Vegan Leather or Real Leather

Posted by Stephen Mbugua on 17th Mar 2020

Vegan Leather or Real Leather

Vegan Leather Vs Real Leather

Which is Good for Us and the Environment?

Studies claim that vegan diets are less harmful to the environment than those containing dairy and meat are. The attitude has led to the assumption that vegan leather (Leather alternatives) is the best addition to wardrobes. A study that the University of Oxford conducted showed that veganism saves the earth's atmosphere around 2.5 million litres of water and C02 equivalent to 450,000 flights from Berlin to London. According to the study, veganism is the best way to reduce environmental impacts. It would reduce our carbon footprint by over 73%.

With the increasing demand for sustainable fashion, many brands are searching for the best vegan alternatives to introduce to the market. But is vegan leather actually a better choice? Is it good for the environment? This vegan leather vs. real leather comparison will provide you with the information you need.

What is Vegan Leather


Vegan leather, also known as pleather, PU leather, faux leather, synthetic leather, or artificial leather, is a material made of plant-based (some based on natural materials and some with Pineapple leaves) or artificial material like PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). The material is made to mimic leather from animal skins and hides. Synthetic leather and artificial leather are the commonest types of vegan leather in the market today. 

Environmental impact of Vegan leather 

We all know that plastic has many negative effects on the environment and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Vegan leather producers, particularly those who use PVC, rely on phthalate plasticizer to make the material soft and flexible. Further, PVC requires large amounts of energy and petroleum something that makes it fossil fuels reliant.

The production of PVC releases carcinogens, known as dioxins, which are harmful to both humans and animals. Even more, the dioxins remain in the environment for a long time after the production of PVC. And when the PVC finds its way to the landfills, it does not decompose and it releases chemicals into the soil and water.

Vegan leather is plastic and it will never decompose. Most plastics are made of polyethene terephthalate (PET) and are nearly impossible to decompose. No bacteria can break them down.

Real Leather Friend or Foe?

I have seen the real leather production process and I can tell you that it is not environmentally friendly. Again, the leather comes from animals, meaning that animals have to be slaughtered for the meat industry. People consume the meat and the skins and hides are used for the production of leather goods, such as shoes, belts, jackets, and leather bags. Animal rights activists are against that and that might be for a good reason. However, alternatives to real leather are minimal.

Real leather is not environmentally friendly too. Why? First, livestock is a leading cause of global warming. Secondly, tanneries employ many processes that have several negative environmental impacts. They use many types of chemicals in addition to a lot of water during leather treatment. The tanning process affects the environment in various ways. 

Environmental Impact of Real Leather 


Like faux leather, real leather is not environmentally friendly. The heavy use of polluting chemicals in the tanning process affects the environment negatively. Still, the use of hydrogen sulfide in dehairing of hides and skins and the use of ammonia during deliming contribute heavily to air pollution.

You might ask, what is the purpose of chemicals in the tanning process? The answer is simple. Leather is organic. To prevent rotting, tanneries have to separate it from hairs. The separation of leather from hair requires chemicals. Further, they have to use chemicals for the leather preservation part.

Fortunately, some companies like Zeros Tech are working hard to save the environment. Zeros Tech, a company in the UK is helping tanneries reduce water consumption by around 70%. That is a big contribution to saving the environment.

Some other companies have opted for vegetable tanning, which has existed for many centuries. Unlike chemical tanning, vegetable tanning is environmentally friendly. Vegetable-tanned leather forms a beautiful patina as it ages. Further, the leather decomposes naturally when disposed of. Vegan leather does not decompose. 

Making the Choice 

Both vegan and real leather have their dark sides. Both are bad for the environment. So, what should we do? Some companies are already working to develop new technologies and fabrics that are eco-friendly and sustainable. For instance, Pinga Techs derive fibre from pineapples to produce leather products. The leather is 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly.

What's more, the products made with the leather look nice and have the appearance of real leather. The technology could be one-step in the right direction. Some startup leather companies are not using chemicals for leather tanning. They are working hard to ensure that their products are natural. Some are also recycling leather goods to save the environment.

So, which leather products should you buy? Should you go for real leather products or vegan leather products?

Go for real leather products and avoid pleather products. Now, you might ask - why should I avoid pleather products? It is for the reason that the pleather never decomposes. By choosing real leather products, you will buy less and spend less.

Real leather is durable. Therefore, real leather products will outlive those made from vegan leather. For example, real leather shoes will stay strong against any demanding work environment, meaning that they will last for many years. While real leather products are more expensive than pleather products, you will save more money in the long term because you will buy less. Buying one pair of shoes is cheaper than buying two or three pairs of synthetic leather shoes.

Unlike pleather products, real leather products are easy to clean. You only need a damp cloth to wash your leather jacket, shoes, bags, or belts. Besides, leather is breathable and it will take a short time to dry after washing it.

Moreover, natural leather smells good. That is unlikely with faux leather, which smells odd. Producers of faux leather use many types of chemicals that give the leather a strange stink. Lastly, genuine leather looks stylish while faux leather looks unnatural and plastic. Real leather provides clothes, belts, bags, and shoes with a luxurious appearance. That is for the reason that the material is shiny and sleek. 

You may also like to read:

Denim vs Leather Jackets
Vintage Always Wins
How to Choose a Leather Jacket