Employee Insights: Is vegan leather really sustainable?

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Veganism today is more popular than ever and that’s not only reflected in consumer food choices but in the fashion industry as well. In recent times vegan fashion has become a big topic in society with brands highlighting products classed as ‘vegan’ or ‘using ethically sourced materials’ etc. This is considered to be a positive movement overall, but is there enough data to support whether the impact of synthetic leathers and materials on the environment is positive?

Brands are trying to reduce their carbon footprint and have realised the impact of leather on the environment due to the immense number of emissions from animal agriculture and toxic chemicals released from factories, along with the effect on workers from these fumes. 

In light of the discovery of the damaging impacts of fashion the industry has had to adapt  in finding alternative ways to reduce this impact and become more sustainable. 

At a glance vegan leather would be considered a great alternative, with zero agricultural emissions, who could complain? 

Unfortunately, the hard truth is that synthetic materials such as vegan leather cause as much damage to the environment. The most common alternative to leather is made from petroleum-based plastic (polyvinyl chloride PVC) – this is made from fossil fuels and is not biodegradable. The environmental impact of synthetic materials like this is just one of many, when considering the ethical impact on workers in many global textile manufacturing factories.  

Let’s not forget there are vegan leather alternatives made from plant-based matter such as: cork, pineapple leaves, apple peels and more which of course are better in terms of manufacturing when considering carbon footprint. However as many competitors within the fashion industry are trying to maximise economies of scale the more cost efficient option is to go with the most common alternative to leather. Issues like cost and efficiency are often main factors of why sustainability can seem inaccessible for many large scale retailers and manufacturers alike. 

Those who remain pro-leather can argue that using leather from animal stock is better for the environment as it is already the byproduct of meat production. This means that the alternative to using the byproduct for textiles would be to send to landfill which produces harmful greenhouse gasses such as methane, which is considered to be much more harmful than carbon dioxide. 

Overall, vegan leather can be sustainable if produced using environmentally- friendly ingredients, however there are still arguments against this notion due to the lack of uptake of such environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing. The topic of sustainability within fashion is one with great depth, it is a truly evolving movement, which with research and innovation has potential to achieve a greener future on a global scale. 

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