Vegan leather handbags have been making waves in the fashion industry, and its popularity continues to grow as more people seek ethical and sustainable alternatives to traditional animal leather. In this blog, we will look to find out what vegan leather is and its impact on the environment fashion industry. With this guide, you will have a clear understanding of what vegan leather is and why it's becoming a favorite choice for conscious consumers.
What is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather, also known as synthetic leather or faux leather, is any material designed to mimic the look and feel of traditional animal leather without the use of animals. It is created using a variety of materials, including polyurethane (PU), upcycled inner tube and more recently, innovative plant-based alternatives like apple leather, and pineapple leather (Piñatex). Vegan leather can be used in a wide range of products, from clothing and accessories to upholstery and automotive interiors.
Types of Vegan Leather
In the past few years, there has been an explosion of innovations in the realm of vegan leather. Vegan bags are made of many different materials, I am going to cover some of the best textiles for cruelty-free handbags.
1. Polyurethane (PU) Leather: PU leather is one of the most common vegan leather materials. It is made by coating a fabric backing, usually polyester or cotton, with a layer of PU. The result is a leather-like material that is both durable and affordable. There are different kinds of PU but most commonly used in high quality, handbag production is nontoxic and water based. PU itself is not sustainable, though water based PU is the most eco-friendly. However, there are many vegan leather handbags that are now being made with post-consumer, recycled PU vegan leather and recycled polyester, which reduces the need for new material production making this a fantastic sustainable choice.
2. Upcycled Innertube: Upcycling materials, such as innertube, is an incredibly eco-friendly choice for vegan handbags. Unlike recycling, upcycling uses the material as it is which eliminates the process of recycling the material, keeping the carbon footprint extremely low. The innertube is then hand crafted into a unique, one-of-a-kind vegan leather bag. Due to the durability and leather-like quality, this a remarkable option when created by skilled artists.
3. Appleskin Leather: Appleskin leather is a plant-based leather option that is gaining traction in Europe and starting to show up in the US. It is created by using the waste from the apple industry that is then mixed with recycled, water based PU and/or organic cotton. While it is not biodegradable, it significantly reduces the carbon footprint through repurposing waste and reducing production processes. Appleskin is incredibly durable, stain resistant and water resistant. The material is incredibly versatile and the feel and quality is absolutely outstanding.
3. Cork Leather: Cork leather bags are made from the bark of cork trees found in Portugal. The cork tree is the only tree where the bark regenerates and can be harvested over and over. This innovative vegan leather offers a sustainable alternative to traditional leather while being incredibly versatile in its applications. Cork leather is soft and pliable, yet incredibly strong and durable. It is waterproof and stain resistant, making it a top choice for eco-friendly, cruelty-free products.
4. Pineapple Leather (Piñatex): Piñatex is derived from the fibers of pineapple leaves, making it a renewable and eco-friendly option. Though pineapple leather handbags are not so widely available, it is starting to get more attention. Like Appleskin, it must be mixed in order to create the final product but the high concentration of pineapple fibers that make up the finished product, it is a much more sustainable and compassionate choice. Pinatex is not only used in fashion but also in upholstery and other industries.
Advantages of Vegan Leather
Now that we have a basic understanding of what vegan leather is, let's explore the advantages that make it an attractive choice for consumers.
One of the primary reasons people opt for vegan leather is its cruelty-free nature. Unlike traditional leather, which requires the slaughter of animals, vegan leather is made without harming animals. This aligns with the principles of compassion and animal welfare.
Vegan leather has a significantly lower environmental impact compared to animal leather. Traditional leather production involves resource-intensive practices, such as raising livestock specifically for leather and tanning processes that release harmful chemicals into the environment and the water supply. The chemicals are also extremely toxic to the people working in this industry who are exposed to these chemicals every day for hours at a time. In contrast, most vegan leather is manufactured with fewer resources and much less pollution. Vegan leather has a lower carbon footprint and choosing recycled, upcycled or plant-based textiles lowers it even more.
Vegan leather can be created in various textures, colors, and finishes, giving designers and consumers a wide range of options to choose from. It is highly adaptable and can be used in various fashion items, including bags, shoes, belts, and clothing. Many vegan leather materials are waterproof and stain resistant, keeping them in great shape no matter what kind of weather strikes.
Compared to high-quality animal leather, vegan leather tends to be more affordable. This makes it accessible to a broader range of consumers, allowing them to make high quality ethical choices without breaking the bank.
Sustainability of Vegan Leather
Vegan leather has gained recognition for its potential to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Let's explore its sustainability factors.
Reduced Carbon Footprint
Traditional leather production is associated with greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, transportation, and chemical treatments. Vegan leather, especially when made from innovative plant-based materials, has a significantly lower carbon footprint.
Vegan leather requires fewer resources, such as water and land, compared to animal leather. Additionally, it eliminates the need for raising and feeding animals for leather, reducing the strain on agricultural resources.
Less Toxic Chemical Use
The tanning process for animal leather involves the use of toxic chemicals like chromium, which can have harmful effects on both the environment and workers. Vegan leather production, especially when using Apple leather or Piñatex, avoids these toxic substances.
Some vegan leather alternatives, such as cork leather, are biodegradable, meaning they break down naturally over time. This contrasts with synthetic materials like PVC, which can persist in the environment for centuries.
The durability of vegan leather can vary depending on the quality and type of material used. Some cheaper forms of vegan leather may not be as long-lasting as high-quality animal leather. However, conversely, great quality vegan leather can last much longer and keep in top shape better than any animal leather. One reason is due to being waterproof - or water resistant - and stain resistance. Durable textiles such as cork leather, Appleskin leather, Pinatex and upcycled inner tube last for years making it a great investment that prevents more waste in the long run.
The Fashion Industry's Shift Towards Vegan Leather
The fashion industry plays a crucial role in driving consumer trends and choices. Over the past decade, there has been a noticeable shift towards embracing vegan leather in the industry. However, not all vegan leather is created equally as there are still many cheap, PVC made bags being offered on marketplaces. These are typically very cheap and do not hold up for long.
As consumers become more conscious of the ethical and environmental implications of their choices, they are actively seeking alternatives to traditional leather and cheap PVC options. This demand has prompted many fashion forward innovators to explore and invest in vegan leather options.
The fashion industry is notorious for generating textile waste. Many vegan leather alternatives provide a sustainable route, reducing the need for animal leather and promoting the efficient use of resources. By repurposing materials that would normally be seen as waste, such as apples, pineapples and previously used PU leather consumers can begin to align their fashion choices with their values.
Challenges and Considerations
While vegan leather offers numerous benefits, it is not without its challenges and considerations. Although there are many sustainable alternatives, there are still many toxic and wasteful options on the market making it difficult for consumers to weed through the choices to find an eco-friendly, cruelty--free handbag. Even many that have a sustainable exterior, have an interior that is not. Finding a reputable source to shop a variety of sustainable vegan bags is not an easy mission. This is why I started Green Vegan Bags, too take the guess work out and make it easy for everyone.