Is Vegan Leather More Sustainable Than Animal Leather? Experts Answer

Ana Alves

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Guess what these three fashion designers have to say about vegan leather? Is it better or worse?

In every corner of our lives, from fashion to politics, living in ignorant bliss is a capital mistake.

Those of us that work in media being ‘awaken’ is paramount.

Our industry is leading the conversation in diversity, inclusivity, and self-expression.

We must be the most knowledgeable ones, to be able to advocate for better fashion standards.

To be able to draw attention to issues such as racial profiling and mental health in fashion. To be able to cover the industry’s impact on the environment.

From ditching plastic straws to supporting animal welfare and sustainable marketplaces that give voice to emerging conscious designers, such as Wardrobe of Tomorrow.

Doing it halfway

Many of us have vowed to stop wearing fur, and others are phasing out all animal fibres such as silk, cashmere, and wool.

But, even those of us with the best intentions make concessions, from time to time.

We’re sipping iced coffee though copper straws, but order daily to-go salads in rigid plastic bowls.

And truth be told, I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans still wearing leather accessories.

To be fair, there haven’t been a lot of options for animal-free accessories.

What do fashion designers say?

Most fashion designers say there aren’t enough good leather alternatives or recognisable brands.

Stella McCartney vegan leather bags

Aside from Stella McCartney, can you think of any high-end designer labels doing luxurious leather accessories?

Probably not.

But as the conversation continues to grow, a new wave of emerging designers are changing that.

A new wave of designers

Consider Vicki von Holzhausen, who launched her eponymous handbag line in 2015.

Vicki von Holzhausen vegan leather bags

The brand creates minimal, high-quality, and well-priced cross-bodies, totes, and clutches.

After working in automotive design for Audi and Mercedes-Benz, Vicki knew where to find the best leather suppliers, to create a durable, long-lasting leather product.

Durability wise, just imagine how often you slide in and out of a car. It’s a lot.

Vicki von Holzhausen vegan leather bags

That’s why a genuine alternative to animal leather was critical to Vicki’s success.

Shortly after her launch, she also developed a proprietary “technik-leather.”

It is an animal-free, sustainably-produced material. Moreover, the material is just as luxurious and durable as the ‘real thing’.

Initially, the designer gave her customers the option to buy animal leather products or vegan ones.

But then, von Holzhausen made an even more radical decision.

Vegan leather innovations

von Holzhausen dropped animal leather from her line.

Vicki von Holzhausen vegan technik-leather bags

Now, she offers exclusively technik-leather bags, accessories, and other small vegan leather goods.

From the beginning, my brand has had an ethical mission. We make everything in Los Angeles and give back to the community. However, animal leather kept getting in the way. I asked my tanneries some hard questions, and I wasn’t satisfied with their answers.

Many designers and naysayers will argue that because it’s a synthetic material that requires lost of chemicals to be made, vegan leather is worse on the environment than animal leather.

But, according to von Holzhausen, her technik-leather is, smart, scientific and not “faux leather.”

Don’t confuse PVC – found in some faux leathers – with my material. I use polyurethane made through a green-guard, LED-certified sustainable process. There, the water, resins, and solvents are recycled and used again. My vegan leather is 99 per cent waste-free.

In contrast, tanning animal leather can be polluting if the tannery doesn’t properly discard the water and chemicals.

Yes, our products are expensive. We’re making them with the same artisan craftsmanship you’d find in a high-end leather bag. The material won’t crack if it gets wet or it’s humid, which often happen with other polyurethanes,” continues the designer.

Vegan has to be expensive

An interesting point to add about von Holzhausen is that while the bags are promoted as ‘animal-free’ on her website, she isn’t interested in using the ‘vegan marketing‘ angle.

The word rarely comes up in her social media.

We’re not going after the vegan buyers of fashion but after the high-end fashion community. To change their perspective, you have to give them something cool, and that’s just as good, if not better than what they’re used to.

Another word she avoids using is ‘luxury’.

“In our research, we’ve found that millennials don’t like that word because it makes the product seem like it’s not conscious and it’s wasteful.

Consumers value and expect other things in sustainable products.

The branding factor

For example, the branding factor – something you find in M2Malletier’s bags – recognisable for their hexagonal silhouettes and gold bar handles.

Since their launch in 2014, designers Melissa Losada Bofill and Marcela Velez have built a big business in leather handbags.

However, the duo receives constant requests from customers looking for vegan alternatives.

Melissa Losada Bofill and Marcela Velez vegan leather bag

For that, the designers have created a line of velvet bags with vegan-leather linings.

We have just started working with a new factory that doesn’t use plastic.

We think all brands should start dedicating a part of their collection to sustainable and vegan options.

As for shoes, vegan leather options are ostensibly even harder to come by.

Maybe it’s because we expect so much from our footwear: durability, breathability, and comfort, not to mention style.

Machine washable vegan leather

Hobes founder Georgia Hobart recently debuted a non-leather range of her signature, slipper-like Boat shoes and saw near-instant success.

There’s very little to choose from [in the way of] vegan footwear. We had many requests for vegan shoes throughout the years. Yet, only after being able to secure suppliers of good material, I felt confident that I decided to move forward.

There are many advantages to innovative vegan leather. It is animal-free, breathable, water-resistant, and more recently, machine-washable.

Hobs vegan shoes

Georgia’s choice for raw materials apart from cotton and a little polyester are Oeko-Tex and Reach certified.

These materials have a highly sustainable manufacturing process rank and are solvent-free.

I’m still using animal leather. But in some ways, I believe the vegan leather offers superior products. It’s lighter than leather, very soft, and incredibly durable. Moreover, it is washable and water-resistant with the same price as the leather Hobes,” she added.

Vegan leather offers superior products

The truth is that despite the big misconception that vegan materials are less expensive than leather, these cruelty-free materials are, in fact, more costly.

We are hoping more designers join von Holzhausen, M2Malletier, and Hobes.

With the climate crisis and all sustainable developments, it is now the time for designers to experiment and get involved.

Meanwhile, Von Holzhausen has plans to launch more categories that you’d normally see in animal leather – in her proprietary technik-leather – such motorcycle jackets, pants, trench coats, skirts…

As she put it: “Right now, in the 21st century we can make anything better with vegan leather alternative materials.”

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That’s why finding media that covers the intersection of fashion with innovation for a sustainable future is so critical right now.

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