When founding The Hound Project over two years ago, I knew I would go completely cruelty free. It literally means only using fabrics that don’t come from animals. However, vegan leather is still a bit of a grey area, and most people don’t know a lot about it. I used to love leather, purely because I associated quality with it. And if you’re anything like me, then you think the same. I wanted beautifully crafted, soft, perfectly fitting leather shoes, bags and jackets. I was going crazy over suede. And then I started my first year of fashion college, where I had to faced the process of obtaining leather, and also learned about the alternatives.
It only makes sense to go leather free as a pet owner. For me respect for one animal means respect for all. That’s when I became an advocate of alternative leather products. And I don’t just mean fake or faux leather as we mostly know it. I learned so much about these options, so let me take you through a few questions that I asked when first researched vegan leather.
Why isn’t real leather vegan?
Simply put, leather is animal skin. Therefore, it isn’t considered vegan. Here are the simplified steps of making leather:
- Kill the animal. I must mention here that not all animals are killed before their skin is obtained. Some animals are only shocked, and skinned alive for ‘better quality’ skin and fur.
- Strip the animal carcass off the skin. Now remember that at this point some animals are still alive, in some cases fully conscious eg. snakes.
- Dispose of the animal body, in some cases this is used for food.
- Soak, wash and scrape the skin off any leftover residues. This includes excess meat, fur or fat.
- Next up is the tanning process. Skin, like all parts of an animal’s body decomposes naturally. To avoid this, skin is treated with different kinds of chemicals to preserve and strengthen it. This process includes chemicals that are harmful for the environment, as well as our health.
- After tanning the skin is sold to brands and manufacturers who turn it into all kinds of commercial products.
Isn’t leather the byproduct of the meat industry?
Many justify leather, as it’s the byproduct of the meat industry. While it is true in many cases, it’s not as simple as that. Good quality leather is often obtained over risking the quality of the meat. Meaning that meat is discarded, while the skin is used only. Also, leather can be made from just about any skin. We see cow, sheep, ostrich, crocodile, snake leather and list goes on. There are hunters, specializing in trapping, hunting and skinning wild animals to serve the needs of customers opting for ‘luxury’. Now, wild animal skin is definitely not a byproduct of any meat industry, if anything it is illegal in most cases. I don’t want to detail how these animals are skinned, it is a gruesome and stomach turning method, but google ‘skinning a snake’ if you are interested in real cruelty to animals.
So what is vegan leather?
It is a man made fabric, that resembles real leather. It is made out of polyurethane, which is a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate links. Now before you become a defensive, environmental advocate here is a description on PU from Joshua Katcher, founder of Brave Gentleman, a vegan lifestyle menswear brand.
“PU is made in a strictly controlled and regulated chemical process, during which only a few grams per ton of chemical is ever released into the environment. The final polyurethane polymer is chemically inert, and therefore harmless. PU is also biodegradable by way of fungus found in landfill and soil.”
If you are anything like me, then you’re into alternative vegan fabrics. Good news! Vegan leather can also be made from innovative and sustainable materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, other fruit waste. Some companies use recycled plastic to create products that put animal skins to shame. One of personal favorites is Pinatex, a fabric made using 85% discarded pineapple leaves, natural adhesive and natural dye. This fabric will fully decompose when discarded, and has the most stunning feel and texture.
What does vegan leather look like?
Vegan leather comes in several different forms and qualities, so some are more ‘leather-like’ than others. Generally speaking, and focusing on good quality vegan leather, there isn’t that much difference to real leather. However, as vegan leather is synthetic, it doesn’t form a patina like real leather does when ageing. This means that it ages differently to real leather. It maintains that same soft feeling even after years.
Why choose it over real leather?
More than a billion cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, and even dogs and cats are cruelly slaughtered for their skins every year. The tails and horns of many of these animals are cut off without painkillers. Some are even skinned and cut apart while still conscious. By contrast, vegan leather offers a killer look without any killing. So if you refuse to use real leather yourself, why would you dress your pet in it?
What is it used for?
Designers and companies use this fabric for a variety of products. They are perfect for shoes, bags, accessories, clothing, car seat covers, furniture, watches and a wide range of other products. Vegan leather can easily replace real one in every area of your life.
Is it sustainable?
Planet Earth loves sustainable vegan leather, too. Turning skin into leather takes loads of energy and a toxic brew of chemicals. It includes mineral salts, coal-tar derivatives, formaldehyde, oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. Tannery waste contains water-fouling salt, lime sludge, sulfides, acids, and other pollutants. These pollutants go straight back into our water supplies littering the planet.
How to care for it?
As vegan leather is made with a plastic coating, it is already waterproof. This makes it easier to clean by using a mild detergent or just by wiping it with a damp cloth. However it also means that conditioning products can’t penetrate it to stop it from drying up and cracking. This can happen if the faux leather is in the sun a lot and also if it’s a particularly poor quality material. However, you can get certain products, which will cover the surface of the plastic to prevent high temperatures and sun rays from cracking the surface. Such products can also help to soften the material.
Can vegan leather be washed?
Yes. It is an easy to clean alternative to real leather. Most brands have a specific cleaning instruction to go with their products. And most of them are easy to clean, wipe off or even machine wash. You can machine wash all of my vegan products on a low temperature using a mild detergent. It will keep its shape, color and texture perfectly even after several cycles. I believe, this is one of the greatest edges vegan leather has on real one.
Where to buy vegan products?
A lot of designers refuse to work with real leather. Stella McCartney is on the growing list of designers who feature only vegan leather in their collections. Tesla recently became the latest luxury automaker to offer vegan seating, joining BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Ferrari. Cork is the new vegan material on the block—a recyclable, biodegradable, and versatile material. It can be made to look and feel like leather. Corkor makes a great cork belt that has a rustic look that goes well with any pair of pants.
If you’d like to ditch real leather in your accessories, then you must meet Veggiani. It offers beautiful accessories made out of apple peel, cork and faux leather and fur. Nae is a vegan shoes and accessories brand founded in 2008. They offer a beautiful selection of products, all cruelty free.
And of course all of our products are made of vegan leather. We make every collar, leash and harness using this great fabric, and we’re launching our fabulous printed vegan accessories soon. These pieces offer a huge advantage over traditional leather products. They are cruelty free, machine washable and super comfortable to wear. While fabric alternatives rip and fray around the edges after a while, these products are very durable and with proper care, they last you for a very long time.
Sourses: Peta.org, Wikipedia, Stella McCartney