Vegan leather is a big trend right now in the fashion industry, especially for shoes and boots. But what the heck is it anyway?
With people being more ecologically conscious, the idea of wearing leather which is the tanned hides of animals - usually cows or pigs - is going the way of wearing fur and more and more people are wanting alternatives. The term "vegan leather" was coined a few years ago as a more Eco-concious term to describe man-made leather-like products. In other words, vegan leather is faux leather or fake leather. It is sometimes called "pleather" meaning plastic leather, though this is an older term not used as much today.
Not your 70s fake leather
Get those images (and plastic smell!) of 1970s vinyl or Naugahyde like the couch at right out of your head - current faux leathers are a lot more realistic and sometimes the only thing missing is that tanned leather smell.
Today's vegan leather is an advanced form of polymer that can be shaped and molded into pretty much any style or design. Some are plant, cork- or kelp-based, though most faux leather is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane (PU) or a textile-polymer composite microfiber. Each manufacturer has their own vegan leather formulation and it can be made with sparkles, a patent leather-like sheen or a matte finish, and a bigger array of colors and textures than genuine leather can dream of.
Leather brands turning to faux leather
More and more of our favorite brands are turning away from leather and towards vegan leather options. Allure Lingerie, once known for it's leather corsets and clothing, are discontinuing their leather wear in favor of vinyl, wet look lycra, and vegan leather. Hades Alternative Footwear has championed vegan leather since it's inception and has some of the best fake leather we have ever seen. Demonia Shoes has only a hand full of genuine leather Gothic boots in this years line switching to vegan leather in nearly all its styles while it's sister brand, Pleaser USA has always used polyurethane (PU) in most of its shoes and boots with new styles embracing a more realistic vegan leather material.
Even luxury car companies
like Tesla, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are making vegan leather interiors for
their pricey vehicles showing just how far fake leather has come.
The benefits of vegan leather
Beyond being environmentally friendly, vegan leather is also easier to care for and more water resistant than genuine leather making it a great choice for snow boots or wet climates. No conditioning or sealing is needed - just wash them off with mild soap and water and you are good to go. This makes vegan leather appealing to even those who love real leather, however in general faux leather does not breathe the way genuine leather does so for clothing, you may find the fake leathers to be warmer, especially for long periods of wear.
Vegan or faux leather in general is also less expensive than genuine leather as it does not require the special, often toxic tanning and chemical laden treatments animal hides require. There is no waste or polluting by products like salt, lime sludge, sulfides or acids.
The durability of vegan leather versus real leather
As each brand has its own formulation, the durability of vegan leather is going to vary. Some faux leathers are thinner than genuine leather and does not get that worn, aged patina over time genuine leather does. However, vegan leather can often be altered or repaired easier than genuine leather without the special tools, expertise, and heavy-duty sewing machines real leather requires.
The higher quality vegan leather, such as that used by Hades Footwear, will naturally wear longer, but always be sure to care for your vegan leather with regular cleanings with mild soap and water and dry it thoroughly before storing. Do you expose to direct sunlight when storing it to maintain the surface, shape and color longer.
Conditioning is not required for vegan leather like it is to keep genuine leather from drying out and cracking, however vinyl conditioners can be used to soften faux leather if needed.
Is vegan leather toxic?
While the impact on the environment is greatly reduced with modern faux leather, there are a few concerns you should take into account for vegan leather.
Since most faux leather is a combination of plastic polymers, they can be toxic in enclosed environments or if burned. This is especially true of older PVC formulations which are less common these days, but you should always considering storing vegan leather products in ventilated areas. Wearing against the skin is safe and newer formulations reduce toxic fumes both during manufacturing and in the finished garment. Vegan or faux leather manufactured in the last 10 or so years are generally safer, but we do not recommend ingesting it or using it on any products worn in the mouth.
Why should I choose vegan leather?
As many manufacturers are no longer using genuine leather, in some cases, there is no choice. But if you love the style and it is only faux leather, there is no reason not to choose it. Those who want only genuine leather may be in for a lot of thrift store browsing having to settle for used garments, or seek out a pricier, bespoke manufacturer to get your leather fix.
With vegan leather improving in quality, there may come a time when you cannot tell it apart from tanned animal hides at all - even the smell of real leather may be put into future formulations.
Of course the final choice is always yours.