25 April 2024

What do we really know about alternative materials to leather?

Alessia Zaramella writes on LinkedIn that for a few years now, so-called “vegan leather” has become trendy. I use a single term to encompass all surrogate proposals, presented as “alternative” and “ecological”, made for the purpose of imitating real leather in appearance and feel, and deceptively defined as “leather” despite the fact that this term in Italy is protected by Legislative Decree no. 68/2020, “New provisions on the use of the terms ‘leather’, ‘leather’ and those derived from them or their synonyms…”.

But are these alternative materials necessarily less environmentally impactful than leather? The answer may disappoint those who have been duped so far.

Vegan leather is made from plastics, mainly polyurethane (PU) and poly-vinyl chloride (PVC). Being cheaper and animal-free, vegan leather has quickly become in demand on the market.

However, it is important to know that PVC leather releases dioxins, which are dangerous indoors and when heated. PVC is also composed of plasticizers such as phthalates, which are used to add more flexibility to the material, which pose a huge health risk. In addition, companies often communicate that it is “sustainable” leather, a claim that leads to greenwashing, since this type of material is not leather in the first place and the levels of “sustainability” are not proven.

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