Leather is one of the oldest materials for human clothing. Before people had cities, when hunters and gatherers were following roaming herds of prey animals, they were tanning hides for fur and leather.
Leather is a tried and true material, that is attractive, long lasting, and inexpensive considering its longevity. As long as it is properly treated, leather is waterproof. Leather is heat resistant, and insulates pretty well. Leather is a naturally sourced material, and as long as people continue eating meat at current levels, there is plenty of supply.
There are negative side effects to using leather. The most obvious negative to leather is that it requires animals to die, and typically is a byproduct of the factory farming system that leads to cruelty and waste.
The factory farming system also causes a huge environmental impact. The large amount of cows needed to supply American demand emit a huge amount of greenhouse gases. It takes an insane amount of water to both water those animals, and grow the food for them.
The negative consequences of leather are clear, so what are the alternatives?
Canvas has been used in many of the same applications as leather for years. Canvas is durable, and is versatile enough to be used for almost anything leather can be used for. Canvas could be for shoes, hand bags, or outerwear. Canvas is also much more environmentally conscious than leather.
There are some downsides to canvas as a substitute for leather. Without heavy chemical treatment, canvas is not as water resistant as leather. Canvas is not quite as durable as leather, and canvas does not look like leather, so if you want the look and feel of leather, you will need to keep looking.
- Ocean Leather
Ocean Leather is made from kelp. It is sustainable, and looks a great deal like leather. It is also biodegradable, while having the water resistance of leather.
Ocean Leather is not as durable as some other alternatives to leather. It is not in heavy use, but can be found from some high end brands.
- Faux Leather
Faux leather is made from one of several varieties of plastic, hence the commonly used nickname “pleather”. The most common variety of faux leather is made by alternating layers of polyvinyl chloride with fabric. This process gives a material that is durable, due to the tensile strength of the fabric underlayer.
The Polyvinyl Chloride layers in faux leather allows the material to be water resistant. Modern faux leather also is able to closely mimic the look and feel of natural leather.
There are some drawbacks to faux leather. Although pleather is a vegan substitute for leather, it still has many of the environmental problems that traditional leather has. PVC is made from petroleum distillates, so the production process has many byproducts that are harmful to the environment.
Microfiber is a fabric made from plastics. Some microfibers are produced from recycled soda bottles and other trash, making microfiber a very environmentally responsible option.
Microfibers don’t strongly resemble leather, but many companies are producing microfibers that look like suede. This is one of the more environmentally responsible options, since it is removing waste from the landfill while reducing the need for high impact leather.
Mycelium leather is one of the newest leather alternatives. It is made from the mycelium of mushrooms and is produced in a controlled environment. Mycelium leather combines the appearance, durability, and water resistance of real leather in an environmentally responsible product that uses less water and energy to produce than most alternatives.
In summary, there are many alternatives to leather that are available if you are looking for a lower impact option, that can also reduce your reliance on the cruel factory farming system.