written by Mia Montalvo
Animal leather has been a staple in fashion and culture for nearly centuries. Dating back to 1200 BC, ancient civilizations such as Greece utilized animal skins for clothing and other garments for day to day functions. As society has advanced, and industrialization increased across the planet, the idea of mass production has dominated. With this introduction, came new processes used to create material leather and the products they are sold as. In the present day, the production of leather is one of the single most harmful materials towards animals, people, and our environments.
Since its inception in 1200 BC, to our modern day, there has been a major shift in the necessity of these materials to desire and efficiency. Whereas in ancient times communities relied heavily on animal products to clothe and aid them in their daily lives, we now have the knowledge and technology to source more ethical materials and utilize more substantial practices.
Effects of the Leather Industry
“Every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals and tans their skins and hides” (FAOSTAT Database). The majority of this leather production occurs in China and India, where there are very few animal welfare laws. Large factory farms tightly house animals supplemented from the meat industry, such as pigs, cows, goats, sheep, and even more exotic animals such as alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos (PETA). In these factories, unbelievable horrors occur, such as castration, branding, and other forms of abuse leading up to their death.
So why is it something that we often boast about, claiming that our product is made of real leather? Consumer culture has trained us to believe that “real leather” is more “expensive,” “better quality” and simply, more “desirable.” Yet, this culture fails to examine the detrimental effects the leather industry has upon not only animals, but people and the planet.
“Until the late 1800s, animal skin was air- or salt-dried and tanned with vegetable tannins or oil, but today, animal skin is turned into finished leather with a variety of much more dangerous substances, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, mineral salts, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of which are cyanide-based,” (PETA).
These hazardous chemicals affect most significantly the communities in which leather tanneries are located, emitting toxic pollution and creating unhealthy air quality for its residents. According to TIME, tanneries in Bangladesh have threatened the life expectancy of its workers to a meager age of 50. Amongst these workers, reports of bloodshot eyes and respiratory problems, as well as increased diagnosis of leukemia are fairly common. In addition to these conditions, the amount of natural resources that is required to sustain large sums of animals is immense. From clearing the lands to raise pasture, the immense need for water and fossil fuels to produce, and a result of animal waste all contribute to our rapidly declining environment.
Thankfully due to modern technology and research, the development of vegan leather has created a much more ethical, and sustainable option for many brands to adopt, including our own vegan leather handbag brand, MERSI.
The term “vegan leather” is exactly as it sounds — it is leather that does not contain any animal products, nor produced with any cruelty towards animals. There are several kinds of sources that vegan leather can be made of and the list has only grown in recent times.
Types of Vegan Leather
The innovation towards creating more ethical and sustainable options for leather has been incredible in past years. Finding vegan materials that are just as durable and high-quality, yet do not cost the planet nor the animals has been an absolute game changer.
Many brands have listened to the demand for more ethical practices and with this they have adopted vegan leather and other cruelty-free materials into their product lines. To name just a few, vegan leather can be made from:
Polyurethane material (known as PU leather)
Mushrooms (known as MuSkin)
Pineapples (known as Pinatex)
At MERSI, we’ve always imagined a future where one does not have to compromise their values for fashion. We are proud to source only the best of non-animal materials for all of our vegan leather accessories, all the way from our vegan leather, recycled canvas lining, to high-quality hardware. Utilizing premium, high-quality PU leather in all of our handbags and accessories, we’ve dedicated the time to get to know the materials we’re using.
So, What Is PU leather?
PU leather, (polyurethane) is a synthetic leather that was developed to create an alternative to traditional animal leather. It is created by coating a layer of polyurethane on fabric to make a “leather-like” texture and then is processed multiple times to achieve a smooth, soft finish. It is 100% vegan, and contains no animal ingredients.
At its conception, PU leather was actually created as an alternative to PVC leather, the original “faux” leather material that most brands had adapted in their transition to a more ethical future. Yet, PVC leather has quickly been recycled and replaced by PU leather because of its processing. PVC leather is created using fillers, lubricants, and plasticisers to form a plastic like texture, and then is coated onto fabric. PU leather is made similarly, yet without the addition of these hazardous chemicals, and as a result its waste is much easier to degrade over time. With this being said, it is comparable that PU leather is a better option for not only those working with and processing the material, but also for the environment.
Is PU leather durable?
Super-durable. In comparison to animal leather, PU leather is crafted to be more breathable and lighter in weight, yet is made to last for years to come. The longevity of this material is impeccable, considering it is scratch and waterproof. With proper care and storage, a handbag made from PU leather is intentionally designed to be a forever piece. (Check out our article on how to clean and take care of your vegan leather handbag here!)
Another benefit of PU leather is that it is extremely versatile. It can be molded, formed, and texturized in several different ways to achieve different on trend looks. From our past styles that have modeled “faux snakeskin” materials, such as our Isabel Bucket Bag strap, to our “pebbled” look of our Ruby Crossbody, or even a more classic leather look, such as the Meghan Satchel, achieving a buttery finish, it is incredible how one material can do so much.
Our artisans are committed to crafting the perfect pieces from our high-quality PU leather, and we are proud to ensure that our production is 100% WRAP certified and fair-trade. Yet, we are always researching and looking for ways to be better, and improve our products.
May We Make A Suggestion...
It’s been amazing to watch our vegan leather handbag collection grow. Some of our favorite vegan leather staples to start your obsession with PU leather: