Is Vegan Leather Real Leather? A Sustainable Alternative You Might Want to Try

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I’m sure you have all seen buzzwords like Vegan and Sustainable floating around the internet these days, but have you learned about why you might want to dive deeper into this? Let us help you!

When first starting Canary + Co, we knew we didn’t want to participate in fast fashion, and create landfill product that is leaving an impact- and not the right kind of impact. You also might have heard the words, circular system, when it comes to fashion. What this means is, being able to create sustainable change by creating product that doesn’t have just a start and an end, but continues to be used and circulated responsibly for as long as possible. By minimizing waste, using recycled textiles, upcycling products, using pollution-free manufacturing, or perhaps using biodegradable materials, are all examples of how to keep closing the circle.

This is where vegan leather comes in. Is Vegan Leather Real Leather?

To start, vegan leather is NOT genuine leather- but it is certainly a very close, ethical, cruelty free alternative! There are many things to consider when buying vegan leather vs. real leather. There are some companies that responsibly use real leather to make their products, by using all parts of a cow that was being used for food in the first place and using safe production techniques. But if you dive deeper, some leather is coming from cows that are treated unfairly and unjustly, it might be coming from an entirely different animal source, and there are massive amounts of energy and resources it takes to turn skin into leather. If you are using animal leather as a source for your clothing or fashion brands, you must know it takes a large amount of water to feed and water animals, clean farms, the tanning process, as well as produce the final fabric. Cattle around the world release methane, which is 23 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas in car emissions. Besides cow's gas, their manure can be problematic as well. You might have heard the same when it comes to the battle of fur vs. faux fur, and the processes that are involved with producing these real and synthetic pieces (but that story is for another day). 

So what is Vegan Leather? In simple terms, it is a synthetic textile that is produced to look and feel like real leather, but without using or harming animals in the process. It is primarily made out of a polymer called PU, or polyurethane, which is what Canary + Co bags use. There are different ways to make this and manufacturers are continually evolving the production of this material to continue to make the practices more eco-friendly. Luckily, the world has been phasing out the other faux leather material, polyvinyl chloride (otherwise known as PVC), since the 70’s because this textile can have harmful manufacturing effects. Sometimes the industry refers to PVC as “the poison plastic” because of how environmentally damaging it can be. PVC contains plastic and microplastic that is harmful to oceans when it is broken down and disposed of.

Another big question is, is vegan leather durable? Many people still probably own a bag or a jacket made of real leather that has been passed down generations, can be re-oiled and brought back to life, or have really been put through abrasive cycles, and still lasts. Since vegan leather is not as traditional as real leather, people might think the wear and tear might not be as good. This is all circumstantial. Some fashion brands will increase the durability of their polyurethane or vegan leather by backing the material with a more structured, non-woven fabric. Others might apply a coating, especially to travel bags, to make the outside be more protected when going to different climates and locations.

Is vegan leather waterproof? The answer is, mostly yes, and there are certain levels of waterproofing you can do at a factory level when it comes to additional synthetic materials. If you add a more substantial coating to your polyurethane fabric, it will make the leather stiffer, if you have a lighter coating, it will come across softer. Depending on the backing you apply to it as well, could make a difference in the water resistant aspect of the material.

How do you clean vegan leather? We at Canary + Co, recommend a mild soap and warm, non-abrasive cloth cleaning method, wiping the vegan leather gently. Since we also make a dopp kit called the Kiss Me Kit that typically will stay in your bathroom or travel with you to other bathrooms, just make sure to keep it outside of the shower so it isn’t getting any large amount of water on it, so the vegan leather can maintain its integrity over time.

Vegan leather is a great sustainable option and many forms of it can be environmentally friendly. But what are some other leather alternatives? Believe it or not, manufacturers have been able to use food waste and recreate it into “leather” fabrics. A few examples are apple leather, mushroom leather, cork, and pineapple leather. These plant based leathers are using natural materials to change their environmental footprint when designing products, and providing more sustainable cruelty free options for fashion brands and the industry. Another way to produce more sustainable vegan leather is by using vegetable coatings, like Stella McCartney started to do back in 2014.

So, if you are thinking about making the jump from traditional leather to synthetic leathers, you can feel good knowing that there are no animals harmed in the leather production, you are picking a more eco-friendly option, and you can rest assured that the industry is constantly improving their processes to move further and further from chemical processes to more non-toxic alternatives. Over the next decade we will start to see even more sustainable materials and fabrics as we figure out ways to decrease the waste in landfills and oceans. We are already seeing an uptick in reusing water bottles and fishing nets, and we as an industry will continue to push the envelope and innovate.

For Canary + Co, we are committed to always thinking about how we can better use materials. Since our first production, we are continually evolving our vegan leather, to have the rich, buttery texture you want, to show you that synthetic leather can have just as great performance and hand feel as real leather. We are working on our new products, and we can’t wait to share what we have in store for the future! As we continue to evolve and grow our business, sustainability and eco-materials are always top of mind, and we intend to always be moving and growing towards a safer, healthier earth!

June 1, 2020