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Just because something is labeled “vegan” doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. Case in point: Your vegan leather coat may not be as environmentally-friendly as it seems.
The interest in vegan leather is seemingly at an all time high, with more and more people concerned about animal cruelty in the fashion industry than ever before. Some estimate the vegan leather industry will be worth up to $89.6 billion by 2025. While that may sound positive (and, in some ways, it is), it also comes at an environmental cost.
The truth is, most vegan leather you come across at major fashion retailers is made of petroleum-based plastic, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU) leathers. Both options may be created without the direct use of animals or animal skins, but that doesn’t mean they are sustainable. Both PVC and PU leathers are made using fossil fuels and don’t biodegrade. According to a 2019 study, synthetic fibers from clothing are one of the biggest source of microplastic pollution oceans and waterways.
Yet, brands still use plastic-based vegan leathers due to the look, which rivals the real thing, and perhaps more importantly, the price.
Even with the downfalls of plastic-based vegan leather, its estimated the environmental impact of vegan leather is at least a third lower than real leather. But the options don’t stop at these popular vegan leather varieties. Some especially innovative companies have developed plant-based leathers made of ingredients like pineapple, apple and cereal. Yes, really.
Many people interested in sustainability are also vegan, given the environmental impact of meat production. Thankfully for edgy, sustainable-leaning animal lovers, there are plastic-free vegan leather options out there — you just have to hunt. Check out these plant-based vegan leather options that will give you an edge — and keep your morals in check.
1. Covalent Tote Bag, $440
Called “the world’s first carbon-negative bag,” Covalent’s tote bag uses renewable energy, saltwater and natural microorganisms found in the ocean to “turn air and carbon from greenhouse gas, such as methane and carbon dioxide, into a meltable, moldable biomaterial that can be used to help replace plastic and leather.” The process is highly scientific, incredibly difficult to explain and undeniably cool. Each bag helps to remove 16.7 kilograms of CO2 equivalents from the air.
2. Votch x Piñatex Watch, $185.08
Watch brand Votch created this sleek timepiece out of Piñatex, an innovative and sustainable “fabric” created from pineapple leaf fibers. According to Votch, these fibers are a byproduct of pineapple harvest, providing additional income for the farmers growing pineapples. The brand adds, “No extra land, pesticides or fertilizers are used in the production of Piñatex, meaning our straps are not only good for animals, but for this beautiful planet we call home too.”
3. Corkor Cork Belt, $29.66+
Corkor makes cork-based products that look like actual leather. This belt is sleek, durable and flexible — and it’s handmade in Portugal by artisans working under ethical labor conditions.
Made of pineapple leather and eco-friendly dyes, 1 People’s saddle bag is a sleek alternative to pricey designer handbags. With the same look of luxury bags at a fraction of the price, this cream hue is particularly striking.
5. Hozen Cinch Backpack, $195
Hozen bags come crafted from pineapple leather and a grain-based eco-friendly polyurethane. The products also feature “recycled plastic or organic twill lining, zippers and thread from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, natural rubber, remnant rope, recycled cotton labels and vegan adhesive.” Now that’s a whole lot to love.
These staple point-toe Chelsea boots by Will’s Vegan Store feature leather crafted from cereal crops and recycled rubber. Manufactured through a carbon neutral process, all Will’s Vegan Store products feature grain-based leather that is water-resistant and incredibly durable.
7. Bego Sofi Boots, $221
Made of pineapple leather and recycled leather soles, these killer platform boots are water-resistant and super durable. Each pair of boots comes with a specially-formulated balm to help protect and increase the longevity of the pineapple leather.
8. Veggani Toni Apple Leather Bag, $150
Made of apple peel leather (yes, really), this stylish bag with colorful zippers comes lined with fabric made entirely of recycled water bottles. The apple peels used in the PU-mixed leather come sourced from a juicing company based in the Italian Alps. Though mixed with PU leather for a more durable material, the bag is composed of more than 30% apple peels, making it far more sustainable than your usual vegan leather buys.
9. Altiir Neo-Classic Biker Jacket In Black, $501 (Orig. $1,002)
Altiir makes its edgy motorcycle jacket with a “sustainable and long-wearing” pineapple leather which molds to your body over time, thanks to the plant-based makeup. Available in black, brown and metallic silver, the jacket pulls inspiration from vintage styles.
These Atelier de Charlotte shoes inspired by Dolly Parton feature silver pineapple leather and a small kitten heel. The heels, however, have recycled leather soles and lining, which some consider vegan since the material doesn’t directly support the leather industry.
11. Eve Cork Zoe Purse, $179
Made of cork fabric that is “inherently stain-resistant and anti-bacterial,” this sleek Eve Cork bag is eco-friendly and free from questionable chemicals. Ethically made in Portugal, the bag is waterproof, stain-resistant and easy to clean.
12. Pixie Mood Alicia Tote In Sand, $105
All bags in Pixie Mood’s Sand colorway are made of recycled vegan leather crafted from plastic bottles. The brand estimates it saved 52,637 plastic bottles from entering landfills due to this initiative. The rest of Pixie Mood’s products use solvent-free PU vegan leather, which is free of questionable chemicals, and uses 95% less water and 50% less energy than regular leather. While still plastic-based, it’s slightly more sustainable than the PU leather you likely see at other retailers.
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