By Annick Ireland
Many of us are aware of the damage caused by animal leather – to people, to animals and to the environment. A massive study called Pulse of the Fashion Industry (published by Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group) evaluated the environmental impact of commonly used fashion materials, and found animal leather to be the worst when examined ‘cradle to grave’, above wool, silk, inorganic cotton and even plastic.
But what about the sustainability of vegan leather? The fact is that ‘vegan leather’ encompasses a very wide range of materials, from the incredibly unsustainable to the super sustainable. So what to buy and what to avoid?
What to avoid
The vegan leather to really avoid is PVC (polyvinyl chloride, or vinyl), a heavily processed petrochemical-based product often used in fast fashion.
A more eco-friendly option that’s also made from plastic is polyurethane or PU. It is still a plastic, so it’s obviously not the most sustainable option out there. However, it’s production doesn’t entail the plethora of nasty chemicals associated with PVC.
How sustainable polyurethane is can vary hugely depending on the manufacturer and where it’s made – for example, at Immaculate Vegan our brands who use PU manufacture in Europe, where there are strict emission controls on PU production, improving its sustainability score.
Better still – vegetable-based and recycled plastics
Many brands are now experimenting with using vegetable-based PU, made from plant oils. This decreases many of the chemical hazards associated with making PU, and makes the PU more biodegradable.
Many vegan brands are also using vegan leathers made from recycled plastics – either in part or completely.
For example, Alkeme Atelier use an exclusive vegan leather that’s made up of 70% recycled textiles. Developed by advanced research, it’s been responsibly engineered to outperform standard animal leather, being cleanable, scratch-resistant, water-repellent, longer lasting and almost 1/3 of the weight of its animal counterpart.
The waste products of fruit harvests form the basis of some of the most innovative and sustainable vegan leathers being used today, including pineapple leaf fibres (Pinatex), apple skins and cores (apple leather) and even now mango and grape skins.
The future is plant-based
Innovations in materials technology are plentiful, with new cruelty-free leathers being announced all the time.
For example, we’ll soon be welcoming several brands using Cactus Leather – a sustainable vegan leather developed using leaves from the cactus plant, cultivated without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and using very little water. The leather produced is soft and flexible, yet durable, and many brands are excited about it.
So if you want to be ahead of the fashion curve, and stand side by side with some of the most stylish and trend-setting people on the planet – ditch the animal leather and opt for the more progressive and sustainable vegan leathers that are out there. That’s what we think being Immaculate is all about.