What is vegan leather? Cruelty free options and how they are made

Vegan leather is a replacement for conventional leather. It is made from sustainable materials. No animals are harmed in the process. Vegan leathers can be made from cork, cactus, pineapple, mushrooms, or kombucha cellulose.  Vegan leather is a versatile material. It feels much like real leather. 
What is vegan leather?
What is vegan leather? I can be many things!

During my last trip to Morocco, I visited a tannery. The smell was overwhelmingly gross and looking at all the skins of dead animals definitely is something straight out of a horror movie. I left with tears in my eyes. Although I never owned anything made of real leather, I believe it is important to educate yourself on the industry if you want to fight it. This is how I came to find out about vegan leather. Vegan leather has grown in popularity and has made many appearances during the last fashion week. I have done extensive research into what vegan leather is and in this article, I want to share my findings with you. 

In this article you will read the following:


Why do we need vegan leather?

Normal leather is made with toxic chemicals in terrible conditions.

The leather industry is a cruel industry. Millions upon millions of animals are harmed every year. The conditions in which the animals are kept till they are slaughtered for their skin are often horrible. The animals are often beaten, left in the scorching sun and forced to walk for days without water. When you buy leather, you support this cruel industry. There is no ‘’good’’ animal leather. In the process of turning leather into a useful material, many toxic chemicals are used. The wastewater of the industry is commonly dumped into the oceans, polluting our water. (1) Although there are many great alternatives to leather, a fabric that can replace leather but still looks the same and even feels the same, could be a Game changer for the fashion industry.

What is vegan leather?

Vegan leather is a great replacement for conventional leather. It can be made from many natural materials. Vegan leather is often created from fruit waste. It can also be made from cactus or pineapple leaves. Lately, vegan leather is often replaced with a material made from recycled plastic. Vegan leather is animal cruelty free. It is a more eco- friendly material. Most vegan leathers are biodegradable. 

What materials can replace normal leather?

There are many different and even surprising replacements available for leather. I will shortly go into some of the most popular materials. Please note that there are multiple other great replacements for leather, this is just a list of some of my favorites. So what is vegan leather?, Here are some answers:


What is vegan leather?
What is vegan leather?, it can be cork!

Cork is made from a tree. Cork is stripped from the tree when the tree is about 25 years old. Cork can be harvested every 9 years. The harvesting of cork does not harm the tree. Cork is a durable material. It is recyclable and reusable. The material is very fire resistant and lightweight. Cork is elastic, and hypoallergenic. Cork can be turned into an amazing fabric that is warm and comfortable to wear. (2)


Vegan leather can be made from mushrooms!

The material made from mushrooms is called Myco. The material is made by a company in California called mycoworks. The material is created by mycelium cells. They grow in 3D structures until they turn into a tough material. The material can be grown in a matter of days. The material looks and feels just like leather. Myco is strong and durable. (3)


Cactus can grow fast, they don’t need much water and no pesticides are required.

Cactus leather is made from prickly pear cactus. This plant can grow fast and does not need pesticides. Twice a year the cactus is harvested by only cutting off the oldest parts. The cactus can continue growing after harvesting. These parts are now dried. From the material a powder is extracted. To this powder a few chemicals are added, creating the vegan leather. The dyes that are used to color the material are often toxic and not environmentally friendly. However, the cactus leather is a better option for the environment as the plant helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions. (4)

kombucha cellulose

Kombucha can be just a very fragrant tea.

Kombucha is a product made by adding yeast and bacteria to a sweetened tea. The product is now fermented. The bacteria grow a protective layer during the process. This layer is formed from cellulose monofibres. The material can be harvested when it is about 10 millimeters thick. It is air dried after which it is oiled. The material that is left is much like leather and very versatile. It is a natural and sustainable material. It has zero waste. (5)


What is vegan leather? A material made out of pineapple for example!

Pinatex is a leather made from pineapples. The material is made from pineapple fibers and a mixture of plastic and resin. For this reason the material is not entirely biodegradable. Pinatex is a versatile material and feels much like leather. (6)

The downside of vegan leather

Conventional leather is a flexible, durable and versatile material. It is strong and its quality remains for a long time. Vegan leather, although a great replacement, is sometimes not as flexible or strong as real leather. The biggest downside however is that vegan leather is often still treated with non- eco friendly chemicals. These treatments turn the materials into a non- biodegradable material. 

What to do next?

I would highly recommend not buying conventional leather. Animals deserve a happy and cruelty free life, just like humans. If you want to buy a product that looks like leather, I hope you consider buying a product made from vegan leather. Vegan leather can be an amazing eco friendly fabric. Let’s look good in a sustainable way!

Picture of Veerle van Beest

Veerle van Beest


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