Most ‘Vegan Leather’ Is Just Plastic. Here’s Why What You Wear Matters

January 28, 2021

The other day I was attempting do some online shopping for a replacement faux-leather jacket, as my favorite that I bought about 5 years ago, finally bit the dust. I like to buy quality items that last, so doing shopping of any sort always takes me a lot of time, usually multiple days of trying to decide if it’s the exact thing I want, and if I do in fact, need to buy it. 

I’m not a huge fan of online shopping for clothes, due to the uncertainty of how an item fits. Because of this, I check out every little detail I can find on the item. Of course, as a vegan, the first words that catch my eye when shopping for a faux-leather jacket, are “vegan leather.” 

With more options being added each week, the repertoire of materials that imitate real leather is expanding. And so upon seeing those exciting, aforementioned, cruelty-free words, my mind began to wonder. What cool, new fabric is this jacket made from? Cactus? Pineapple, perhaps. Clicking my way through to the product details, my heart sank at the letters PUL. Polyurethane leather. Humph. Words that I found were typical across multiple websites as I continued my search. 

Polyurethane leather, is really just a fancy name for plastic. The state at which our world is in now, we don’t need to be wearing plastic when there are much better alternatives out there. Due to the trendy nature of the word “vegan,” brands are quick to slap a label on any product that qualifies. This extends to all kinds of products, too. I remember a few years back seeing the word on a bag of spinach. I think I laughed out loud in the grocery store. But now that I think about it, if the difference between people buying a vegan product, or not, is the fact that it has a certain word on it, then I’m happy for products like spinach, or clothing to proclaim their plant-iful nature. 

My problem with labelling plastic (PU) products as vegan, comes with the fact that big brands want to steal the positive association that comes with a vegan label, without sourcing plant-based, sustainable materials. Before the majority of “vegan leather” goods were considered “vegan,” they were called patent leather, or faux-leather. There are some who argue why plastic is indeed not a vegan-friendly material, and others for whom using any kind of plastic at all, does not align with their mission to make the world a better place. 

Even big vegan name brands use PU, or PVC for their vegan leather jackets. Matt & Nat’s website states, “Various vegan leathers are used in production, the scientific terms are PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). PU is less harmful for the environment than PVC and its use is definitely preferred, whenever possible.” The brand redeems itself by using other materials like recycled nylon, and the linings of their products are made from 100% recycled bottles. 

I’m not criticizing any brand that makes positive steps in the right direction, and away from using animal products. I can support a brand like that who also have other good things going for them, like being an 100% vegan company, and pushing towards sustainability. But the whole, plastic = vegan marketing approach, by brands who are anything but eco-friendly, and cruelty-free, just kind of rubs me the wrong way. 

It’s truly hard to find a brand that meets all of our needs, and coming across a brand that carries vegan leather products that won’t break the bank, and are made from plants, not plastic, may be a few years away. However, it’s important to stay educated along the way, and to buy from companies whose missions are similar to our own. 

cactus leather bagThe Nina, a gorgeous cactus leather bag by the British brand LUXTRA. Partially biodegradable and made in Italy. We’d love to see more brands step it up!

PU products are a much more affordable option for those who want the “leather” look, without wearing a dead animal, and I can certainly appreciate that fact. But perhaps, be careful when buying from a big name-brand. You might want to do a little digging into how the company operates, if you wear a “vegan” item for more reasons than simply because it’s labelled as one. 

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Photo: Cunningham, Campbell, Darius, Hassan; Unsplash; LUXTRA

Nea Pantry
Nea is a vegan and gluten-free baker currently living in Bermuda. She is a huge vegan foodie, an aspiring writer and a lover of poetry. Traveling often, her goals are to seek out new cultures and experiences, to learn as much as she can and to spread the message of peace, love and kindness always.

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