These days, popular stores with the ‘ethical’ badge often put out signs like ‘vegan leather products available’ or ‘ditch animal leather, go vegan leather’. Did you ever wonder what on earth ‘vegan leather’ is? Well, maybe that is why you are here.
Primarily the word ‘vegan’ has nothing to do with animals. So, logically, vegan leather is something that is not made of animal skin. That means it conserves animal rights. The burning question here is, are they safe for the environment as well?
To start off with, there is a small discussion about animal leather and how it is made, so that you are able compare and contrast better.
Animal leather –
According to available information, animal leather is a by-product of the ‘meat industry’. If you didn’t have a leather industry, all that animal skin extracted in the due process, will create major problems. The animal skins will be accumulated in unnecessary amounts. To dispose all of those off, will be a task. So, why not turn them into leather?
As you know, animal skin is converted into leather by tanning it using basic chromium sulphate or the equivalents of the same. This process stabilizes the skin proteins and converts them into strong, flexible and soft leather that is used for making bags, shoes etc.
Is tanning harmful to the environment? Chromium, that is a chief chemical used in this industry, often faces criticism for being the main cause water pollution. However, after a lot of research, the technology to remove chromium and recycle the water was developed by Mr. Cranston, the honorary research fellow from CSIRO.
It’s basically ‘animal skin free leather’ that looks false and synthetic; like it was made for the purpose of being passed around as ‘leather but not leather’. These look synthetic and durable.
Vegan leather is basically made from fossil fuels and takes a long time to break down. So, why are the demands so high? To be honest, the world cannot supply enough animal leather and hence, the demand for fake leather is here to stay. Also, with many people going ‘vegan’, this alternative is definitely one way to maintain style and status when it comes to fashion.
This industry uses natural tanners in the process of tanning – little bit more natural than the rest. The leather with vegetable tanning is a lot thicker than it chemically tanned alternative and hence is suited for shoes, saddles etc. However, they come with a drawback too. Since this industry uses natural tanners which are milder, they need to put in a lot of the same.
Recent studies have shown no significant difference between the alternatives.
There have been further research and innovations wherein the manufacturers have managed to reduce the use of petroleum by refining the polyurethane products. There is a long way to go before ‘vegan leather’ can actually be called a better alternative to animal leather.