What Is Vegan Leather? Is It Eco-Friendly?
What Is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather is made from non-animal sources. It's meant to mimic the look and feel of animal leather without the ethical and sustainability issues that come from animal leather. Vegan leather can be made from synthetic or natural materials. For a leather to be truly classified as vegan, it must be 100% free of animal byproducts and animal labor.
Not all vegan leather is created equal. Only certain types of leather are truly considered eco-friendly. For example, bobobark only uses eco-friendly cork leather to create sustainable vegan purses.
Unfortunately, companies all over the globe try to greenwash their products as "natural" because they're made of vegan leather. Many of the top brands producing vegan leather handbags are not using eco-friendly vegan leather. Instead, they manufacture their purses and bags with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Keep reading to learn more about plastic vegan leathers and more environmentally friendly alternatives.
What Are the Different Types of Synthetic Vegan Leather?
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Leather
PVC is a man-made synthetic leather that’s made from a combination of stabilizers, plasticizers, and lubricants. PVC is fairly durable and weather resistant, but it is prone to cracking. However, it’s usually available at an affordable price which makes it attractive to anyone looking for the “leather look” on a budget.
PVC is a major source of phthalates which can potentially cause health problems such as immune system damage, cancer, and hormone disruption. Green Peace calls PVC a serious threat to the environment. Due to the fact PVC is hard to recycle, it has one of the lowest re-purposing uses out of all plastics.
Polyurethane (PU) Leather
PU leather is considered more favorable when compared to PVC. It still requires fossil fuels to produce polyurethane and emits carbon dioxide during the production process, but it doesn’t produce the same dioxins that PVC does.
PU is commonly used for backings, coatings, and strengthening qualities in vegan leather. Even natural vegan leather is sometimes combined with PU. However, don't let the use of PU dissuade you from buying vegan leather. While PU coatings aren’t natural, they help increase the durability and longevity of vegan leather products, which helps decrease the amount of wasted products in the long run.
Cork is one of the most environmentally friendly resources on our planet. It’s harvested from the bark of cork trees and regenerates in approximately 9 to 12 years. Harvesting cork bark doesn’t harm the tree and it’s 100% biodegradable. In fact, harvesting cork bark helps the tree “breathe” by allowing it to absorb more carbon dioxide and release more oxygen. Cork bark can be used for a variety of purposes including vegan leather, flooring, clothing, shoes, insulation, and of course - wine corks!
One of the best things about cork leather is that it doesn’t require any chemicals or harsh finishing processes to turn raw cork into waterproof cork leather. As with most vegan leather products, sometimes cork leather is treated with PU to increase longevity and durability.
Vegan leather made from seaweed is made from renewable sources and is biodegradable. Using cellulose, a natural fiber in seaweed, researchers have been able to create a soft and breathable leather material. Companies that produce leather from seaweed have to ensure that strict environmental regulations are followed when harvesting seaweed from the environment.
Apple Peel Leather
As the name suggests, apple peel leather is made from apple peels. The apple peels are dried and ground to a powder. After that, the apple peels are mixed with a PU material to create a durable leather. Even though apple peel leather is mixed with PU, it’s still more sustainable than pure PVC or PU leather alone.
Pineapple Leaf Leather
The leader in creating vegan leather from pineapple leaves is Piñatex. One of the strengths of leather made from pineapple leaves is its low carbon footprint. Pineapple leaves are often discarded as waste, which makes them perfect candidates for re-purposing into leather. However, pineapple leather requires a resin topcoat to ensure it can hold up to everyday use. Pineapple leather is generally biodegradable and sturdy. Some pineapple leather is coated with PU to increase durability, which means less products being consumed overall.
Mushroom leather is not made from the mushroom caps that you eat, but from small mycelium cells. According to BoltThreads, mycelium cells are grown on beds of organic material until they multiply into the billions and create a 3D network. After that, the cells are tanned and dyed. Mushroom leather is an excellent eco-friendly vegan leather alternative because it can be produced in a matter of days. Be aware that many companies create mushroom leather, but not all of them avoid using harmful solvents and coatings.
Waxed canvas is technically a canvas instead of a leather, but it does have similar qualities to vegan leather. Waxed canvas is highly durable and waterproof, which makes it an ideal alternative to leather for outdoor gear and apparel. Canvas is generally made from cotton or linen, but be careful - canvas can be made from PVC as well. Cotton products, while natural, require large amounts of water for production. If you’re looking out for the environment, it’s best to choose recycled or upcycled 100% cotton when you can.
If you can manage to find a recycled cotton waxed canvas product, it will likely last for years to come. Any spots that start to degrade can usually be fixed with another coating of wax.
Is Vegan Leather High-Quality and Durable?
Many synthetic vegan leather products will crack and reveal the synthetic leather backing after a few months of daily use. Natural vegan leather products perform a bit better, but you still have to be careful about which vegan leather you’re buying.
Not all vegan leathers are waterproof or durable. For example, leather made from seaweed is soft and supple, but not very durable. It might be a good fit for a leather jacket, but you’d want to stay away buying a wallet or purse made from non-durable leather. Cork leather and Pinatex are generally durable leathers that you can feel confident purchasing if you’re looking for durability.
Is Vegan Leather Eco-Friendly?
The majority of natural vegan leather alternatives are eco-friendly. They’re usually free of toxins, are biodegradable, and take limited resources to produce. However, you still need to double-check when purchasing vegan leather that it’s not coated in PVC or sewn to a PVC backing.
Remember that the majority of vegan leather is made from PVC, which is not biodegradable and releases toxins that are harmful to humans and the environment. PVC in particular releases a troublesome amount of dioxins. Dioxins are released into the environment during the PVC manufacturing process and then go on to accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals. According to the World Health Organization, when humans are exposed to dioxins, they can interfere with the immune system, hormones, and cause cancer.
Why bobobark Uses Cork Instead of Other Vegan Leather
Cork leather is one of the most sustainable types of vegan leather. In fact, it's not only sustainable, it's also good for the environment.
First of all, harvesting cork helps the cork trees absorb more carbon dioxide from the environment and release more oxygen into the air. With the abundance of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today, this is a huge help to our ecosystem.
Cork leather is also more durable than some of the other natural leathers, which are more supple than durable. We believe that a sustainable lifestyle includes using products for as long as possible, so we wanted to ensure that the bobobark would last for years to come.
We designed bobobark for busy women on the move. That meant we needed a leather that was both durable and lightweight. No one wants to be lugging around a 50lb purse every day, so cork leather was a strong contender. Lastly, we wanted bobobark to be accessible for all women who want a touch of luxury in their lives. Cork leather includes everything you could ask for in a convertible backpack purse: beautiful, affordable, durable, and lightweight!
We’ve done our best to ensure every part of the bobobark is truly eco-friendly.
- We use natural cork leather that’s harvested sustainably
- Bobobark contains no PVC coatings
- Our products are durable so they fit into a zero-waste lifestyle
- The lining of the bobobark is 100% recycled cotton
- We ship all bobobark products in 100% recyclable and biodegradable natural jute, carton, and paper packaging
If you have any questions about sustainability or our vegan leather, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to hear from you!