releases hydrogen cyanide).

    In trying to avoid wearing animal skins, we must also try not to poison our bodies and the environment. If people are resorting to harmful plastics which are anything but eco friendly, fashion has gone too far.

    ReplyDelete