Vegan leather, faux leather, synthetic leather, pleather…  These are only some of the terms used to refer to different leather alternatives, used as more humane (and often more sustainable) alternatives to animal-based leather.

However, with so many different options for vegan leather alternatives, how does one find the one that will suit their unique qualifications the best?

In this quick overview, Dhakai provides an in-depth explanation of the sustainability impact of different kinds of faux leather, to help you make your most informed decision.

How Sustainable is Vegan Leather?

To determine how sustainable the vegan leather industry is directly determines by the type of faux leather in question – and there are many different options to choose from.

So far, two of the readily available options are polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Both of these are made from plastic, but there are significant differences between them. Aside from plastic-based leather, there are also some innovative plant-based leather alternatives which have a much lower environmental impact, although they’re currently significantly more expensive due to the low-scale production.

PVC Leather

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) leather, often referred to simply as vinyl, is the more inexpensive synthetic option. However, as with many cheaper alternatives, it comes with an environmental price to pay.

According to Greenpeace, PVC is the single most environmentally damaging plastic. That is because the production of PVC produces harmful dioxins and uses highly toxic chlorine during production. The negative impact of polyvinyl chloride doesn’t end during production and the material causes environmental damage through the whole lifecycle, including disposal.

The good news is that fashion companies seem to be increasingly shifting away from this material, favoring more sustainable options instead. Similarly, we as consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of what we buy and are willing to spend more on an eco-friendly option.

PU Leather

Polyurethane, on the other hand, is the more sustainable plastic-based faux leather. It has its imperfections, but its impact is much smaller than that of PVC or animal-based leather. It is more breathable, lightweight, and a closer imitation of animal-based leather.

While it’s more expensive than PVC, it is still highly accessible and does not come with such a massive environmental toll. While it is also plastic-based, PU has a much lower impact through the whole lifecycle, as it doesn’t release as many chemicals through the manufacturing process and after disposal.

If you’re on a tight budget, PU faux leather is a good way to start decreasing your impact. It is important to take care of PU material and maintain it regularly, as good care contributes to the items longer lifespan.

Plant-Based Leathers

More commonly, companies are creating sustainable leather alternatives made from plants. Finding these creative and innovative solutions reduce their environmental impact and find use for every day agricultural waste.

This is not an exhaustive list of the plant-based leather options available, but it includes ones that are used most often, as well as those that look most promising for the future.

Pineapple Leather: Piñatex

Piñatex, or pineapple leather, is by far the most frequently found leather alternative. It is made from agricultural waste during pineapple cultivation, which would otherwise go to a landfill.  Considering pineapple farmers can sell the excess part of the pineapple, they are able to generate more income and reduce the amount of waste.

Piñatex feels like cowhide leather by touch and is very durable. It is by far the most popular plant-based leather on the market today, with many brands introducing Piñatex collection in their range.

Apple Leather

Did you know that you could make synthetic leather from apples? Apple leather is one of the latest vegan fashion innovations, made from the cores and skins of apples discarded from the food industry. These scraps are puréed, spread on a sheet and dehydrated, to be transformed into a leather-like sheet that can be combined with polyurethane to create an apple-based vegan leather.

While apple leather is not completely plastic-free, it substantially reduces the amount of polyurethane that needs to be used, and therefore deserves a spot on this list.

Cactus Leather

Did you ever think cacti could be used to make leather? The final product looks realistic to animal leather. Although the material isn’t used much yet due to the innovation being extremely new. The thick skin of the cactus will continue to make for a great basis to make faux leather goods.

The material can be made without cutting down the cactus plant, as only the most mature leaves are cut off. The end product has a very small water footprint and doesn’t need to be treated without any toxic chemicals.

Hopefully, this durable alternative will become more widely available soon!

Grape Leather

Another innovative plant-based leather is a by-product of winemaking. It’s made from the peels and seeds of grapes. The final fabric comes in the variety of natural wine hues and can be used to imitate exotic animal skins once printed on.

Currently, the creator of the material is now collaborating exclusively with H&M to create a vegan leather range for their stores. While this may sound like a good thing – a fast fashion brand going more sustainable – many of the practices used to make this line could be subject to be exploitative and environmentally damaging. Since textile innovations are on the rise, hopefully grape leather becomes readily available for sustainably driven brands as well.

Mushroom Leather

The mushroom leather, MuSkin is a one-of-a-kind innovation due to its unique production method. Instead of using and processing the mushroom to create the leather alternative, the faux leather is grown into one large mushroom sheet.

This mushroom, scientifically named Phellinus Ellipsoideus, is native to subtropical forests where it feeds on tree trunks. If used to make leather, it is then treated in a way that’s similar to animal-based leather processing, but using only natural and non-toxic substances. It is also a little different than other leather alternatives in texture and appearance – it resembles suede rather than leather.

The world of vegan leather has become much more innovative over recent years, as more time and money are being spent creating sustainable alternatives. Plant-based leathers are not just ethical than animal-based leather, but also more sustainable than the plastic vegan leather options on the market. At Dhakai, we are encouraged that this growth will continue to make the future of fashion a much more sustainable and animal-friendly space!

If you are looking for other sustainable fabrication alternatives, get in touch at info@dhakai.com. We have hundreds in-house ethical and sustainable fabrications to choose from!