Vegan leather creates sustainable options for fashion

by Nicole Tutino-

Photo: Alexandra Maria via

Fashion brands’ selection of materials for their apparel designs impacts the environment through the extraction of raw materials and through apparel production. 

Authentic leather is derived from animal skin. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the tanning process the skin endures to become a leather material results in the release of harmful waste, including “salt, lime sludge, sulfides and acids” into the environment. 

PETA notes cows are the usual source of leather; however, other animals, like pigs, sheep and crocodiles can also be sources. A cow releases “between 154 to 264 pounds of methane gas per year,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Southeast New England Program (SNEP). Methane — a greenhouse gas — comprises about 30% of global climate change, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Recently, brands have been experimenting with unconventional alternatives to leather, called vegan leather, to reduce their environmental impacts. Vegan leather can be derived from polyurethane, a synthetic plastic material. However, sustainable options include bio-based materials, like fruit waste.

Leather and leather alternatives can be used to create various products within the fashion industry; handbags often use this material.

Copenhagen’s Fashion Week for autumn/winter 2023 required brands to adhere to numerous sustainability guidelines to qualify for participation. During the show, ready-to-wear brand GANNI presented a handbag composed of a vegan leather material constructed from orange and cacti waste and recycled plastic, called Ohoskin.

Ohoskin, an Italian fabric company, claims their bio-based vegan leather reduces their carbon emissions by 90%. Carbon dioxide remains a major greenhouse gas contributor to global warming.

Although Ohoskin features polyvinyl chloride — a synthetic material — the plastic used is recycled.

Known for luxury sustainable and ethical designs, the Stella McCartney brand partnered with Bolt Threads to create a handbag composed from a fungi-based leather, called Mylo. The Mylo vegan leather begins with mycelium, the foundation for mushrooms. 

Mansur Gavriel, a luxury handbag and shoe brand, announced a new bucket bag featuring  recycled apple skin to imitate leather. The brand states the bag is waterproof which increases its usage opportunities. The brand included additional materials in the bag’s creation, such as polyurethane, polyester and cotton, which raises sustainability concerns.

Vegan leather products can include polyurethane, which is a synthetic material produced using fossil fuel resources. Non-renewable resources, like fossil fuels, contradict sustainability’s main goals. 

While concerns over vegan leather exist, brands’ exploration of plant-based materials allows a lower-impact alternative to traditional leather production. 

Since leather is used in other fields, such as upholstery, sustainable vegan leather can expand beyond fashion.

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