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What Is Vegan Leather? How Is It Made? Better Alternative?

cactus leather bags what is vegan leather

vegan fashion lady with floral background what is vegan leatherIn today’s world, it is all about trends and following those trends. One of the current trends that prevail everywhere in the world is the vegan faux leather trend. Everything has to be vegan, and this is not only limited to food. For example, vegan leather is another trend that gets a lot of attention in the fashion world today. Even more so, what is vegan leather and why is it often being displayed as the leather of the future. That is because it can offer several advantages in comparison to real leather.


vegan shoes made with mushrooms and other types of plant based leatherNevertheless, if you are going to invest in vegan leather (Aka faux leather), you should also know the other side of the story. That is to say, there are multiple kinds of vegan leather, and they are not all the same. Hence, you should know the pros and cons of each type of faux leather, and this requires a little bit of research beforehand. This is necessary to know exactly what you are buying and to make sure that it is ethically justified.


In this post, you will learn all about what vegan leather entails, how it is made and what each type of vegan leather has to offer. As a result, you will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in that department. This is truly useful since it can help determine whether faux leather actually is a better alternative to real leather. Then, certain concerns related to faux leather are addressed too.


What is Vegan Leather and Why Is There a Pressing Need for Vegan Leather?


choose eco friendly belts cruelty free animal rights protestOver the last decennia, people have developed an affinity for ethical, durable fashion. On a related note, people have also increasingly started to speak out about animal cruelty. Well, it is precisely this combination that has caused faux leather to become so incredibly popular. People want to change their fashion habits and behavior and vegan leather offers a solution for that.


cowhide leather on trolleys disadvantages of real leatherSpecifically, to understand the need for vegan leather, it is useful to dwell upon the shortcomings of real leather. Real leather has been immensely popular among many people since the beginning of time, really. It does not matter whether it concerns belts, shoes, handbags, coats, or even couches, leather remains a popular material. That is because real leather is sturdy, flexible, and extremely durable. You can easily last a couple of years with the same real leather fashion item if you take good care of it, which is a profound advantage of real leather.  Nowadays though, vegan leather is a better alternative, and I’ll explain why.


leather tanning process
Top view of the process of processing and painting animal skins in stone baths.

Yet, more and more people are starting to question real leather as a material. It seems as if it is no longer the epitome of grace, elegance, and luxury, but it is more and more associated with negative connotations. One reason that underlies this has to do with the production process of real leather products. Indeed, to transform real leather into flexible, soft fashion items, a tanning process needs to take place. The problem with such a process is that it is incredibly chemical. You also need an overwhelming amount of clean water to produce one real leather handbag, for example. Those two things taken together; it goes without saying that real leather is not environment friendly.


To Avoid Animal Cruelty Aka Cruelty Free is Another Great Reason to Choose Vegan Leather


The second, most prominent reason why real leather is associated with negative connotations revolves around animal cruelty. That is, real leather is typically made from animal skin. This especially concerns animals such as cows, horses, and pigs. Yet, this automatically means that producing leather requires the slaughter of innocent animals, purely because of fashion purposes. If that is not already bad enough, you receive no information whatsoever about the living conditions of these animals if you buy real leather fashion items. More importantly though, you also receive no information about the conditions of the slaughter process. Thus, you have no guarantees that these conditions were up to standard.


Hence, there is a need for vegan leather because there is a need for environment-friendly alternatives to real leather that do not promote animal cruelty.


What is Vegan Leather and What it is not


In short, vegan leather is faux leather that is not made from animals, nor any animal products. Of course, this meant that other materials would need to replace those animal products. In that aspect, it is pertinent to note that faux leather can be made from multiple materials. On the one hand, vegan leather can be made from synthetic materials such as polyurethane or polyester. To provide you with a tip of the veil, synthetic vegan leather is not the best option. On the other hand, there is also faux leather on the market that is plant-based and thus made from natural materials.


Overview of the Different Kinds of Vegan Leather and How They Are Made


Vegan leather can be divided into two main categories: leather made from synthetic materials and plant-based vegan leather. This section will dive a little deeper into this divide to ensure that you get a good picture of both types of vegan leather.


Synthetic Vegan Leather


synthetic leather handbag or vegan handbagThe first kind of faux leather that is worth addressing is made from synthetic materials. These faux leather materials are very divergent but most commonly, it concerns polyester, PVC, Polyurethane, or PET. This kind of vegan leather is not new in the fashion world, since it has been promoted as an animal-friendly alternative to regular leather for decades now. That is because these faux leather materials such as PVC and Polyurethane have this specific ribbed texture, which makes them perfect to imitate real leather.


The process of creating synthetic faux leather is rather complex. In the first instance, it is made of a base material. This could be a layer of textile, microfibers, cotton, nylon, or polyester, to name just a few examples. Then, a synthetic layer is added to the top. Most of the time, this upper layer consists of Polyurethane. This is necessary to really imitate the shiny look and soft texture of real leather.


The advantage of synthetic vegan leather is that it is significantly cheaper than animal-based real leather. It is also animal-friendly in the sense that no animal products are used in the process. Yet, the disadvantages are numerous too. As will be explained later on, synthetic materials are detrimental to the environment. That is because these materials are made of petroleum, which is not biodegradable. It also only adds to the massive amount of plastic that we are already trying to get rid of. To make matters worse, it requires a lot of fossil fuels which are already nearly exhausted. 


Plant-Based Vegan Leather


Multiple brands have conquered the faux leather market with plant-based vegan leather. This kind of leather is also called bio-waste vegan leather because it is fundamentally a form of recycling. Plant based leather is made, using elements derived from fruits, vegetables, and so on. Thus, bio-waste vegan leather is all about finding organic sources in nature and giving them another, second purpose: vegan leather.


Apple Leather


Plant Based Leather Apple Leather Vegan HandbagFor instance, there is a very popular type of vegan leather that is better known as Apple Skin. This vegan leather is, as the name suggests, made of recycled fruit fibers. Apple Skin is a product from the Italian company, Frumat. This company comes from one of the biggest regions in Italy when it comes to apple cultivation, South Tirol. Because recycled fruit fibers are used to make this leather, this vegan leather is essentially a product of fruit waste. Hence, the production process of this vegan leather is environment friendly. Although, it should be mentioned that Apple Skin is not only made of apple fibers but from polyurethane as well.


Pineapple Leather


Pinatex Pineapple Leather Vegan PouchSecondly, vegan leather also can be made from pineapple leaves. Specifically, it can be made from the cellulose fibers that are found in pineapple leaves. To be more concrete, there is a company called Ananas Anam that is responsible for producing Pinatex. This vegan leather is a prime example to demonstrate why it is considered bio-waste vegan leather. That is to say, when people eat pineapple, the leaves are almost always thrown away. Thus, by using those leaves to make vegan leather, this type of recycling is a great way to respect the environment. Yet, Pinatex is not entirely biodegradable. Instead, a small part of the product is made of synthetic materials. The reason behind this is that plant-based vegan leather often is not tough or solid enough to replace real leather. To fix this problem, a layer of synthetic materials goes on top of the plant-based fibers.


Corn Leather


corn leather vegan shoesThirdly, corn leather is worth mentioning on this list too. This type of vegan leather first saw the light of day when Veja, a durable brand of shoes, launched vegan sneakers made from corn leather. Fundamentally, this type of leather is mainly made of corn waste. This waste comes from the food industry. Therefore, corn leather is a recycled form of leather, and this bodes well for the environment. Another consequence is that corn leather is biodegradable for a big part, although not entirely. Yet, the producers have clearly exclaimed that a lot of further research is necessary to perfect their vegan leather shoes. Namely, the main disadvantage is that the shoes are not that durable. At any rate, corn leather is amazingly innovative and certain popular brands such as Reebok has even followed in the footsteps of Veja. Indeed, Reebok launched a pair of shoes made of corn leather. Nevertheless, their products also contain traces of cotton, making the end product even more environment-friendly and bio-waste-based.


Grape Leather


grape leather vegan backpackFourthly, it might sound controversial, but vegan leather can also be made from wine. Although it would be more correct to speak of vegan leather made of grape waste. Indeed, when grapes are turned into wine, there always are certain parts of the grape that are not being used. This mainly concerns seeds, stems, and peels. However, that does not mean that these cannot be used for other purposes such as vegan leather. More concretely, this waste contains a lot of fibers that are very useful as far as producing leather fashion items is concerned. Vegan leather made of grape waste is fully biodegradable, durable, and does not involve any animal cruelty. In comparison to real leather, it is also better for the environment because you only have to deal with the regular pollution associated with grape cultivation and that is significantly less detrimental to the environment than the leather industry.


Cork Leather


cork products in portugal market cork beltsLastly, one of the best types of vegan leather that currently exists is cork leather. It is a great alternative to real leather because it does not involve any form of animal cruelty. What’s more, in comparison to certain other examples of plant-based vegan leather, cork leather is entirely biodegradable. Consequently, cork leather is the best option to protect the environment. Cork leather is, as the name suggests, made of cork. In turn, cork comes from a specific type of oak that you can mainly find in the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. To produce cork leather, the first thing that needs to happen is removing the outer layer of the oaks. The best part of this entire process is that this only needs to happen once every 9 years and the trees fully recover each time. Thus, this does not hurt the environment, contrary to what some people believe. Then, the cork needs to be dried, cooked, and steamed. This is the most prominent way to ensure that it becomes smooth and ready to manipulate. Then, the cork is compressed until you end up with these massive blocks. Finally, to end up with cork leather, you need to shave thin slices of cork from these blocks, and it will be ready to turn into vegan leather. Besides being environment-friendly, the biggest advantage of cork leather is that it is water-resistant, wind-resistant, and resistant to extreme temperatures. In other words, cork leather is a very durable alternative to regular leather. Nevertheless, there is one major disadvantage associated with cork leather and that is the look. Particularly, the truth is that cork leather does not resemble real leather all that well because it has a wholly different texture. Regardless, it still remains a very ethically responsible alternative.  Interested in seeing some vegan Cork Belts?  If so, we recommend you visit our Cork Belts page by clicking here.


Other Types of Plant Based Vegan Leather


mushroom leather beltBesides these pertinent examples, there are numerous other brands of plant-based vegan leather. Over the years, people started experimenting with several bio-waste materials to discover the best natural source for vegan leather. Some of these vegan leather experiments included natural materials such as mushrooms, eucalyptus leaves, paper, mangoes, grapes, coffee, hemp, palm trees, kombucha, coconuts, cacti, and many more. Consequently, these alternatives to real leather are available, though not on a widespread scale.


Main Problem with Vegan Leather: Misleading Information


By now it is clear that vegan leather offers many advantages, especially plant-based vegan leather. Yet, if you are going to buy such vegan leather, you will obviously want to make sure that it is actually vegan. A disclaimer in this regard is that the advertising of certain leather products can be very misleading.


For instance, sometimes you will find a real leather product that looks vegan at the first glance because it is supposedly plant-based. An example is a handbag made from rhubarb leather. If you come across rhubarb leather in the store, it would only be logical to assume that it is vegan. Yet, the advertising of this kind of leather makes it hard to actually determine what the handbag is made of. Namely, rhubarb leather actually is not vegan.


Naturally, rhubarb leather has certain benefits over real leather. For starters, it is not made from any toxic chemicals. Instead, it is made with the extracts of the rhubarb plant’s roots. This makes rhubarb leather more environment-friendly than is the case with regular leather. Again though, it is not vegan. It is not made from plant fiber, although you will logically assume so by the name of the handbag. Instead, it is real leather made from cowhide.


Vegetable Tanned Leather is Not Vegan Leather


Piece of Vegetable Tanned Leather with leather toolsIn general, it is recommended to be on the lookout for something called vegetable-tanned leather, also known as eco-leather. Vegetable tanned leather is made from animal skin, yet it is literally tanned with plant-based extracts and products. While vegetable-tanned leather is better for the environment in comparison to real leather, it is not vegan. Fundamentally, it is still made from animal products. Also, the process of tanning this leather is even longer and less environment-friendly than is the case with real leather. Namely, you need an ever-higher amount of water, and it takes a lot of energy to dry the leather afterward.


Pro Tip: If you’re not sure if it’s Vegan Leather Look for the PETA Logo


So, it bodes well to do your research beforehand. If you really want to commit to the vegan lifestyle or you just want to invest in organic, vegan fashion, you must check the labels of the products you are interested in. Otherwise, you risk being misled and purchasing something that is not vegan. A tip in this department is to look for the PETA-Approved Vegan logo. PETA has developed this quality label to clearly point out which leather is actually vegan and as a result, animal friendly.


Is Vegan Leather Always Environment-Friendly?


Moreover, vegan leather often gets promoted because is the better option as regards protecting the environment. Yet, the honest truth is that certain types of vegan leather are actually not environment-friendly, nor durable.


The biggest culprit in this department is vegan leather made from synthetic materials. Often, this concerns plastic, and it should not come as a surprise that plastic is not good for the environment. That is because plastic is non-biodegradable, which is a true shame. With synthetic materials in general, it is the case that these are extracted from oil. This oil regularly finds its way to the oceans and as a consequence, the oceans experience pollution. Even more so, this has proven to be a danger to our ecosystem in general, so that is definitely a large disadvantage associated with synthetic vegan leather. Besides petroleum, synthetic materials might require other fossil fuels too and the earth already experiences a shortage of those.


Certain synthetic materials such as PVC or PET are even worse for the environment. And this has to do with the very toxic softening agents that these contain. For example, BPA is such a softening agent that is not only toxic to the environment, but to people’s health too. BPA can cause infertility because it has qualities that are similar to those of the female hormone, estrogen. BPA can cause other diseases and health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, to just name a few.


Plant-Based vegan leather on the other hand is remarkably environment-friendly. Since this kind of vegan leather is made from agricultural waste, waste from the food industry, and plants in general, it is way more environment-friendly than is the case with real leather. That is because these natural sources make plant-based vegan leather biodegradable, resulting in a lower ecological footprint.


Nevertheless, not all organic materials can be readily transformed into vegan leather. For instance, as examples such as Apple Skin and Pinatex have demonstrated, these often require the added use of synthetic materials. Without this extra use of plastic, the plant-based materials often are not strong enough to be turned into leather products. As a result, this will bring some damage to the environment due to the high-water use, the chemicals, and the fact that these synthetic materials often are difficult to recycle. Of course, even with these synthetic materials, such plant-based vegan leather is still a giant leap forwards for the environment in comparison to real leather.


Yet, it also means that plant-based vegan leather based on organic materials such as cork and grapes have the clear upper hand. For example, cork is entirely biodegradable and does not require the addition of synthetic materials.


Verdict: Plant-Based Vegan Leather All the Way (But There is Room for Improvement)


As mentioned above, an increasing number of people are tired of regular leather because it is a product of animal cruelty. In this regard, vegan leather is an amazing alternative because it is not made of any animal products whatsoever.


However, vegan leather has its flaws too. Namely, vegan leather is made of synthetic materials can bring a lot of damage to the environment, as demonstrated earlier in this post. Of course, that does also not benefit the animals. That is precisely why plant-based, or bio-waste vegan leather is the best alternative to regular leather.


Currently, most plant-based leather still contains some traces of plastics and synthetic materials such as PVC or Polyurethane, for example. The reason that underlies this is that plant-based fake leather often is not strong enough to replace normal leather made of animal products. Luckily though, it is safe to say that we are on the right track in this department.


Less abstractly, multiple producers are currently in the process of creating vegan leather that contains no traces of plastic whatsoever. This process entails all kinds of natural materials such as cork, coffee, leaves, fruit, and many more. These producers are all working on real leather alternatives that is not only free of animal cruelty and good for the environment but also durable and similar to regular leather. Indeed, the goal is to create long-lasting vegan leather that contains no synthetic materials and that has the same quality, flexibility, and resilience as regular leather.


Nowadays, a couple of such brands have seen the light of day, but it is safe to say that many more are coming in the near future.  At any rate, people are aware of the negative impact of real leather, and it is a noteworthy thing that they continue to keep looking for better fake leather alternatives.


We at Cruelty Free Belts curated a great collection of vegan belts including vegan leather belts, cork belts, recycled material belts, and canvas beltsIf you haven’t already, we would also like to suggest you read some of our other blog posts including The Best Online Vegan Cooking Classes Taught by Vegan Chefs“, “The Best Reasons Why a Vegan Leather Belt is Better“, andBest Reasons Why Cork Belts are Best for Animals“.



The material from which vegan leather can be made is diverse. A vegan leather product can, for instance, be made of synthetic materials such as polyurethane and polyester. However, synthetic vegan leather may not be the best choice. Meanwhile, vegan leather is also available, which is made from natural plant-based materials.

The process of making vegan leather differs according to its type. Synthetic vegan leather, for instance, has a complex manufacturing process. Several materials can be used for this layer, including textiles, microfibers, cotton, nylon, or polyester, and on top of that, a synthetic layer is applied. This upper layer is usually composed of polyurethane to accurately emulate the shiny look and soft texture of regular animal leather, this step is necessary.


In the case of plant-based vegan leather, this type of leather is also called bio-waste vegan leather since it is fundamentally a recyclable material. Various elements derived from fruits, vegetables, and so on are used to make this leather. By finding organic sources in nature and giving them a second, positive purpose: vegan leather, bio-waste vegan leather is all about recycling waste.

The fact that vegan leather does not include any animal products makes it an incredible alternative. There are flaws in vegan leathers as well, but of course, that does not benefit the animals either. This is one of the many reasons why plant-based and bio-waste vegan leathers are the best alternatives to regular leathers.

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