Over the last decade, vegan leather has gained much recognition among millions of people worldwide, including some well-known brands. It's no surprise that people have been drooling over it because of its exceptional qualities and the fact that no animal has to go through a tough time only to produce a piece of leather.
Mostly made from plastic, vegan leather uses an incredible amount of synthetic materials and natural fibers to come into being. Recent new techniques involve the use of fruit wastage and other materials like cork. In this article, I have discussed what vegan leather really is.
What is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather is a material that looks like leather but instead is an imitation of it. Its process involves no harm to animals, mostly resulting in an inorganically generated leather. It is best described as artificial leather, serving the same purpose as any original leather.
We know this leather as synthetic leather, faux (fake) leather, or pleather (plastic leather).
Lately, it has taken over the fashion industry and is primarily used to mass-produce leather jackets, leather bags, and leather wallets.
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What Is Vegan Leather Made from?
Vegan leather, also known as synthetic leather, is made from various materials. Most popularly known are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), both different forms of plastic. Other materials include recycled rubbers, apple peels or pulp, and pineapple leaves.
Let's look more closely at their definitions.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Polyvinyl chloride is the most common material used for manufacturing vegan leather. It is made through a process called polymerization. The vinyl chloride molecules' monomers are joined together, releasing dioxins in this process.
As PVC is produced, it is given shape and bent accordingly with the help of phthalates.
After PVC, polyurethane comes next.
It is an alternative method to polyvinyl chloride, which includes tinting liquid polyurethane to the fabric such as nylon, polyester, or cotton to get the exact look of leather. The painted surface is then given a texture by running a textured roller over it to get an animal-leather-like design.
It is readily available, cheap, and pliable.
As the name suggests, vegan leather is also produced by using recycled rubbers. It includes all the materials like plastic bottles or old rubber tires. To be converted into faux leather, a whole process needs to be performed.
Recycled rubber is not only sustainable but also environmentally friendly. However, it is not always available and lacks conventional leather patina.
Apple leather is another type of vegan leather available in the market.
First off, apple pulp is given a form by rolling it into strips and then providing some heat to it. A flexible and biodegradable product is obtained, requiring only 1 liter of water per meter.
Another method involves the use of apple peels, which are dried and then powdered before getting combined with polyurethane. The results give a product that we can call faux leather.
That being said, apple leather is a good option as it utilizes the waste material and gives textured leather without using much polyurethane.
Pineapple leather, also named Piñatex, makes use of pineapple leaf fiber. Though it requires no additional substances other than pineapple leaves, it does need a polyurethane layer at the end to obtain the final product.
Piñatex gives a distinct look to the leather and can be made into any color. In addition to that, it also prevents the wastage of organic matter.
What Does Vegan Leather Look Like?
From quality to appearance, vegan leather sets out its differences from real leather. Although it looks a lot 'leather-like,' it does not form a patina with time due to its synthetic nature. It is also far less breathable because of the artificial pores found on the leather's surface.
Vegan Leather Vs. Real Leather
Even though both types of leather are similar and serve the same purpose, a few aspects distinguish between the two.
First, let us see the benefits of vegan leather over real leather.
- It is created without animal sacrifice, meaning it is entirely free from cruelty to living beings.
- In terms of sustainability, vegan leather comes at the top, excluding the one made from PVC or PU.
- Designers can place orders for vegan leather according to their needs, thus eliminating any wastage.
- Fewer chemicals are used in the production of vegan leather.
- Vegan leather is water-resistant, and its maintenance is much easier than animal leather.
- It also costs less than real leather as it is made from synthetic materials like plastic.
Quality and durability come at the top when we differentiate the two kinds. Unfortunately, vegan leather does not compete with real leather when it comes to durability due to its thinness, as it tends to break away in a short duration. It also wears out quickly, whereas real leather works fine for a long time and forms a patina, adding to the look of the material.
For instance, a real leather wallet will go on for a few years, but a faux-leather wallet will hardly last for a year or two in good condition.
Apart from that, vegan leather is said to be heat-resistant and stain-resistant. It also decolorizes in a short period, while real leather comes in different thicknesses and is more flexible and long-lasting.
How Does Vegan Leather Affect the Environment?
The production of vegan leather undoubtedly prevents any animal harm, but it does not mean it would do any good to the environment.
From the vast toxins in the plastics to the dioxins released while manufacturing PVC-based material, synthetic leather affects the environment in many hazardous ways. It can lead to various reproductive issues and can even cause cancer in some cases.
Other than this, synthetic leather also does not biodegrade fully, leaving toxic chemicals like phthalates in the surroundings, thus affecting animals in one way or another.