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What is vegan leather?


We’ll cut to the chase: vegan leather is just a new name for faux leather. While materials that technically qualify as “vegan” leather include cork, barkcloth, waxed cotton, and paper, for most of the industry, there is no difference between artificial, faux, fake and vegan leathers besides the terminology. As vegan-friendly options have become more widespread in restaurants and grocery aisles, the fashion industry has adopted the buzzword and made faux leather sound cool again. It’s pretty impressive - except that unfortunately, vegan leather isn’t as impressive as its name.


For years, vegan (faux) leather was primarily made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), but this has started to decline due to toxicity concerns. Today, vegan leather is primarily made using polyurethane. As we mentioned above, there are other more natural materials that technically fall under the “vegan leather” category, but by and large, in the real world marketplace, if an item totes the name “vegan leather,” it’s made with a PVC- or polyurethane-based material.


If your primary concern is purchasing a product that looks a lot like leather but is not made from animal skin, then yes, vegan leather fits the bill. But in reality, there are many other factors involved.


Unfortunately, vegan leather is far from an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional leather. Real leather sourced from sustainable ranches and tanned naturally actually has the potential to be less damaging to the environment than most vegan leathers (excluding the rare vegan leather options made from cotton or cork). For those of us who aren’t true vegans, there’s another factor that’s worth noting: most hides used in leather production come from cattle that were raised for beef and milk, so the cows didn’t actually die just to become coats and purses, and not using their hides could actually be considered wasteful.


So, is vegan leather better or worse than real leather? Well, that just depends on what is most important to you.

 



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