Vegan leather (sic) does not exist. It is a marketing term used to describe materials, (or leather imitations) that are often plastic or derived from finite fossil-fuel.
Huge numbers of products available across the world are marketed using terms such as ‘vegan leather’, ‘faux leather’, ‘synthetic leather’, and ‘PU leather’. This means that they are usually made either from artificial materials, or alternatives that have been manufactured to resemble the appearance of real leather.
Any material that is not of animal origin can be labelled as ‘vegan’, it is effective shorthand to describe to the consumer that it might meet their needs if they do not wish to use animal products. It is important to realise however, that the ‘vegan’ tag does not necessarily mean ‘natural’, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’, nor does it necessarily provide the same wear and durability qualities as real leather.
What is vegan leather made of?
Much is sourced from oil, a finite fossil fuel, as most commercial vegan leathers are made from plastic: PVC, PU ( polyurethane), polyester, nylon and so on.
However, there are also products used to replicate a leather appearance that come from alternative sources. These include grape skins, mushrooms, palm leaves and apples. Currently, to ensure these materials’ strength and utility, the vast majority are backed or mixed with synthetic resins and plastics.
How durable is vegan leather?
The ’leather-like’ appearance of vegan leather is only surface deep. The artificial materials made from either oil or the alternative plant sources do not recreate the same fibrous qualities that bind layers together. There may be some good-looking materials available, but they are not strong and durable.
This provides a contrast with real leather, which can last for centuries – witness ancient books and antique furniture. Even items that come in for harder wear, such as footwear or saddles, endure for many years. Indeed, with care leather products grow only more beautiful and burnished over time.