While doing a search on “vegan leather,” I came across something called “recycled leather.” I imagined purses made from old leather sofas, zipper pulls made from old coats, etc. … but this doesn’t fully entail the meaning of the term. Yes, leather upholstery can be repurposed to make clothing, but usually, if something is made out of “recycled” leather, it probably wasn’t a couch at one point.
Most recycled leather is a composite of shredded leather scraps and residues collected from tanneries and other leather product manufacturers. The shreds are treated with resin, glued together and then shaped into, say, part of a wallet or seat cover. The finished recycled leather product will have the look and feel of new, non-recycled leather. In general, recycled leather is less expensive than its traditional counterpart.
As I’m sure you’ve surmised, recycled leather is not vegan. While many recycled leather companies have switched to non-polluting chemicals and vegetable dyes for a more “eco-friendly” product, and leather scraps would only wind up in a landfill if not “recycled,” the profits from recycled leather ultimately support the leather industry—not so eco-friendly.
If you’re new to the world of vegan and eco-friendly fashion (and I am), it’s critical to remember the difference between recycled and repurposed leather. Repurposed leather refers to items made from secondhand goods, and not sourced directly from tanneries or other leather manufacturers. Some designers or brands may use the terms interchangeably, so find out whether they source scraps directly from leather manufacturers or from second hand goods that may otherwise have ended up in landfill.
While you may not wear any leather items (recycled or otherwise), you can still arm your friends and shopping buddies with this important information. Buying repurposed leather goods or used leather goods from a thrift store or ebay does not directly support the leather industry, and may be the most environmentally conscious way to wear real leather.
Related: Vegan Closet – A Search for Answers