A sustainable alternative to leather: vegan leather or Eco-Friendly leather
Of course leather is a super nice material for all kinds of products. It has many great qualities like that it will get even nicer when you use it longer, but it is not very sustainable. What to do when you still crave a nice leather bag or cool boots, but not in, .. uhm, leather. What are the alternatives? Naturally bags and shoes in vegan leather are on the market, but are they truly sustainable and what is it exactly; vegan leather? And does something like sustainable or eco-friendly leather exist?
WHAT IS VEGAN LEATHER?
Vegan leather is “leather” made of non-animal derived materials. This seems to be the most cruelty free and sustainable option, but is that actually the case? And what raw materials are used for these vegan leather products if not leather?
Vegan leather or imitation-leather is often made with a lot of plastic. Imitation leather is made up of a layer of dust, microfibers or polyester with a synthetic layer on top, like polyurethane. This is derived from petroleum and therefore plastic. Sometimes vegan leather only has one synthetic layer of microfibers.
There are a lot of innovations going on in the area of vegan leather, like mushrooms or pineapple leather.
In order to make the vegan leather stronger however, many producers add a layer of plastic. Most of the times, they are not able to produce this entirely sustainable. Another issue is the quality. Leather has a natural flexibility that usually cannot be copied with imitation leather.
So in the end, what is more sustainable? A bag made of vegan leather on a synthetic base that is easily damaged or a 100 percent natural leather bag, that is very long lasting.(Vegan leer: diervriendelijk en duurzaam of een synoniem voor plastic? Volkskrant, 16 september 2020)
Wat natuurlijk helemaal ideaal is, als de twee gecombineerd worden; dus een materiaal met de kwaliteiten en uitstraling van leer, maar helemaal dier- en milieuvriendelijk.
A brand that comes very close to reaching this ideal, is the Canadian brand Matt&Nat. They produce bags and leather products that you can hardly distinguish between real leather. They are long lasting and don’t lose their colour. Over the years, they have been experimenting with different recycled materials such as nylons, cardboard, rubber, cork and recycled windshield resins. All of their linings for example are made solely of 100% recycled plastic bottles.
Matt&Nat is an example of a unique brand that comes very close to producing the ideal vegan leather product. If you still prefer to buy a real leather product, then choose eco-friendly leather.
WHAT IS ECO-FRIENDLY LEATHER?
This is the best option if you want a real leather product. What is it exactly?
Most producers define eco-friendly leather as leather that is tanned without the use of harmful chemicals, like chromium, heavy metals, formaldehyde or alkyl phenol ethoxylates. The last group of chemicals for example, cannot be used at all in the Netherlands since last year. Alkyl phenol ethoxylates can end up in the environment via waste water. Once there, they will be decomposed to nonylphenol, a chemical that has interrupting effects on the hormones of fish.
And for all of you who forgot what exactly the tanning of leather is (we also had to look it up again); tanning is the process of making the animal skin into leather using (often chemical) tannins.
Research has shown that a significant part of the environmental impact of leather occurs in the manufacturing process. Therefore, it is not only the chemicals used in the tanning process that should determine how eco-friendly the leather is, but also the impact of the chemicals used on the environment.
There are producers out there that make a difference. The Dutch brand O My Bag for example only uses vegetable tannins in the tanning process. To verify this, the leather is tested by independent laboratories. And they take it further: in 2021 they introduced their first vegan leather alternative made from AppleSkin™. That makes them a great example of a producer of eco-friendly leather products. And they even acquired the B corp status recently!
So buy yourself a vegan leather bag or a bag of eco-friendly leather! Of course you can find the vegan leather bags by Matt & Nat and the eco-friendly leather bags by O My Bag at Up To Do Good. Check out our webshop here.