What Is Vegan Leather & 12 Of Its Unconventional Types

Most of us have heard of this term ‘Vegan leather’. If not, then you probably have a rough idea due to its name: Yes, It isn’t leather at all! Then what is vegan leather,? You may ask. Besides being an ethical, sustainable, and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather, Vegan leather is much more! So what’s so great about vegan leather? Let’s find out all the answers here in this article. 

What Is Vegan Leather?

Typically vegan leather is something that is an alternative to real leather but looks like traditional leather. It doesn’t use any animal products, so we also called it ‘Artificial Leather’ or ‘ Synthetic Leather’.

Vegan leather is often made from polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane, a polymer composed of organic units joined by carbamate (urethane) links. It can also be made from sustainable materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, other fruit waste, and recycled plastics. 

Therefore switching to vegan leather is a change that the world has thankfully been embraced. According to a report by consulting group Grand View Research(GVR), the world market for vegan leather is set to be worth $85 billion by 2025, as reported by LiveKindly.

Different Types Of Vegan Leather :

There’s a whole variety of vegan leathers out there. But we all have only heard of a few mainly Polyurethane or Pleather. Scientists have now successfully made artificial leather from plants waste organic matter, like leaves, fruit peels, etc. And the experiments still continue to do. We often get to hear news about some kind of story about successfully making leather from plants.

Here in this article, we have categorized vegan leather in two types –  Synthetic Vegan Leathers and Plant-based Vegan Leathers.

Synthetic Vegan Leathers :

1. Polyurethane Leather :


Probably the most common synthetic leather among all. Polyurethane leather is also known as ‘PU leather’ or ‘Pleather’. A Pu leather is made by applying a polyurethane coating to a base material such as polyester, nylon, or cotton. Now the newly laminated surface undergoes through a treatment to replicate the animal leather texture. Typically this is achieved by running a textured roller across the laminated face of the fabric.

A good quality polyurethane leather is a flexible, resilient, and durable fabric that can be easily used for making various products. Its appearance is almost similar to traditional leather, especially when an irregular artificial grain and pattern is applied.

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2. Polyvinyl Chloride(PVC) Leather :


Polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl or PVC, is a versatile plastic that has a comprehensive list of applications in our daily life. From car parts to furniture or flooring, when it comes to using fake leather, PVC is one of the good options. A thin coating of PVC is layered to a base layer of fabric and then textured. It looks very similar to polyurethane leather in terms of aesthetics and composition.

3. Recycled Plastic Or Rubber :

Plastic waste and rubber can be treated and processed to form faux-leather(fake leather) materials, such as plastic bottles, old car tires, etc. However, they have a lack of application to everyday products due to their availability and color limitations.

Plant-based Vegan Leathers :

1. Apple Leather :

We bet no one has ever expected an apple to be turned into a leather bag. But it’s true. Although this is completely new for us, we’re super thrilled that that apple waste can make vegan leather. It is so incredibly cool whilst being sustainable, and cruelty-free, too.

The apple residue is treated, rolled out into strips, and heated resulting in a flexible, hardy material that is 100% biodegradable. Each meter of apple leather requires only 1 liter of water during production which is a way lesser than making animal leather.

The Philadelphia-based company, Veggani, also uses ‘apple peel leather’ material, which is derived from apple peels that are dried, powdered, and mixed with polyurethane before being processed into a faux leather. (Source)

2. Pineapple Leather :


Pineapple leather is also known as ‘Pinatex’. This is made from wasted parts of the pineapple bush and is 100% eco-friendly. Pinatex is also ethical in the sense that it gives pineapple farmers another source of income apart from their crops. 

Pinatex doesn’t require any additional raw environmental resources to produce. However, it requires a polyurethane coating during production. This material feels like cowhide leather, is watertight and very durable.

3. Paper Leather :

Yes, you heard us right. It may be hard to believe that paper can be as strong as leather, but science has proved it. If a Japanese “disaster” architect Shigeru Ban can build an actual cathedral made from cardboard then why not leather bags and accessories. 

What is vegan leather, is no more a question, since, Fashion Luxury brands like Bottega Veneta used tightly woven washi, a delicate paper derived from the bark of the fast-growing Kozo tree (a Japanese relative of the common mulberry) to make their elegant clutches. Once made, the washi is cut and its edges left raw, then carefully woven.

Later on, other designers, such as Paper Handbags by Ilvy Jacobs and Engage Green have also made incredible use of paper in their designs.

4. Cork Leather :


Cork is considered as being one of the most environmentally-friendly materials around. It’s been used for decades as a water-resistant, organic material in floor tiling. Cork can be easily recycled, it’s natural, and using Cork Oak forests for industry helps prevent desertification and deforestation.

Because of its waterproof property and organic texture, it has been used by big brands like Chanel and Louboutin and also smaller ones like EVE, etc too. It is also used for making fashionable umbrellas.

5. Waxed Cotton :

Waxed cotton is cotton soaked with a paraffin or natural beeswax-based wax, woven into or applied to the cloth. The material is waterproof, pliable, and unlike leather, it’s easily washable, and also saving the environment from more dry cleaning chemicals. Big brands, such as Marc Jacobs, etc have long used this material for making apparel and bags, respectively. 

6. Tree Bark Leather :


Bark leather is similar to cork but is made from sustainable timber wood. It is durable, strong and one piece is never like another, due to the varied natural grains of the product. Tree bark leather is made from fast-growing, renewable wood, and is treated with non-toxic chemicals to make it durable, well preserved and flexible enough to sew. It can even be made as fine and thin as real leather, to create trousers, coats and other apparel.

Dolce and Gabbana have recently used this material in their bags and shoes for their fashion show.

7. Mushroom Leather :


Mushroom leather, a 100% vegetable-based leather alternative is made from a fungus called phellinus ellipsoideus. It is also known as MuSkin. After harvesting, the caps of the mushrooms are processed and treated with eco-friendly wax. This results in a highly textured material that has an interesting grain similar to animal leathers. 

This MuSkin is natural, bio-degradable, breathable and often used as a thermal insulator that absorbs damp and releases it immediately.

8. Teak Leaves Leather :


A brand called Elpis Studio that transforms natural, raw materials into urban everyday items made from teak leaves. The is extremely lightweight and can resist any kind of natural calamities and that’s the strength of what is vegan leather. So you can freely use your accessories wherever and whenever you want.

9. Coffee Leather :


A brand named, Nat2 is using this coffee leather material to create unisex sneakers that are in high demand. The kind of coffee used in the production of these sneakers depends on what kind of coffee is the most sustainable to harvest. Aside from the ‘coffee leather’, these sneakers feature recycled rubber outsoles, faux suede from recycled PET bottles, antibacterial padded cork soles, and water-based glue, all earning them further sustainability points.

Pros And Cons Of Vegan Leather?


There are a lot of problems with the traditional leather industry. The thing about leather is; the livestock industry uses up huge resources of energy, water, and land and produces high levels of methane. Making leather requires a lot of chemicals and various processes to change a hide into beautiful leather products and a lot of these are not environmentally friendly. These chemicals are dangerous for mankind in the production and so there are whole human rights and worker’s well-being questions to be asked as well, before wondering what is vegan leather.

Pros :

  • Vegan leather is 100% cruelty-free so no animals are hurt during the process.
  • Vegan leather doesn’t need any toxic tanning process.
  • Vegan leather is very affordable.
  • Vegan leather(plant-based mainly) is completely bio-degradable.
  • Vegan leather has some qualities and color options that traditional leather can’t provide.

Cons :

  • Synthetic vegan leather is essentially plastic, which is a non-renewable resource.
  • In a few processes vegan leather requires chemicals.
  • Synthetic leather such as PVC is not breathable at all.
  • Vegan leather is comparatively less durable.
  • PVC and PU can’t biodegrade.
  • Vegan leather doesn’t give few qualities as leather does.

Conclusion :

We hope you are clear about what is vegan leather. These were all the basics about different types of vegan leather and where they come from. Since leather is the key material to create many products we use and love, switching to a more animal-friendly alternative is always helpful to nature. Plant-based innovations are emerging across the board and helping to reduce the use of leather.

In conclusion, vegan leathers can offer a cruelty-free alternative to animal leather, which is the most essential factor that matters to most vegans and vegetarians. We will hopefully be seeing more vegan leather products in the near future thanks to plant-based leathers, that could change the faux-leather market for good!

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