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Vegan Leather or leather?

Vegan leather seems to be everywhere lately: shoes, purses, backpacks, jackets, car interiors, and more. Maybe you’ve even heard it called by a different name: pleather, eco leather, faux leather, leatherette, alternative leather, or synthetic leather. The popularity of this environmentally-friendly alternative is growing faster than ever, so it’s important to know exactly what vegan leather is, and where it comes from.

Ultimate Valet has been researching vegan leather for the past couple years because I’ve been seeing it more and more ever since Tesla adopted it into their Model 3 cars, and a lot of people are wanting to know about products that help clean and maintain vegan leather too.

More on products very soon, as I'm waiting for new stock to arrive. An update will be posted here soon.

Vegan leather care from Ultimate Valet
Tesla vegan leather

What Is Vegan Leather?

To put it simply, vegan leather is a non-animal alternative to the leather products that we’re familiar with, in that it’s produced without exploiting any animals in the process. But there’s a whole lot more to it than that.

There are two different kinds of vegan leathers available: synthetic and organic. Faux suedes are technically vegan leathers as well, though that’s not the focus of this blog post. Vegan leathers come in different varieties and are produced using different methods.

What Makes Vegan Leather Different?

At first glance, not very much! While vegan leather resembles real leather in appearance, the differences are more than just skin deep:

Cruelty-free production, so no animals are exploited or harmed in the process.

Plants and plastic are used instead of animal skins, resulting in less environmental impact.

Thinner in texture and less durable, so it’s not likely to last as long.

Scuffs easier because it’s less durable and may require extra cleaning and maintenance.

Less breathability due to lack of pores.

Not as absorbent as regular leather, also due to the lack of pores and water-resistant properties.

Can be less expensive than real leather depending on the material, since less resources and manpower are needed.

Depending on your viewpoint or price point, the positives of vegan leather can far outweigh the negatives.

How Is Vegan Leather Similar To Real Leather?

While there may be some notable differences between vegan leather and real leather (for now), there are also several similarities, with the list likely to grow over time:

Higher quality leather lasts longer than lower quality options.

Available in different grades with some being more leather-like than others.

Same graining texture you associate with real leather.

Cracks when stretched and can peel as well.

Nearly indistinguishable from real leather to the untrained eye.

Overall, due to the close approximation that vegan leather is able to achieve, many praise it for being a more eco-friendly and animal-friendly alternative.

What Is Vegan Leather Made Of?

You may be thinking, “this all sounds pretty good, but what is vegan leather even made of?” Vegan leather is made one of two ways: synthetically or organically. Both methods offer different pros and cons which can help influence your decision on which option to choose.

Synthetic Vegan Leather

Synthetic vegan leather is plastic-based, using inorganic materials to resemble real leather without causing any harm to animals. This method is utilized because of the wrinkled textures it provides which closely resemble what we see and feel when we look at or touch leather.

There are two different types of synthetic vegan leathers:

Polyurethane (PU) is the most common type of synthetic leather, and it’s used in the car interiors of recent Tesla models. It’s a mixture of plastic chemicals and petroleum compounds, made by adding adhesive to polyester fabrics. Polyurethane’s top coat helps to create different looks, textures, and feels as desired.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or vinyl, is considered outdated due to its highly plasticky feel. It’s thicker than polyurethane, being made from 57% chloride and 43% carbons.

Synthetic vegan leathers have been criticized by some due to the impact that microplastics have on the environment. Refining fossil fuels into plastic products can be considered ethically questionable. However, it’s still cruelty-free and cheaper than real leather, so it remains a preferable alternative to many.

Organic Vegan Leather

Organic vegan leather is plant-based, using innovative methods of transforming things like fruits and vegetables into leather products! It’s super friendly to the environment in that it uses byproducts from already existing harvests, and usually tends to be biodegradable.

There are several different types of popular organic vegan leathers at the moment:

  • MuSkin is vegan leather made from mushrooms created by Grado Zero Espace. It’s a favorite among eco-friendly consumers due to its durable nature and water resistant properties. Made from the roots of mushrooms, known as mycelium, it only needs a fraction of the time and resources when compared to the farmed animal industry.

  • Piñatex® is made from the leaves of pineapple plants. The process was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa of Ananas Anam. Since it utilizes extraneous parts of the fruit, which are normally a byproduct of an existing harvest, Piñatex provides farmers with an additional source of income.

  • Grape leather uses excess waste from wine production and transforms it into leather! Developed by Italian-based company Vegea, this variant is still in testing and is on the newer end of the spectrum, but has a lot of projected potential due to the massive amounts of wine produced each year.

  • Cork leather utilizes the bark of cork oak trees and can last for a longer amount of time. Cork has had all sorts of household and practical uses over time like wine stoppers and coasters which provide a great amount of flexibility and durability, making it a natural substitute for real leather.

  • Banbū Leather™, also known as bamboo leather, is an extremely resourceful alternative to real leather by Von Holzhausen. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants around. It’s strong and resilient, yet produces a soft and comfortable leather product.

  • Leaf leather is a lightweight leather alternative made from harvesting teak leaves. It’s extremely versatile and can be bonded with cotton fabric to be made into a lot of different leather-based products.

  • Eucalyptus Melange is a textile produced from eucalyptus fibers and is used to make various fabrics such as car interiors, quilts, cloths, and more. Land Rover has proudly advertised that their SUV’s interiors now come fitted with eucalyptus melange.

Caring for vegan leather in LandRovers
Vegan leather care from Ultimate Valet

  • Deserttex® is fashioned out of cactus leaves and created by Desserto, a Mexican company that is quickly gaining the attention of automotive manufacturers such as BMW who are rolling out new vehicles with interiors made of the sustainable material.

  • MIRUM is made from various plants and minerals such as coconut, rubber, rice, cork, and more. BMW recently announced their investment in the versatile leather alternative in order to reach their sustainability goals as they aim to reduce CO2 emissions.

These eco-friendly options have been praised by many for being “true” vegan leathers as they’re not harmful to animals or the environment. Unfortunately, they’re not quite as cheap as synthetic vegan leathers currently, and may cost just as much as real leather.

Who Is Using Vegan Leather?

It’s no surprise that interest in vegan leather is growing over time, and different automotive manufacturers are quickly taking notice. Tesla took the charge with their Model 3, leading the way and settling the standard for car interiors designed with vegan leather.

But what about the competition? With more environmentally-friendly products and sustainable materials trending the way that they are, other companies have announced plans to respond in kind:

BMW will be rolling out new interiors using Desserttex, which is made from cactus leaves.

Land Rover offers Eucalyptus Melange fabric in their vehicles, which is fashioned out of eucalyptus leaves and fibers.

Volvo plans to exclusively offer leather-free, fully electric cars by 2030.

Ford was awarded by PETA for their Mustang Mach-E, which is both animal-friendly and eco-friendly due to its use of synthetic ActiveX seating material.

What Is The Future Of Vegan Leather?

It’s clear that we are likely to see increased support for both synthetic and organic vegan leather products. More and more automotive manufacturers are getting onboard due to it being an ethical, innovative, and cheaper alternative to real leather.

What do you think of vegan leather? Let us know in the comments down below!

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