In 2021, I took a training course about vegan leathers at the ''Centre Des Métiers Du Cuir De Montréal'' which is the leather crafting school in Montreal. I had the chance to work with a dozen of leather alternatives available today on the market. Here’s my thoughts.
A marketing tool…
While shopping online or in stores, we've all came across products with labels proudly mentioning ''vegan leather''. Many companies have embraced the vegan movement as a marketing tool to help them sells all kind of products as if they were a good, sustainable and ethic choice to make. While it's totally true that their products are free of real leather, it's another thing to say that vegan leather is good for the environment.
Just a reminder if you don’t already know, hides used in the production of real leather derive from animals raised for the food industry. Being able to transform the waste of the industry into leather and make durable products out of it is a genius way to reuse this natural (more info in this article).
What is vegan leather made from?
The most common vegan leathers out there are synthetic materials that are meant to mimic the look and feel of real leather. They’re largely used in the fast fashion industry because of their cheap cost and made in large factories in countries with low environmental regulations and working conditions. While these faux leathers may seem like a good alternative on the surface, they are actually not a sustainable option. Here's why:
- They are made from synthetic materials such as polyurethane, PVC, and polyester, which are derived from fossil fuels. The production of these materials generates greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.
- They are not biodegradable, meaning that they will not break down in the environment after they are discarded. This means that they will contribute to landfills and plastic pollution.
- These vegan leathers are often treated with chemicals in order to give them the desired texture and appearance. These chemicals can be harmful to both the environment and to people.
Some of you may have heard of plant or fruit-based leathers (like pineapple, mango, cactus leathers etc). I’ve tested a lot of them and while they seem a perfect solution, most of them only use the natural fibers as a base who needs to be coated with a firm surface which is usually made from polyurethane. We have the same problems as mentioned in the list above.
Okay, but the label says the product is made from recycled plastic bottles!
That's seems great and clearly better than making products with ''new'' plastic. But let's take a vegan bag made with recycled plastic bottles as an example:
To make that bag, you need different materials (fabrics, plastic, faux leathers, coatings, zippers, hardware etc.). Let's say there's 20% of the bag made from recycled plastic bottles. The bag is a combination of different materials, coatings and liners all glued or sewed together. As mentioned above, your product will not have a long lifetime. The bag will eventually deteriorate due to its materials and will most likely end up it in the trash. This time, it is not possible to recycle the product as it is mixed with too many materials, and it becomes 100% trash.
During my training, I’ve made a couple wallets and card holders with different types of vegan leathers. Some came out pretty good but all of them weren’t necessary a joy to work with. I think there’s something fundamental that cannot be ignore when it comes to make a product with your hands. It’s the importance of choosing and working with a noble, high-quality material. Like any other artisans in any discipline, the selection of the raw material is crucial. It’s like asking a woodworker to make a beautiful table using MDF panels. Yes, it can be done, but I’m sure it wouldn’t bring as much satisfactions as a table he would have made in solid wood knowing it would last a lifetime.
I feel the same thing when it comes to make a leather product. My goal is to make a product that is well made and made to last. Simple. And I think that, at the moment, only real leather can suit my needs to accomplish that. Still, I’m very open minded and I keep being informed about all the alternative that comes out year after year.
You can learn more about the leather we use at Fab’ in this article.
January 7th 2023