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Which is better real leather or vegan leather?

By Acacia Liu Jan 25, 2023

Leather is a luxurious fabric not everyone can afford. 

The market for faux leather products has increased due to its considerably low price and similarity in appearance to real leather. 

But is it more sustainable than real leather?

First, it is important to learn where our products came from. 

Leather is produced from the hides of livestock such as cattle, buffalo, sheep or even alligators.

The hides, typically left over from food production, are tanned with several chemical treatments to preserve the animal skin. 

. Credit: Annie Spratt/ Unsplash

Vegan or faux leather production involves no animal products, but are often made by layering plastic materials such as polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is then treated by wax and dye to give it that pore-like texture.

In terms of durability, animal leather is made to last as a result of the complicated structure of skin fibres. 

Plastic leather has a less complex design and is more susceptible to damage. 

On their environmental footprints, both leathers contribute to water pollution and carbon gas emissions in different stages of production. 

PVC has been reported to be the “single most environmentally damaging type of plastic” by organisations like Green Peace.

It contains toxic materials like dioxins, notorious for its harmful characteristics to both humans and the environment.

Workers set up leather pieces on a rack to make it dry at a tannery in Hazaribag, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Syed Mahamudur Rahman/Shutterstock

On the other hand, tanning process of real leather uses heavy metals and chemicals that could penetrate human’s respiratory system.

It’s disposal also risks contaminating water streams and the ecosystem.

Moreover, the leather industry is directly linked with excessive land use for cultivation, deforestation and animal cruelty. 

Deforestation. Credit: Dave Herring/ Unsplash

However, genuine leather is naturally biodegradable whereas plastic leather is not. 

The mass production and consumption of synthetic leather can often cause more harm to the environment.

A lot of people adopt a vegan lifestyle for the environment, some do it for religious or ethical reasons.

But ultimately, when choosing which type of leather product there are no easy answers and it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle.

By Acacia Liu

Year 3 Journalism student at Kingston University Reporter / Design and layout chief Interests: Animals, art, fashion and gaming

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