Fashion has continuously shifted into different art forms throughout the ages, but there are staple pieces that everyone has loved and that remain to serve as classics. More than the aesthetics fashion pieces offer, the durability and quality of their materials have been said to be the secret ingredient in perfectly curated fashion clothes, shoes, and accessories.
As contemporary time pushes its limits to conform to society’s need for sustainable fashion, it often opens up a debate about whether certain materials, such as leather, are still of good use.
It is still debatable and a challenge to overcome whether people get in touch with reality. Some materials used to create pieces for their OOTDs impact the fashion market and the overall environmental welfare.
One of the most well-known and favorite fashion materials is leather. Just like denim, it adds spice to any given fit, and for those who don’t agree with its ability to last a long time—whether it is vintage or brand new, it will remain one of the top materials for years to come because of its timeless appeal.
Given the fact that leather ranks among the top fashion materials, how it is produced and distributed due to its demands plays a crucial role in determining whether traditional leather or alternative leather is a better choice.
The Origin: Traditional Leather
According to Gjishti & Phifer’s study in 2022, leather will be the most significant influence on eutrophication, which causes nutrient loss in certain parts of the ecosystem as a part of leather production and manufacturing. Leather production also needs dangerous chemicals, including formaldehyde, mineral salts, dyes, coal-tar derivatives, and mostly cyanide-based oils.
Although leather can be a significant investment for a long-lasting fashion piece, the raw materials used to manufacture it are a major contributor to climate change, which needs to be redefined to achieve sustainability.
The Alternatives: Leather Goes Vegan
Since it is still for further studies, some major fashion brands have resorted to faux leather and promoted its substitute as “vegan” leather. As promising as it sounds, vegan leather has its pros and cons. Unlike the traditional leather we know—vegan leather is usually made of plastic!
In a recent study by Spinnewijn in 2022, vegan leathers are produced from materials such as fossil fuels that are not sustainable. The continuous efforts to innovate traditional leather have led to what the researchers call (ILAs) Innovative Leather Alternatives. The search has not yet ended; neither animal nor plastic leathers should still be in question if it will be sufficient to address the problem of leather’s impact on climate change.
Vegan leather as a replacement is not purely plastic, as some are plant-based, just like kombucha and pineapple. Compared to animal leather or genuine leather, vegan leather is commonly made out of polyurethane and non-biodegradable material; well, it still poses a threat to the environment, right?
In Minh and Ngan’s 2021 analysis of vegan leather, they also found that raw materials used to manufacture vegan leather goods are mostly still considered highly biodegradable and eco-friendly. The new inventions of such alternatives are a manifesto to scout the best leather possible.
In conclusion, it is up to the individual consumer to decide whether or not they would prefer vegan leather over genuine leather. There are some ways in which vegan leather can be a great alternative to genuine leather, but it is not an exact replacement. Despite the fact that vegan leather has made some significant progress in terms of quality and innovation, there are still some important differences that make it difficult to completely replace it.
Gjishti, F., & Phifer, A. (2022). Leather and faux leather products: Impact on society. Proceedings of Student Research and Creative Inquiry Day. Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://publish.tntech.edu/index.php/PSRCI/article/view/900
Minh, N. T., & Ngan, H. N. (2021, September 20). Vegan leather: An eco-friendly material for sustainable fashion towards environmental awareness. AIP Publishing. Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://aip.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1063/5.0066483
Spinnewijn, O. (2022, January 1). Innovative Leather Alternatives: A short-lived trend or the future of fashion? Utrecht University Student Theses Repository Home. Retrieved January 8, 2023, from https://studenttheses.uu.nl/handle/20.500.12932/41443