When you purchased your leather handbag, did you consider the hidden cost? The environmental cost of natural leather is very high. There is heavy carbon footprint and massive drain on natural resources. This includes the heavy usage of water, and the clearing of forests for grazing land threatens our forests and wildlife. The chemicals used in the processing of natural leather are toxic and carcinogenic. It affects the health of many working in this cruel industry. Following the tanning process, the toxic chemical not treated properly is dumped into the rivers polluting our water supply. Is your natural leather handbag worth this price?
In recent years we have seen an increasing number of leather alternatives being introduced to the market. PU and PVC leather is not the only leather alternative available on the market today. In this article, we explore 5 of the most commonly used natural leather alternatives.
Produced by combining Polyvinyl Chloride with plasticizer to ensure softness and a stabilizer that will help the material behave and feel like leather.
This mixture is then colored and rolled into sheets. PVC Leather consists of several layers of such sheets. The leather is then textured and baked together before an artificial coating is applied, giving it a polished finish.
The process of combining several sheets to achieve the desired thickness makes it stronger and more durable than PU leather. PVC leather is generally more expensive than PU Leather.
PU Leather consists of a back layer (cotton, polyester, etc.) and a polymer, Polyurethane. It's not as thick therefore less durable than PVC leather. It peels over time and when exposed to direct sunlight.
PU leather is more pliable and flexible so easier to work with. It looks and feels closer to real leather than PVC leather. PU leather has more pores making it more breathable but these pores are prone to absorbing more stains.
Due to its flexibility and breathability, PU leather is better suited for producing leather clothing than more heavy-duty usages such as lining sofas. The production process of PU leather is more environmentally friendly than PVC leather production.
Apple leather is produced from the waste products of the apple juice industry. The waste material is dried and ground to produce a powder. This is then combined with polyurethane and coated onto a cotton and polyester canvas. The composition of the apple and polymer mixture remains 50% apple and 50% polyurethane making it more eco-friendly than real and 100% fossil-fuel-based synthetic leather.
This leather combines the pros of both natural and synthetic leather. It's strong and durable, pores and breathable, and playable. It’s a good vegan leather, widely used in the production of wallets, handbags, etc.
Cactus leather is a bio-degradable and sustainable vegan leather produced in Mexico. The leaves of a cactus verity called the prickly pear is the main raw material. This plant is also known as Nopal Cactus (scientific name: Opuntia ficus-indica). This vegan leather is our favorite among the vegan leathers mentioned in this post for several reasons.
The farming of cactus does not harm the environment. These plants can be grown in degraded land and will require very little water. No fertilizer or pesticides are needed. The prickly pear is commonly used across the world to regenerate the soil. When harvesting, only large leaves are gathered leaving the plant unharmed. A prickly pear plant can live up to 8 years and can be harvested semi-annually. One meter of cactus leather requires approximately as few as three large leaves.
The cactus plantations absorb large amounts of CO2, much greater than the amount they put out therefore these farms have a negative carbon footprint.
The production and tanning process doesn’t involve toxic chemicals. The workers are not exposed to toxins that affect their health. No toxic waste is dumped into rivers so no harm is caused to the ecosystem.
Although the leather is up to 96% bio-degradable, it is a strong material, flexible, and can be molded into beautiful and elegant fashion accessories such as handbags, wallets, belts, and shoes.
To learn more about cactus leather and why we use it in our products you can read our blogpost on the topic by clicking here.
In the Philippines, pineapple fiber has been used to create fabrics for many centuries. To this day, much of their traditional attires such as the Barong Tagalog (a lightweight embroidered shirt), are made predominantly with pineapple fabric. Inspired by these fabrics, Dr. Carmen Hijosa created a variety of leather using pineapple fibers. This is one of the first vegan, all-natural leather created on this list.
Pineapple is farmed in many countries across South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. Pineapple is a perennial plant that dies after producing a single fruit. The pineapple leaves are a waste product of the pineapple industry. It's estimated that more than 13 million tons of waste are produced globally from pineapple farming. Producing pineapple leather from these leaves is a good solution for this waste. The processing of this leather does not require the use of toxic chemicals and it’s fully biodegradable.
If you want to know more about the impact of the leather industry check out our blogpost "Environmental Impact of the Leather Industry".
With all these natural leather alternatives available, would you still opt for natural leather? If you chose vegan leather which would be your choice and why? Let us know in the comments below.
Image courtesy of: Yeon Hee @unsplash