Handbags, belts, boots, wallets, luggage – the leather industry has held the manufacturing monopoly on most of those lifestyle items for some time now. But as a global urgency towards environmental sustainability grows and an awareness toward eco-living becomes an ever-present fore-ground thought in most mindful consumers, the question of ‘which leather is best’ warrants some serious inquiry. Depending on where on the vegan, veggie or flexi fence you’re sitting, you may have various factors of importance to think of here. But coming from a purely environmental impact stance – here’s a look at the leather options out there, and which ones offer what it terms of wearing ethical so you can make clearer and lighter decisions.

Vegan Leather

The anti-animal leather movement exploded with a veritable buffet of vegan leather brands, all made from synthetic materials. That’s all good and well if not wearing leather that supports animal cruelty is your objective. But let’s clarify something quickly. Vegan doesn’t mean ‘naturalist’ or ‘eco-conscious’. Of course, you can be those things too if you are vegan, but as an adjective to leather ‘vegan’ simply means ‘not using or containing animal products’.  It is certainly not synonymous with sustainable.

Most vegan leathers or leatherettes are made from a polyurethane, a less toxic plastic than PVC, with a fabric backing. These fabric names are common players on the vegan leather scene:

Lorica – a synthetic microfiber often used in sports footwear – also a blend of polyurethane and polyester

Kydex – this is PVC based vegan leather – waterproof and scuff resistant

Environmental Pros

  • Requires far less energy to produce synthetic materials (it is said about 20 times less)
  • It’s still a relatively breathable fabric, if made with PU (polyurethane)
  • You’re not contributing to animal cruelty

Environmental Cons

  • It’s still a synthetic material so it’s not ticking any natural boxes
  • Polyurethane, while far less toxic than PVC, still has its origins in fossil fuels
  • Not necessarily biodegradable, depending on which plastic blend is used (purely veg plastics might be)

Silver lining

Word on the street is that scientists are working on a vegetable polyurethane that’s made from plant oils, which will offer a far higher biodegradability component.

Continue reading this article on the Faithful to Nature blog.