Leather has many advantages, it is robust, easy to process and cheap to produce. However, it also comes with many disadvantages. Besides the obvious that animals have to give their skin for this, leather production also has a negative impact on the environment. The bred animals cause high CO2 emissions and their rearing requires a lot of water and space for pasture. But the dyeing of the leather also pollutes the environment with chemicals and chromium. After fur, leather is another animal product that is no longer ecologically, morally and ethically justifiable for more and more people. But what are the alternatives to classic leather?
There are stylish alternatives to real leather and we would like to present them in more detail in this article. The new material trends are vegan, environmentally friendly, sustainable and fairly produced. Vegan leather alternatives hardly differ optically from real leather, because they also have a soft, cuddly feel. At the same time, they are breathable and durable, making them ideal for bags, accessories, shoes, clothing and furniture.
12 VEGAN ALTERNATIVES TO LEATHER
Vegan alternatives to leather have been around for a long time, if you include faux leather. However, petroleum-based artificial leather alternatives are not really a better alternative to animal leather from an environmental point of view. It is therefore all the more important to develop and exploit new materials as substitutes for animal leather from natural and renewable resources. From leaf leather to a mixture of synthetic fibers – there are now quite a few alternatives to genuine leather and synthetic leather, and it is worth taking a closer look at natural materials! Natural plant fibers can be just as durable and robust as conventional leather. With increasing awareness of climate and animal welfare, the demand for a sustainable alternative to leather is increasing. Vegan leather is completely free of animal ingredients and is based on plant substitutes such as mushroom fungi, fruit fibres, tree bark or palm leaves. Creative fashion labels develop leather imitations that are in no way inferior in terms of appearance and quality.
Pineapple, apple, coffee beans, kombucha mushrooms, bananas, cacti, eucalyptus and teak: What at first glance sounds like something on display in the exotics department of a supermarket has long been used as a natural product in the fashion industry.
Here we present you the top vegan leather alternatives; Whether it's already known or brand new on the market, there are now many exciting textiles as an alternative to classic leather!
PINEAPPLE AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
The pineapple is one of the most important fruit plants and belongs to the bromeliad family. It originally comes from South and Central America, but is now planted and cultivated as an economic plant in all tropical areas.
Pinatex is made from the leaf fibers of the pineapple and is therefore resource-saving, as it is processed as a waste product from the food industry and as a harvested product. No additional resources such as water, fertilizers or agricultural land are required for production. Pinatex is dimensionally stable and is mainly used to make shoes.
APPLE AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
The apple is the best-selling domestic, most widespread and most cultivated fruit, the plant genus of which is the pome fruit and belongs to the rose family. There are about 50 different types of apples worldwide with different 20,000 varieties worldwide. Apple trees belong to deciduous trees and are common in North America, Asia and Europe.
Vegan apple leather consists of 70 percent leftover apples, the so-called pomace, and requires a carrier material. The carrier material, which can vary depending on the application, is pre-treated with a mixture of solvent and a biodegradable plastic substitute made from milk protein to ensure the pomace mixture adheres. Appleskin is therefore fully recyclable and is processed into different products such as sneakers, bags, accessories and bracelets.
BANANAS AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
The banana is one of the most exported types of fruit and enjoys great popularity worldwide. Banana trees are cleared after the first harvest and accumulate in correspondingly large quantities. Textile made from bananas is made from the tree fibers of the banana trees. They are water-repellent, tear-resistant, recyclable and are used, for example, for shoe inner soles.
EUCALYPTUS AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Eucalyptus fibers are tear-resistant and, with their low water and energy requirements, are another excellent alternative to leather.
COFFEE AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Coffee leather is made from recycled coffee leaves, beans and coffee, has a vegan suede look and has a mild coffee scent.
CACTUS AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Cactus products do not require the addition of plastic and require little water to grow. Cactus leather is breathable, sustainable, durable and is often made into belts and clothing.
CORK AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Cork is a very robust variant among the vegan leather alternatives and, as a natural material, is water-repellent, breathable, hard-wearing, warming and protects against the cold. Cork is made from the bark of the cork oak tree. The bark is peeled and processed into cork textile. The base material of the cork is completely biodegradable. Depending on the type of production, the cork base is glued to a carrier material, which jeopardizes complete biodegradability. The carrier material can consist of different fibers such as cotton, polyester, polyurethane or the harmful polychloride.
Cork is mostly known for bottle corks or as a floor covering, but cork can do so much more. Cork can be used as a textile for handbags, wallets, hats and jackets or for decorative items or for yoga mats or yoga blocks.
We at MATES OF NATURE have also opted for cork as a vegan leather alternative for our handbags and wallets. No tree has to be felled for the production, as the extraction of cork from the bark of the cork oak can be done sustainably and regionally. The worldwide demand for cork contributes to the preservation of the cork oak forests, which not only house many species of animals, but also bind a vast amount of greenhouse gases. More information about cork and cork production can be found here. We also put together a post about the benefits of cork as a leather alternative.
CORN AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
CORN Coated cotton with corn starch or corn leaves is very similar to leather and is very hard-wearing. There are different production methods, depending on whether the textile is more or less recyclable or biodegradable.
PAPER AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Paper leather made from latex and cellulose can be washed and ironed.
MUSHROOMS AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
There are different ways to create leather alternatives with mushrooms. Various designers, researchers and developers have already dealt with this topic. For textiles, for example, the tinder fungus, the kombucha fungus or mushroom mycelium are used.
Mushroom as a textile is organic, chemical-free and has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Depending on the type of mushroom and the method of manufacture, however, it can have poor tear resistance or become soaked when it rains.
TEAK AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Teak leather consists of the leaves of the teak tree and is one of the most resistant materials. With a special wax seal, the vegan leather is water-repellent and durable. Depending on the use, the leaves are colored and given an unmistakable touch through the individual embossing of the teak leaves.
GRAPES AS A LEATHER ALTERNATIVE
Similar to Appelskin, vegan leather made from grapes is made from the leftovers of the fruit. All residues from the grape harvest are processed into a chemical-free leather substitute.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF VEGAN LEATHER ALTERNATIVES
We have already mentioned the disadvantages of genuine leather above. In another article we described the problems of leather production in more detail. But this article is not about the real leather, but about the best alternatives. Do they keep what they promise or do leather alternatives also have disadvantages?
Many producers are inspired by nature and appreciate the benefits of the amazing possibilities. The production and processing costs of fruit, mushrooms, bark & Co are significantly cheaper and sustainable. They also score with antibacterial and insulating properties. In most cases, they come as a by-product of existing agriculture or are the waste product of a harvest. Other textiles such as cork come from the renewable raw material of cork bark. Vegan leather alternatives are robust, tear-resistant, soft, breathable, biodegradable and just as stable as real leather. But unfortunately not always. Depending on the leather alternative, the textile may not be quite as tear-resistant and durable as the original leather. Here, as a consumer, you have to decide whether you still give priority to the vegan alternative, for example for ethical and moral reasons. Diligent research and testing is being carried out on the frontline of vegan alternatives. Over time, the vegan alternatives are getting better and better. A lot has been happening here in recent years to produce the alternatives as consistently as possible and to continue to replace leather as a textile. So it's worth staying on the ball here and always finding out about new alternatives or improvements in production.
Artificial leather or alternatives to leather that use synthetic fibers as a carrier material are problematic, because coatings made of polyamide, nylon, polyurethane or polyester can be processed to mimic the look and feel of real leather but are unfortunately not ecologically degradable. We also use a mixture of cotton, polyester and polyurethane (PU) to reinforce our cork textile. PU is less harmful to the environment than polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is typically used for imitation leather. Here, too, it is important to further optimize production so that at some point synthetic fibers can be completely dispensed with.
The use of paper as a textile becomes more stable with a mixture of natural latex, but can no longer rot as a result. Here, too, it is necessary for the consumer to weigh things up and optimization in production is relevant.
SUMMARY OF THE LEATHER ALTERNATIVES
They exist, the vegan leather alternatives! And plenty of it. If you want to do without leather these days, be it for ethical or other reasons, you will now find a large number of great alternatives on the market that are in no way inferior to the original leather!
Are you also looking for great products without leather? Take a look around our shop and discover beautiful handbags and wallets made of cork!