Vegan Leather: Definitive guide to natural & synthetic leather

Vegan leather (or faux leather) is characterized by fabrics that mimic the look and feel of leather, but are made without using any animals. This means no slaughterhouses, no animal products or byproducts, and no animal labor.

Vegan leather can be made from a variety of natural fibres, as well as synthetic materials, including PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PU (polyurethane), and can be used for everything from jackets and shoes to handbags, wallets and other accessories.

Both natural and synthetic vegan leathers offer a cruelty-free, animal free alternative to traditional leather products; with the natural options offering additional eco-friendly benefits by using byproducts of food production, renewable materials and also recycling the most unlikely fibres.

Ingredients of Vegan Leather

In the past decade, vegan leather has undergone a technological and economic explosion, driven by the desire of consumers to make more ethical and earth-friendly fashion choices. The most widely available type of faux leather today is synthetic leather. Factories use PVC or polyurethane (PU) to make it.

However, as the popularity of vegan fashion has grown, startups and researchers are offering more and more natural vegan leathers that are great for animals and the planet.

Natural Vegan Leather

PAPER

Source: Massdrop

The idea of paper leather might sound flimsy, but don’t let the name fool you. This type of faux leather is also known as washable paper. It was traditionally used for the outside labels on jeans. But now people use paper leather for everything from home decor to handbags. Paper leather is delicate but strong, and can be made to look smooth or distressed!

CORK LEATHER

Cork is a great eco-friendly alternative to leather. Made from the bark of cork trees, which grows back over time, this sustainable material makes use of a renewable resource to make stylish vegan leather bags, wallets and even shoes.

PINATEX

Pinatex: Made from leaf fibers of PINEAPPLES. That’s right. Pineapples. Dr.Carmen Hijosa developed it after she learned about the negative environmental impact of genuine leather on our planet. We are seeing more and more beautiful handbags made from pinatex these days.

WAXED COTTON

A handbag made from Waxed Leather

Waxed leather is made by infusing cotton fibers with paraffin wax or beeswax (though we prefer to use paraffin and leave our bee friends alone). A popular fashion choice from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, waxed cotton has made a reappearance in sustainable fashion because it has a similar look to leather, without any animal cruelty.

RECYCLED RUBBER

A handbag made from Recycled rubber Leather

Recycled rubber is made from lots of rubber products, including rubber hoses and even care tires and inner tubes! The density of rubber is similar to leather, making it perfect for handbags and accessories.

MUSHROOM LEATHER

A handbag made from Mashroom Vegan Leather

Muskin is the vegetable cousin to Pinatex. It is made from the extractions of mushroom caps, which is then processed to become vegetable tanned leather. It is processed in a similar way to animal hide leather, but it doesn’t require any toxic chemicals. Plus, you can grow a Muskin “leather” sheet the same size as an animal hide in just 2 months!

LIGNEAH

Ligneah Vegan Leather

The material – Ligneah – is a promising new material to the vegan leather world, produced by the Ligneah brand in Italy.  It takes wood and uses micro laser incisions to create flexible designs and then paired with cotton for use in fashion items and home design. The manufacturers only use wood from ethically managed forests and partner with Tree Nation, an organization that plants a new tree in Niger, Africa, for every product sold.

Synthetic Vegan Leather

Despite the recent increase in the availability of natural vegan leathers, synthetic leather is still the most commonly used material to make totes, handbags and more.

PVC

Outer Transparent handbag made from PVC Leather

PVC leather (aka vinyl), made from polyvinyl chloride, was the first kind of synthetic leather introduced to the market.

PVC leather fabric is made by combining polyvinyl chloride with stabilizers, plasticizers, and lubricants, and then applied to a base material. The base materials are typically polyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon.

PVC leather is an old school synthetic leather. It is comparatively cheap fabric. It contains high amounts of toxic chemicals that are harmful for the planet – and even to human health – which makes it a less desirable option when compared to more modern synthetic leathers, such as PU leather and microfibre leather.

Today, PU leather, made with polyurethane, is the most popular option when it comes to faux leather used in the production of accessories such as handbags and wallets.

So what is polyurethane?

POLYURETHANE

A handbag made from PU Faux/Vegan Leather

Polyurethane (PU) is a synthetic resin in which polymer units are linked by isocyanate groups. It can be rigid or flexible.

Polyurethane is made using petroleum by-products. However, we consider some new and emerging types of polyurethane greener than others. Renewable materials like castor, coconut, palm or soybean oil constitutes major portion of the new and emerging PU leather.

You can shop croc patterned premium quality PU leather handbags at EL SCHATTELER.

And what is PU leather? 

PU leather is made by using PU as a coating in other fabrics (such as cotton, nylon, polyester, microfiber) which makes them water resistant, anti-bacterial and also mimic the look of leather.  

PU leathers can vary in texture, strength, flexibility and durability and different production methods mean different outcomes. High quality, premium PU leather can look absolutely beautiful and have a luxurious feel. In terms of durability, quality PU leather, when cared for properly, can last a very long time. 

  • PU will decompose over (a long) time, whereas PVC won’t (ever)
  • PU is safer in terms of fire resistance, whereas vinyl can release hydrochloric acid and other toxic compounds when burned
  • PU’s typically contain a significantly lower level of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) than PVC, resulting in improved indoor air quality
  • The production of PU leather is more Energy and Water Efficient than the production of vinyl

Not all PU leathers are the same though. 

We consider polyurethane greener than vinyl (PVC) because:

A good quality PU leather is better for the environment and your health. These high quality PU leathers are:

  • Phthalate Free
  • BPA (Bisphenol A) Free
  • DMF (Dimethylformamide) Free
  • AZO free
  • Lead & Heavy Metal Free
  • Hydrolysis resistant, which means it’s more durable – lasting at least 3 years (as opposed to cheap PUs which will start to peel off in 1-2 years)

These high quality PU leather is commonly called Eco-PU / Eco-Friendly PU / Low Chemical PU, and so on.

MICROFIBRE LEATHER (aka Microfibre PU leather)

Microfibre leather is the most premium of the three synthetic leathers we are discussing here. It is close to PU leather in its constitution – the difference is in the base fabric. 

Swatch of Microfibre Leather

From our research, microfibre leather seems to be the evolution of PU leather, with the same environmental credentials – both use a polyurethane coating – offering improved performance and durability.

So, what is Microfibre Leather?

While ordinary PU leather is made with a woven or non-woven fabric as the base fabric and then coated with polyurethane resin; microfibre leather, on the other hand, is made with a polyamide fibre base and then coated with a polyurethane resin.

This strong microfibre base makes microfibre leather a more durable alternative, and, you guessed it, it comes with a higher price tag.

A handbag made from Microfibre Leather

Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.

When you decide to buy, we recommend choosing quality over cost and buying from reputable brands so your purchase will be better for the environment and last longer through years of use.

We all know that the world of synthetic leather isn’t perfect as its production still relies on fossil fuels. But it’s also important to remember that these petrochemical by-products are, indeed, a by-product. As long as there is a demand for fossil fuels, these by-products will be available.

Besides, when we think about real leather, which impacts the environment significantly more (not to mention the torture and slaughter of millions of innocent animals), it’s a no-brainer that it is better than animal leather.

If you’re looking for the traditional leather look, and the lesser of the evils between animal and synthetic leathers; PU leather and Microfibre leather are your obvious choices.

If you’re looking for greener alternatives, the natural alternatives of leather are for you. Recycled materials are also a great green alternative as they stop these materials from reaching landfill.

Where to find vegan leather bags in India 

Wondering where you can buy vegan leather handbags for women in India? At EL SCHATTELER we’ve done all the research for you and curated many alternatives to animal leather, so you can choose what best resonates with you. 

We stock variety of women luxury designed handbags made up of vegan/faux leather available at your door step.

We are committed to cruelty-free fashion.

If you’re looking for luxe vegan handbags in India, check out our website now.

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