Leather alternatives: The big conversation

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WORDS BY MADDIE MUSZYNSKI

 

As a consumer in the modern world, we are bombarded with endless possibilities as brands are constantly advertising all around us.

The purpose of this article is to bring attention to crucial conversations about traditional leather, vegan leather alternatives, and available eco-textiles. 

What Should We Be Looking For?

With “sustainability” becoming a trending term, the phrase “greenwashing” is not too far behind. Greenwashing occurs when brands make sustainability claims in their marketing and advertising, but show no real initiatives or transparency in their production practices. Some brands will claim to be sustainable, but if they are not 100% transparent about their labor practices, sourcing, and environmental efforts, they are probably not as ethical and sustainable as they claim to be. Be sure to dig a little deeper into a brand’s story to find their core values and what they stand for.

The Never-Ending Debate Within The Fashion Industry

REAL LEATHER

PROS:

  • biodegradable 
  • durable
  • long-lasting
  • byproduct/waste of the meat industry
  • vegetable-tanning is most sustainable

CONS:

  • linked to the meat industry where pollution and animal mistreatment are prevalent
  • chemicals from non-vegetable tanning tanning have negative impacts on the environment and human health

VEGAN LEATHER ALTERNATIVES

PROS:

  • no animals harmed
  • less costly to produce; lower consumer pricing
  • innovative textiles and sustainable plant-based leathers are being developed

CONS:

  • most common vegan leathers are actually plastic (polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride)
  • plastic will never fully biodegrade and contributes to micro-plastic ocean pollution

 

This brings us to a crossroad where we must make the choice between traditional leather or vegan alternatives. 

In the height of these “sustainable” times, many brands have stopped using traditional leather or have incorporated new types of vegan leather alternatives into their collections. Stella McCartney is an icon in the fashion industry for her stance on vegan designs and using no animal byproducts in her pieces. Her Frame Mylo™ bag is the first commercially available product made from Bolt Threads’ innovative mushroom leather.

Gucci has spent the last two years creating their vegan leather, Demetra, which is made of wood pulp. It’s currently being used for some of their new sneaker designs. Demetra is made with 77% plant-based raw materials, such as aforementioned wood pulp and viscose. It is tanned using traditional methods, but without animal-cruelty or environmental harm. 

Louis Vuitton has developed their own sustainable sneaker as well, using new textile called Biopolioli. This innovative textile is made with a corn-base and raw, renewable materials as an alternative to polyurethane. The rest of the sneaker is crafted from other eco-friendly materials, such as recycled rubber, recycled fibers, and the incredibly sustainable ECONYL® – a material made entirely from waste such as old carpets, fishing nets, and industrial plastics.

Alternative Oasis: Cacti Leather

If you’re still on the hunt for eco-friendly, vegan leather alternatives, another fantastic option is cacti leather! Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez created Desserto®, the first organic, plant-based leather made entirely of the Nopal or Prickly Pear Cactus. Desserto® is partially biodegradable and meets technical specifications required by the fashion, leather goods, furniture, and automotive industries. This is huge because Desserto® now has the potential to be used across industries and replace traditional leather!

Closing Reflection

I am not here to tell you what type of leather to buy, but to educate you about sustainable, vegan-friendly alternatives to traditional leather and the potential they have to change the fashion industry. From this, you can choose which sustainable option makes the most sense for your lifestyle and needs. Additionally, you can vet brands by doing some digging on their websites to learn more about their practices and values. You can shop from sustainable online marketplaces, such as ours, where all of the vetting has been done for you. We only host brands that follow strict ethical and sustainable guidelines! 

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SOLVING GENDER INIQUITY

Bethanie Ashton

EDITOR

Before the age of 10, Bethanie was already developing as an artist with writing classes, illustration, dance, theatre and piano. Later, clients from fashion, real estate and corporate sectors rounded her creative, technical and social media writing skills. Naturally, her artistic interests transposed onto film and production. Today, Bethanie hosts and produces interviews with international lifestyle brands and contributes to SNEZNY travel magazine.

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