Are you sick and tired of feeling guilty about the leather products you own and wear on a daily basis? Do you have a friend or lover whose veganism you simply need to appease at all costs? Are you fed up with defending what is ultimately genocide and want to invest some time and money in leather alternatives instead?
Then join us as we explore ten of the best leather alternatives on the market today as well as elucidating what makes the leather industry such a cruel one.
Is Real Leather Really That Bad?
It is if you give any hoot about the environment, yes. If you don't already know how leather is made, then you might not know that it is made from animals, hence why the phrase 'animal leather' is a little redundant. No matter how sustainably you farm these animals, you are still slaughtering them ceaselessly for profit.
Yes, slaughter is the right word, for many of them will be privy to their companions' last moments, watching in horror as they go to their death before they themselves are killed, bled, and skinned so that their hide can be used for the leather products you so love.
Some like to comfort themselves by believing that leather is just a by-product of the meat and dairy industry. This is still a gory subject and also not totally true, for most leather comes from animals that were raised for the express purpose of providing their skin.
Atop all of this, most real leather is made in countries with pretty questionable animal welfare laws. Indeed, companies are happy to offload their work to countries where the labor is cheaper and the welfare laws are more stringent.
What about the Planet?
Through all of this, the planet doesn't get let off the hook. Oh no, the planet is still made to suffer the consequences of this cruel and ultimately amoral industry.
Nowadays, far from using the vegetable tanning process, most commercial leather is tanned using chrome which is a highly toxic and carcinogenic process that produces a bunch of harmful by-products.
These include but are not limited to mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various other oils and dyes that are cyanise-based. These chemicals then make their way into the water, harming wildlife and human beings over time.
1. Recycled Materials
The first leather alternative should have been a pretty obvious guess from all of you. To be a little more specific, this vegan leather is made from recycled plastic, something that is thankfully a godsend considering just how much single-use plastic is thrown away every single day.
Using PET bottles and deadstock nylon, vegan bag brands like Remeant make accessories like bags and jewelry through recycled means. This isn't just an alternative to the leather industry. This is actually a viable and durable material that is available in a range of colors, shades, and textures, all of which are water-resistant!
Who knew that vegan leather alternatives would include the very leaves from the trees? It doesn't get much more vegan than that, surely?
The idea here is to soak the leaves in water so that they are pulpable, then dye them and arrange them flat together to dry in shape. The drying process bonds them together to provide a large sheet of material with which you can fashion anything you like. Once layered with cotton, the interior is soft and ready to go, to line yourself with and to feel like royalty.
3. Agave Plant
Much like apple leather, agave leather is made using thick, thick leaves that grow sustainably, though in this instance they come from the sustainable hana plant which is used to yield this ecologically viable vegan leather.
In the same way as cactus leather, the hana plant produces a fine fiber that, once extracted, can then be woven and made into just about any accessory you like. These are usually reserved for items like wallets, handbags, computer cases, etc., though the possibilities really are endless.
A brand like Kantala, for example, does this to devastating effect and even colors all their products with natural dyes too - no harmful chemicals here, thank you very much!
4. Mushroom Leather
Any fungus heads who are fond of sustainable materials and innovative leather alternatives will no doubt rejoice when they hear that their favorite fungi are being rendered into precisely that.
This is no joke! You can actually grow mushroom leather to the size and shape that you need to fulfill any design or accessory. Sure, it might not be as waterproof as other alternatives on this list, but it can easily be waterproofed without harmful chemicals. Thus, this is just as biodegradable and eco-friendly as every other vegan leather on display here.
The first three letters of this vegetable-tanned leather should give you some indication as to the material that we are working with here. Yes, pineapples, though, more specifically, pineapple bush! Not only is this leather 100% vegan, but it is also ethical in the way that it provides native pineapple farms with another source of income from their crop.
In action, it feels like cowhide leather and, in the same way, it is watertight and incredibly durable. No wonder brands like H&M are adopting it more and more frequently!
6. Apple Leather
I'll bet that when Isaac Newton was perched beneath the tree that eventually dowsed him in the apple that ultimately inspired his laws of physics, he could never have conceived a day when that apple might be turned into a leather alternative.
Sure, you can conceive of leather made from recycled rubber, cork oak trees, heck there's even grape leather. So, why is it so hard to conceive of apple leather? You can see plenty of stylish examples from the brand Happy Genie whose handbags are especially worthy of note and you can check them out by visiting their website
7. Waxed Cotton
If you are sourcing your cotton organically, then you can easily use it as a substitute for leather, provided of course that you are willing and prepared to wax it.
Unlike a lot of leather - especially lesser-quality leather - this is an incredibly pliable material, meaning it can be fashioned into just about any shape that you like. It is also waterproof and much more easily washable than leather. In this way, you can be sure that you are saving money in the long run by evading all those pesky bills from your leather cleaner as well as the use of leather cleaning chemicals in the water.
8. Recycled Rubber
Even some rubber is great as an alternative to leather hide, regardless of what animal the leather itself comes from. Of particular use is the kind of rubber that is used in the inner tubes of bicycle wheels and often so thoughtlessly discarded because it is deemed not to have any real value.
This kind is known for its broadly leathery texture and density already, making it a perfect fit for repurposing into something else more eco-friendly and vegan. Paguro is a great example of a brand with a flair for recycling this kind of rubber into something incredibly chic.
Yes, more than just a place in the south of Ireland and material used for floor tiling, cork is also highly regarded as one of the most ecologically friendly materials on the market. It is easy to recycle, natural, and the source of cork oak forests prevents desertification and deforestation at almost every turn.
So, shopping for cork bags can do more than just update your wardrobe. It can help to foster endangered species in cork oak forests from having their habitat usurped and grant them more years near their home.
Last - though by no means least - we have a rather surprising entry to this exhibition of leather alternatives. Who would have thought that paper would be tough enough to imitate and act as an alternative to leather?
The brand Bottega Veneta realized this when they fashioned a paper bag from tightly woven washi. This is a delicate type of paper that is obtained from the kozo tree, a fast-growing Japanese relative of the mulberry tree. Once it has been obtained, the paper is washed gently but thoroughly and then carefully woven into whatever shape is required of it.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to invest in your own leather alternative products!
FAQs Leather Alternatives
WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE TO LEATHER?
There is no one alternative to leather. There are many, in fact, plenty of which are just as durable and viable as alternatives.
WHAT IS A VEGAN ALTERNATIVE TO LEATHER?
There are plenty of options to choose from when looking for a vegan alternative to leather. Apple leather is likely one of the most surprising, especially considering how chic the end result can be, though there is also paper leather and cork leather.
IS THERE ECO-FRIENDLY LEATHER?
Though many would argue that leather itself can never be eco-friendly or sustainable - largely because it involves the mass slaughter and genocide of several animals - there are plenty of vegan alternatives to leather, many of which are derived from plants or are otherwise plant-based.
WHAT ARE ECO-FRIENDLY LEATHER ALTERNATIVES?
There are many to choose from, including but not limited to piñatex leather, cork leather, mushroom leather, leaf leather, grain-based leather, recycled bottles, cactus leather, apple leather, recycled rubber, waxed cotton, coconut leather, etc. Heck, if you can conceive it, it's probably already been attempted!