Sustainable alternatives in the leather industry

  • by Scarlet Destiny Admin

Just as there are problems with the animal leather industry, linked to excessive meat production and the types of chemicals used to treat it, vegan leather alternatives can also be just as harmful for the environment.

This type of material, otherwise known as synthetic leather, is mostly made from polyurethane, a versatile polymer made from fossil fuels, or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), another form of plastic, and used to be considered a cheaper alternative to animal leather.

With the Fashion Industry moving away from animal based products, more and more brands are approaching and utilising vegan leather as their ‘sustainable’ leather alternative.

But is vegan leather fully sustainable? 


Both polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride undergo chemical processes to make them flexible enough to mimic leather, making them toxic for the environment, they derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen and carbon into the atmosphere, as well as taking hundreds of years to biodegrade in landfill.

With consumer’s interest in sustainability rising higher than all times, brands are jumping in this new vegan leather trend and observing great success and an increase in sales. The result of this process, is that while brands are trying to cut off a toxic chemical on one side, more emerge during a different step of their supply chain.

Alternatively, vegetable tanned leather is being studied and investigated as a ‘best practice leather’, because as well as using natural tanning agents and maintaining the quality of the product, it is also far more durable than the current faux leather options on the market. 

Vegetable tanning is a long and intricate process, which takes more time than chrome tanning, but arguably far more worth it environmentally. These vegetable tannins are usually made with bark extracts, leaves, fruit and roots and all contain the aromatic, organic compound Phenol, which is required for tanning leather.


In regards to being an animal-based product, as long as manufacturers use the by-product of meat and dairy farming, make to order and not use harsh chemicals to tan the leather, the reduction in environmental impact would be significant. Mix that with it being a natural and non-synthetic product, vegetable tanned leather becomes the most sustainable leather you can get.

With these benefits in mind, it would be hard to believe that brands and consumers won’t soon start changing their mind about the former trend of vegan leather as the only sustainable option.


(information sourced on

(Image 1: Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash)

(Image 2 and featured image: Photo by m0851 on Unsplash)


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