Looking in the Cambridge dictionary the definition of leather is the following: animal skin treated in order to preserve it, and used to make shoes, bags, clothes, equipment, etc.. Looks like no surprise, we all know what leather is. But please explain to us how leather made from animal skin now can be vegan?
Try to search for “vegan leather” in a dictionary though and you will see, it does not exist. This is a made up mix of words taking away the sense of the word leather and using it to add quality to a material for better marketing. The so called „vegan leather“ is simply a synthetic product and should be called as it.
What is behind the words “vegan leather” ?
We are all looking for transparency in our purchase decisions and calling things as they are not does not make things easier for customers but even harder to find what is wanted.
So what is behind the so-called “vegan leather”? – It is tissues to make your bags, shoes or other accessories. As what you can understand is that it is actually no leather- what it is does this term not say.
Most of the times you can find following indications behind: PU, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or a mix of PU and another ingredient as fruits.
But let’s look behind the scenes: PU is Polyurethane. It is a synthetic, human made fibre, which is often used for foams (your kitchen sponge or as well the foam in your office chair are PU). They are made from oil, which is one of the limited and strongly polluting sources of our planet. It is neither natural, nor sustainable, nor a factor for quality. All what you associate with traditional leather is not behind this term. It is a false promise.
PVC isn’t better. Greenpeace says that “PVC is single most environmentally damaging type of plastic”. It uses a lot of softeners (phthalates) and chemicals to be made and is not biodegradable. Most packaging is made of PVC and will last for ever on our planet.
So is it really a better alternative to move from animal skin to plastic? – Depends on what you look at. For animal wealth absolutely yes! For the planet: No. Plastics are not biodegradable, most use phthalates to make them softer and pollute heavily. They will stay on the planet for hundreds of years.
Vegan leather – a misleading term
We believe that many brands use the term “vegan leather” as they do not know better. As many use PU as they believe that Polyurethane sounds difficult (and it does).
But do the consumers know what is behind these terms? Or is this a risk to mislead in information. And there are unfortunately as well brands who do this on purpose and who want to mislead their clients.
Vegan leather does include the term leather, which often is associated to quality. Quality as most of us have already seen the leather jacket of our father or grandfather, the leather purse from our aunt which she carries since forever or the leather couch at a friend’s place, which after decades still looks like new. Yes, leather can be very high quality; this does not make the point that it kills animals less important. But the brands using vegan leather want exactly this- show that they do quality.
But can PU or PVC be quality? – If you only look on the lifespan it definitely will stay longer with you than leather. Hundreds of years at least. But it can never degrade, it is not sustainable. It can last long and is lighter than leather, but is this quality?
Pleather is a new term used to describe what we just wrote about: Plastic- Leather. It is “A petroleum-based synthetic fabric designed to resemble leather”. Basically the same as described before, but at least honest in the term used. So maybe Pleather sounds less sexy, would tell customers right away that it contains plastic, but would be already a step in the right direction. Though it contains the “term” leather and we seriously doubt that a lot of people know the term “pleather” (we did do a quick survey via our office neighbours and it shows that no one ever heard the term but everyone already heard vegan leather)- so this is still not perfect.
Cork textile – a textile made of cork
Bag Affair uses a cork as material- which is the cork bark on cotton. We could call this cork leather (a lot of companies do) but again this would be so wrong. We simply say “cork textile” and this is correct in all states. It is a textile out of which we make our bags. Further it is cork on a textile to produce the tissue. We could say as well “cork tissue” or “cork material”.
Say what it is – no more lies
Did you know that end of April there is an “honesty day” and that beginning of July there is “tell the truth” day? If you did follow our blog about Valentin’s day you did read that we believe love should be shown every day. In the same way we think it is time to always say the truth. We owe this to our clients and it should be on every brand to do so.
If you need to improve and you know so – tell it.
Your work is vegan, say it.
If you work with leather, say it.
But do not make up terms to risk confusing your clients! So what it is and if you believe it is enough, let it like this. If you want to work on it and improve, share this as well.
What to say instead of vegan leather?
Write the truth: Tissue, PU-mix, fake leather, synthetic leather …. There are many ways to express what it is about without using the term vegan leather. Show what is behind the scenes and deliver the material composition without exception. Explain why you use these materials and if you are working on something new, talk about it as well.
For example: You still use Polyurethane (PU) as a coating- show this information and make it easy to find. As easy as the information that you are working on something better and more sustainable.
Vegan does not mean sustainable
The biggest problem here is that people mix between vegan and sustainable. Just because something is vegan it is not sustainable, neither the other way around. Plus even if vegan and sustainable the product does not necessarily be fairly made.
The fashion industry is confusing and still not transparent for customers. To know how and where out of which resources things are made is difficult to know. And to use misleading terms and words which are not clear, does not help.
We all scream for more transparency and information. We all want to buy local and sustainable. But there are still so many brands out there doing their best to hide information, to mislead and not to say what is really done.
We ask the brands to be true. We ask the customers to look behind the words. Yes, we ask for much. But we believe that this is the only way possible to get things moved towards a truly sustainable world of fashion!