Is Vegan Leather Really Better for the Environment?


Want to get your first vegan leather garment or accessory? Have concerns about whether your buy is a sustainable option? You’re not alone! 

Many consumers, like you, can’t help but wonder: is vegan leather really better for the environment? We’re certain you’ve heard different opinions on vegan leather from a variety of sources. These opinions likely haven't clarified many of your sustainability questions.

That’s why it’s crucial to explore your options. Learn about the benefits of vegan leather and compare it to alternatives.

Need a little help? You've come to the right place. This article will cover everything you need to know to make a decision about vegan leather that’s right for you. 

What is Vegan Leather?

brown vegan leathers

If you want to support animal welfare issues, vegan leather is the best choice. But, what is vegan leather?

Vegan leather is made from synthetic or plant-based materials. It doesn't include animal skins or any animal product. 

You’ll find eco-friendly vegan leather in different industries like fashion. The most common vegan leather products include bags, shoes, pants, and jackets. As it is stated in the  ""Vegan Leather Market Research Report by Product, by Application, by Region - Global Forecast to 2026 - Cumulative Impact of COVID-19", the Global Vegan Leather Market size was estimated at USD 37.90 billion in 2020 and expected to reach USD 41.54 billion in 2021, at a CAGR 9.93% to reach USD 66.92 billion by 2026.

In the past, most vegan leather has been made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). More recently, there’s been a shift to using vegan leather made from polyurethane (PU). According to PETA, these ingredients give garments and accessories a wrinkled texture. This wrinkled texture mimics the look of real leather. 

It’s also possible to make vegan leather from plant-based materials. Examples include pineapple leaves, mango skin, corn husks, apple skin, and even mushrooms. 

What is PETA approved vegan leather, you ask? Check out this complete and informative list.

Can Vegan Leather Compete with Real Leather With Quality?

Today, modern vegan leather proves itself a fierce competitor against real quality leather. The look and feel of many vegan leather garments come so close to mimicking real leather. It’s becoming difficult to tell the difference.

Thanks to these improvements, many major fashion brands now use vegan leather. 

Nanushka, H&M, and Hugo Boss are great examples. Nanushka is known for its quality vegan leather garments and accessories. H&M and Hugo Boss use pineapple leather in their shoes and other products.   

The benefits to using vegan leather make it an easy choice for these brands. It helps their vegan leather products compete with the quality of real leather. 

The biggest benefits to using vegan leather is that it's low maintenance. All you need to do is keep it properly stored when not in use. Vegan leather is also waterproof, and not easily scratched. It can handle a lot of wear and tear, while retaining its original shape and look. 

Real leather is only water resistant. When a real leather garment or accessory gets wet it becomes brittle. The dye moves, leaving streaks and spots. It is also easy to scratch leather, often leaving it damaged after just one wear.  

So what’s the bottom line? Can vegan leather compete with real leather with quality? Yes! Especially PU vegan leather. When properly stored, your vegan leather garment or accessory will last for a long time. 

Is Vegan Leather More Sustainable?

Let’s take a moment to talk about sustainable vegan leather. To do this, we need to break down the different leather types. 

We’ll take a look at real leather, vegan leather, and plastic-free vegan leather. This will help to nail down the sustainability of each. 

After all, we want to know: is vegan leather really better for the environment? 

Real Leather

Real leather is made from animal skin. If concerned about animal welfare issues, real leather isn't the right option for you.

But is real leather sustainable?

Real leather makes up part of an industry that creates a significant amount of pollution.

And what about production?

On the surface, the production of leather goods appears to improve waste reduction. Yet, a closer look at the tanning process tells us a different story.

The tanning process requires a chromium salt bath. Chromium is a highly toxic chemical. This makes the production of leather detrimental to the environment and our health. 

The thing about real leather is that it is fairly durable. Real leather can last years, and if properly taken care of, generations. Leather is also biodegradable-- but not when treated. The tanning process prevents leather from properly biodegrading.

So in some ways, real leather is sustainable. In others, it’s definitely not.

Vegan Leather

What is vegan leather made from? Is vegan leather biodegradable? Is vegan leather eco friendly? Is vegan leather sustainable? 

Let’s find out! 

Vegan leather is made from synthetic materials. These materials include polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). 

While a popular option in the past, vegan leather is now evolving past PCV vegan leather. Brands like Mersi are shifting toward using high-quality PU vegan leather. It’s the perfect, eco-friendly alternative. 

PU vegan leather isn’t just eco friendly, either. It’s also incredibly durable and versatile. 

For example, PU vegan leather takes on color really well. PU vegan leather is also available in soft and pebbled finishes. It mimics real suede and leather, without any animal byproduct. 

Is vegan leather really better for the environment? If it’s PU vegan leather, the answer is, yes.

Plastic-Free Vegan Leather

Plastic-free vegan leather is made from plant-based materials.  

Here’s an example: sustainable cactus leather is a popular plastic-free vegan leather. It’s used to make insoles, handbags, upholstery, and more. 

Plastic-free vegan leather uses leftovers that would otherwise go to waste. It’s also biodegradable. Although, you should know that some plastic-free vegan leathers use petroleum-based products. This helps bind the fabric together. 

Making plastic-free vegan leather requires a time-consuming production process. As a result, some of these products can cost more compared to other vegan leather options. 

This isn’t a downside. For many, it’s still a better option than real leather!

Plastic-free vegan is made with sustainability in mind. If you’re keen on making an environmentally conscious buy, it’s one of the best options on the market. 

Can vegan leather be repaired or recycled?

Here’s some good news: it’s absolutely possible to repair and recycle your vegan leather products. 

One of the biggest benefits to owning a vegan leather product is that it’s waterproof. If your garment or accessory gets wet, simply wipe it down with a clean cloth. 

It's also easy to repair vegan leather. You can find a wide variety of vegan leather repair kits online and in stores. These kits come with paint, patches, and other materials. Purchasing a small repair kit will help you keep your faux leather looking brand new. 

Here's an example: is your vegan leather bag peeling? Not a problem. One of the easiest ways to repair vegan leather is to remove the flakes. You can use vegan leather paint from your kit to fill in the missing color. 

Do you like to get creative? You're in luck. You can also recycle your vegan leather garment or accessory. 

Vegan leather is generally much easier to work with compared to leather. Needle marks aren’t as noticeable, and it’s also easier to cut and sew. 

Recycling’s never been easier!

The Bottom Line: What leather should you invest in?

Is vegan leather really better for the environment? 

It’s possible to find pros to investing in both vegan and real leather. But let’s focus on the environmental impact of these garments and accessories. 

You’ll find there are a few leading options. 

If you’re still on the fence, try to invest in high-quality vegan handbags or plastic-free vegan leather. Hands down, they’re your most sustainable choices. Compared to real leather, they’re incredibly eco friendly. They also aren’t produced using dangerous toxins or plastics. They are much less harmful to the environment and your health. 

This makes PU vegan leather or plastic-free vegan leather a solid investment. What could be better than that?

Taylor Cossairt
Taylor Cossairt is a content writer and regular contributor to The Vegan Warehouse. She currently writes for start-ups, non-profits, and other brands. Taylor specializes in creating content for conscious companies, like The Vegan Warehouse, to help connect with like-minded readers.
Taylor Cossairt is a content writer and regular contributor to The Vegan Warehouse. She currently writes for start-ups, non-profits, and other brands. Taylor specializes in creating content for conscious companies, like The Vegan Warehouse, to help connect with like-minded readers.