What is Vegan Leather? – Carter Bags

What is Vegan Leather?

You will be forgiven for being confused about the term 'Vegan Leather', after all traditionally leather is commonly made from the skins of animals. No animal is off the menu when it comes to traditional leather... cows, sheep, ostriches, buffalo, snakes, and even fish skin has been used to create leather.

Vegan leather is used to describe imitation leather which is vegan friendly. Looks like leather, feels like leather, but it is an animal cruelty free alternative. In essence vegan leather delivers guilt free glam! 

What is vegan leather made from?

Since the introduction of the term Vegan Leather, there have been many ingenious and alternative solutions introduced as alternatives to traditional leathers. But beware, not all are planet friendly!

Since the sustainability market has boomed with consumers becoming more aware of their impact on global warming, what used to be known as 'synthetic leather' or 'PU Leather' is now being advertised as 'vegan leather'. The vegan leather industry is expected to boom over the next 5 years with an estimated value of $85bn by 2025. Whilst it's true that these variations may not harm or contain any animals, plastic is definitely not kind to our planet.

'Vegan Leather' should be planet friendly, vegan friendly, and represent a modern day hug to the planet! Vegan leather is something consumers should be able to trust as a sustainable, and ethical material. So beware of misleading eco and green-washing terms used by retailers. Always ask questions and do your homework.

Generally vegan leather often falls under 3 categories: Plastic, Recycled Plastic, or Plant Based.

Consumers have the power to impact manufacturing and buying decisions by producers and retailers, so make sure you invest in products which are sustainable and cruelty free! Keep reading to learn about sustainable vegan leathers... 

What types of vegan leather are sustainable?

Recycled Vegan Leather - Recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (RPET)

PET plastic is commonly used to produce water bottles, containers, and packaging. It is almost impossible to do your weekly food shop without buying PET Plastic, it can be found in every aisle of the super market! Cleaning product containers, medicine bottles, fruit and veg packing, plastic trays and baskets and so on... 

RPET is made from PET plastic which has been collected, cleaned and used to produce a new material. Through reusing existing materials and at least a 24% reduction in carbon emissions, RPET is considered a sustainable material.

At this point, you might be wondering "why isn't all non plant based vegan leather RPET these days?". When we have an abundance of plastic floating in our ocean and littered across our shores, it's a very good question! Why cant we scoop it all up, recycle it and stop producing MORE plastic? Well it’s a complicated puzzle but here are just a few of the contributing factors...

  • It all starts with the responsible disposal of used plastics which can then be sorted, cleaned and recycled
  • The global recycling infrastructure is in crisis, the UK alone produces over 400 metric tonnes of plastic waste every year and we do not have enough facilities to recycle this volume so much of our plastic waste is sent abroad or ends up in landfill. Think of all the bags we could make!
  • RPET is more expensive for retailers to buy than PU or synthetic leather and not commonly stocked by manufacturers, this means retailers need to pay more for their own materials and commit to higher minimum order quantities. Many designers and retailers would like to use RPET but due to the initial cost of materials they can’t afford to. It is much easier (particularly for small businesses) to buy ready made designs cheaply or use materials which manufacturers buy in bulk to benefit from a lower cost.
  • There is a high demand for quick turnaround and low cost fashion. Consumers have a huge role to play here, you have to ask whether advertising, social media and influencers also help drive demand for quick, fast fashion which is cheap as chips!

Could RPET be a part of the long term solution to waste disposal? We think so! The 'R' in RPET stands for Recycled, and the good news is RPET is recyclable too!

Plant based leather

Plant based leathers are often made from corn starch, pineapple leather, and cactus leather. Pineapple leather is a non-woven, natural material and is often a bi-product from natural harvest. Therefore pineapple leather does not require any additional resources to grow, the water used to harvest the leaves would have been used to grow the pineapples for harvest anyway. Harvesting the leaves provides farmers with a brucey bonus at the end of their harvest, whilst allowing them to tap into the ever growing fashion industry.

To create cactus leather mature leaves are collected from the plant which leaves the cactus in tact ready to grow more leaves again, these can be harvested once or twice a year. Cactus leather ticks alot of boxes, as they require minimal water to flourish. Rain water is enough for our desert dwelling friend. Did you know the fashion industry consumes over 32 MILLION Olympic sized swimming pools each year?! So lets take a moment to appreciate this spiky versatile plant.

We're still on the fence about corn leather over here... while its true no animals are harmed, corn can require an abundance of pesticides, fertilisers and it's a thirsty plant requiring vast amounts of water to grow!! So while corn leather may not directly harm animals, the chemicals and genetic modifications in corn could be inadvertently damaging ecosystems. Unless you're buying organic corn leather, we'd give this one a miss!

How can my buying decisions shape the future?

If you would like to see more retailers using sustainable materials vote with your feet! Often design and manufacturing decisions are driven by demand, you have the power to shape the future of manufacturing and supply. Buying cheap, fast fashion items gives little to no incentive to retailers or manufacturers to produce more responsibly. If you'd like to see responsible manufacturing investing in supporting retailers who care. 

All of our bags are made using recycled plastic (RPET) with a 100% Recycled Polyester Lining.