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What is Vegan Leather? And Is It Sustainable in 2024?

Is vegan Leather sustainable

Last updated on December 15th, 2023

Vegan leather is an alternative to real leather that is made without using any animal products. It can be made using either synthetic man-made materials or natural plant-based materials.  

Whereas real leather is made using the skin of animals such as cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos, as well as many others.

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What Is Vegan Leather Made Out Of?

Vegan leather can be made out of a selection of different materials. This can include both naturally occurring fibres, as well as fibres made from synthetic elements. 

Two of the most popular materials used to make vegan leather are polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Both of these are types of plastics. And wearing items made from these materials is a vegan option, and is an immediate positive when it comes to animal welfare. There is still huge concern surrounding these options because of the environmental impact when making them and discarding them. 

The good news is that recently there has been a lot of popularity growing for vegan leather made using natural and sustainable materials such as fruit and leaves.

What is Vegan Leather

Vegan Leather Can Be Made From:

  • Polyurethane
  • Polyvinyl chloride
  • Recycled plastic
  • Cork
  • Apple Skin
  • Cactus
  • Pineapple
  • Kelp
  • Mango
  • Grapes

Is Vegan Leather Just Fake Leather?

If someone wants to describe non-animal leather as fake leather that would be a fairly accurate description. 

Leather, for a very long time, has been made using the skin of animals. And regardless of an individual’s feelings, that is what leather is.

However, these days, for reasons such as animal welfare, protection of the environment and human safety, people are seeking alternatives to the traditional way to make leather. So, yes, leather made using non-animal materials is fake leather but if done well can be better than leather in many ways.

Is Vegan Leather Good Quality?

How long is a piece of string? All vegan leather, just like all real leather, is not made equal. It depends on the materials used and the process of how it’s made as to the quality of the individual item. 

Maybe a more useful question is ‘can vegan leather be good quality?’ . Yes, if quality materials are used and the manufacturing process is done well, then vegan leather can be good quality and your vegan items can last many years.

What Is Vegan Leather vs. Faux Leather?

Vegan leather and faux leather are the same things. They are both alternatives to real leather. And can be made using a selection of either natural or manmade materials provided they’re not sourced from an animal. 

Is Vegan Leather Durable?

If made with high-quality materials then yes, vegan leather can be durable. 

Whereas if you buy a handbag for £20, that has a label saying vegan you’re unlikely to get anything of quality in addition to knowing that the environmental impact of this item is probably high. 

If you do some research and find companies that have worked hard to find realistic alternatives to leather using materials that can take wear and tear and are durable then you’ll have good quality vegan leather. 

I’ve got a number of vegan items such as boots, jackets, trousers and belts that I’ve been wearing regularly for several years and are still looking and feeling great.

Brown vegan leather handbag

What are Vegan Leather Bags?

Vegan leather bags are handbags made to look like leather but created using non-animal materials.

For such a long time designer handbags have almost always been made using real leather. But, things are changing and recently the designer handbag market has been bombarded with alternatives to real leather such as apple skin leather, cactus leather, cork leather and the innovative list continues to grow.

One of my favourite places to buy vegan handbags is Labante London. 

All Labante London’s bags are made using sustainable and often recycled materials. They have all different styles, so it’s a great place to shop if you fancy adding something new to your handbag collection. 

These are two of my favourite Labante London Bags:

Agnes Black Ladies Backpack

What is vegan leather - Labante Agnes bag

Aricia Black Vegan Laptop Bag

Aricia Black Vegan Laptop Bag

Vegan Leather vs Real Leather

This comparison depends on your reasons behind asking the question. If you’re 100% looking for quality, then while things are getting so much better, maybe real leather still has the slight upper hand. The way real leather wears over time is called patina and is usually favourable to how vegan leather wears. And some say real leather is more breathable. However, I’ve never wished my vegan jacket was more breathable, so it’s not a problem I’ve faced.

Then we come to the questions of sustainability, the impact on the environment and of course, animal welfare issues. Taking all of these into consideration it may shine a more favourable light on vegan leather. 

What’s More Sustainable Vegan Leather Or Real Leather?

This is not a straightforward question because both vegan leather and real leather can have huge impacts on the environment depending on how they are made. 

Is Real Leather Sustainable?

Animal skin to make real leather

According to PETA – more than a billion animals are slaughtered for their skins every year.

Breeding and raising huge numbers of animals involves large quantities of water, and land and also creates dangerous gasses for our atmosphere. All of which can have a negative impact on the planet. 

In addition to raising the animals, when the time comes, they need to turn their hide into leather. And unless you want to look like someone from The Walking Dead it’s quite a process to get an animal’s skin to look like leather you’d be happy to walk around the streets wearing. 

Turning skin into leather takes a lot of energy and often uses a cocktail of toxic chemicals. Tanneries that create leather from animal hide, need to discard waste that contains sulfides, acids, and other pollutants.

Like with every industry, there are some leather tanneries working towards more sustainable methods but from my understanding, it’s quite a challenge. However, picking a leather brand that uses vegetable tanning rather than chemical tanning is better for the environment.

Is Vegan Leather Sustainable? 

This comes down to what materials are used to make the vegan leather. As I mentioned above polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are often used to make fake leather. Neither of these are good for the environment, they cause a lot of damage to our environment both in production and in disposal. PVC is especially harmful. According to Greenpeace ‘PVC is the most environmentally damaging plastic. The PVC lifecycle — its production, use, and disposal — results in the release of toxic, chlorine-based chemicals. These toxins are building up in the water, air and food chain.’.

But, the great news is that these toxic and harmful plastics are not the only way to create vegan leather. There are so many brands and designers that are using massively better options such as recycled plastics, cactus, apple skins, cork and other natural and innovative resources. 

So, vegan leather can be sustainable and highly environmentally friendly, provided the items are made responsibly. 

Before buying products made of non-animal leather it’s a good idea to do some research and make sure there’s no greenwashing going on with the label ‘vegan’. Because not all vegan products are good for the environment, this is especially true when it comes to leather. 

Is Vegan Leather Waterproof?

As a rule, yes, vegan leather is waterproof or at minimum, it’s highly water resistant. 

This is usually because of how the material is coated, usually, the top coats do a great job of keeping water out. However, items such as coats and boots are going to have a much stronger waterproof layer. 

However, if you buy a cheaply made PVC item there’s a good chance it won’t be very waterproof.

How Long Does Vegan Leather Last?

Quality products made using vegan leather can last very well if taken care of. Just like real leather, if you buy items of a good standard and look after them they will last for years to come. 

But if you buy cheaply made fake leather products made of thin layers of PVC it’s unlikely to last well. So, how long vegan leather lasts is all down to the quality of the material. 

Is Vegan Leather Plastic?

As mentioned above, vegan leather can be made out of plastic but these days natural plant-based options are becoming popular. So, if you’d like to choose a cruelty-free option when it comes to leather but don’t want to contribute towards the huge impact that plastic-made vegan leather causes, you don’t need to. There are now great choices when buying sustainable vegan leather.  

Is Vegan Leather Biodegradable?

Vegan leather made using polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride is not considered degradable or biodegradable. They typically keep their form for decades and then may break down to a certain degree but will never fully decompose. 

However, this is not the case for all vegan leather. Items that are made from newer and more innovative materials such as cactus leaves, cork and apple skins are biodegradable and better for our planet. 

Why Choose Vegan Leather?

It is said that more than one billion cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, ostriches, kangaroos, dogs and cats are slaughtered for their skins every year. In a world where we have alternative options, why choose the one that causes harm to over a billion animals each year? 

Where To Buy Vegan Shoes? 

These days, getting your hands on a quality pair of vegan shoes or boots is not so hard. There are many shops offering vegan options but it’s important to research how the materials are made. 

One of my favourite places to shop for all kinds of vegan fashion, especially vegan shoes is Immaculate Vegan. They stock a huge selection of both vegan leather shoes and boots for women and vegan leather shoes and boots for men.

Is Leather A Byproduct Of The Meat Industry? 

No, leather is considered a coproduct of the meat industry, not a byproduct. While these animals are being bred and raised, the desired end result of these animals being used for leather is usually taken into consideration just as much as the animal being used for meat. Both of these industries support each other.


Vegan Leather is a leather alternative made using non-animal materials. It is an ethical choice and can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly provided the materials are sourced responsibly.

Interested in learning more about how to find vegan items to introduce to your lifestyle check out these posts The Best Vegan and Cruelty-Free Foundation Brushes, Vegan Candles – 9 great vegan candles and Vegan Box of Chocolates.

Meet the Author

Author Bio - Sinead OCarroll - The Wondering Wandering Vegan

Meet Sinead O’Carroll: Vegan explorer, sustainability advocate and the founder of The Wondering Wandering Vegan. Embracing veganism since 2018 and vegetarianism since 2005, Sinead is armed with a Vegan Health, Nutrition and Lifestyle qualification, and is on a mission to share her passion for cruelty-free living. 

With a taste for adventure and a heart for eco-conscious choices, she’s here to prove that vegans never miss out on flavour, fun or style. Join her in enjoying the delights of a vegan-friendly world! 🌱✈️🌍
Want to know more? Check out Sinead’s About page here.

Follow me on Instagram to see all the delicious vegan food I find, the vegan and cruelty-free products I use and what I get up to as a travelling vegan.

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