7 Vegan Leather Alternative Materials You Should Know About
Talking about and researching vegan leathers and alternative vegan material is one of our favourite things to do, here at ALIVE Boutique.
Only last month, we spoke about the myth of sustainable ("genuine") leather and the benefits of vegan alternatives.
From hemp to linen, there is now a plethora of new and alternative more sustainable fabrics on the market to replace the likes of unsustainable cotton and unethically produced silk.
However, we’ve come across lots more vegan materials that are slowly but steadily making their way into the manufacturing industry that you might not have heard about just yet, proving that when it comes to the use of leather, a vegan leather alternative is always the better choice.
Here, we take a closer look at seven vegan materials now being produced and used as an alternative choice.
From making leather with oranges to recycling old rubber, take a look at these modern-day, sustainable and ethically-produced vegan leather alternatives and get ready to see them sprout up on the high street in the very near future.
Cork leather is crafted from the bark of a cork oak tree, making it a sustainable, eco-friendly and vegan alternative to real leather and we are starting to see cork leather appear more and more often in the world of fashion.
With a naturally unique finish, cork leather offers a beautiful alternative for anything from handbags to shoes and has features including being highly-durable, being water-proof and being stain-resistant that makes it a perfect choice for accessories.
Making cork leather, however, is a very long process. The tree must be 25 years old before the bark is harvestable and once the bark is removed, it requires another six months to dry out completely, ready for production.
This same tree can be harvested multiple times, every ten years, and has an average lifespan of around 200 years.
After being boiled and steamed, giving it a more flexible feel, the cork is sliced into thin sheets and attached to a supporting fabric, ready for use in the textile and fashion industries.
Much of the cork leather in production is based in Portugal, but the product is now being used by fashion and accessories brands all over the world.
From the global shoe brand TOMS, who create casual shoes with a cork sole, to independent vegan fashion brands, such as Kolohon, specialising in handbags, purses and small vegan leather goods.
Also known as glazed canvas, waxed cotton is readily used as a real leather alternative in the industry, created by soaking cotton with wax.
Often beeswax is used, which makes the fabric a real leather alternative but not entirely vegan, and in some cases, paraffin-based wax is applied.
Waxed cotton is actually the oldest form of vegetarian-approved leather, dating back as far as the 19th century and used in the sailing industry.
Perfect for water-resistant products like accessories and outerwear, waxed cotton is incredibly durable, hard-wearing and long-lasting.
Waxed cotton and waxed canvas are slightly different in terms of texture, with waxed canvas marginally rougher to the touch and used more generally for handbags and accessories.
A quick search on sites, such as Etsy and Not on The Highstreet produces a plethora of independent brands creating waxed cotton and canvas fashion and accessories as well as our very own stocked brand, Wills Vegan Shoes.
Sustainable use of the world’s rubber comes in the form of recycled rubber, often from products, such as tires.
The heavy-duty texture that recycled rubber forms leads to it being the perfect choice for sturdy products that last, like handbags and footwear.
Instead of filling landfill sites with old and used tires, they are upcycled to create an incredibly real-looking vegan leather fabric with a smooth matte finish that is starting to take off as a fantastic alternative to genuine leather in the industry.
With many brands beginning to used recycled tire rubber to create the soles of their shoes, some brands are taking it one step further and creating entire products out of recycled rubber as an alternative to leather.
Paguro is one such brand. Creating contemporary and chic handbags and accessories from entirely upcycled rubber, this fashion label is proving that when it comes to accessories, recycled rubber could undoubtedly be the next significant trend.
Relatively new to the vegan world and so less well-known, Ligneah is beginning to be heard as an essential leather alternative in the eco-friendly world.
A brand name for fabric created out of wood in a natural, sustainable and cruelty-free way, Ligneah has a soft, flexible and leather-like texture and feel and although noticed first by the fashion industry has a wealth of possible opportunities for use.
The wood used to create Ligneah is sourced from only ethically managed forests and with a partnership with Tree-Nation, the brand plants a new tree for every product sold.
Micro incisions are made by laser into the surface of the wood, which increases the pliancy of the material, and as these incisions become closer and closer together, the wood softens into a leather-like texture.
The technique allows for a smooth leather finish as well as finishes, such as crocodile effect.
With its own branded line of accessories, Ood, the Ligneah company is showcasing to the world the fashion uses of its eco-friendly vegan leather in the form of handbags, small leather goods and even vegan leather jewellery.
We actually mentioned the use of flexible stone a while back (we’ve always got our ears to the ground when it comes to finding new vegan materials) in our blog looking at 7 vegan alternatives to real leather, and flexible stone is still very much being talked about within the industry.
A leading producer of flexible stone vegan leather is Villani Leonello, who creates a fabric using extremely thin layers of real stone supported by a fleece, crafted using cellulose fibres.
With a thickness of 0.6mm, the stone becomes flexible enough to act in a similar way to traditional leather, making it a strong contender as an alternative.
Due to the nature of this product and it’s 100% natural creation, every sheet of flexible stone leather is unique with its own naturally occurring markings and can come in six different textures.
Flexible stone is currently being primarily used when it comes to interiors and home furnishings, working beautifully as wall coverings as well as furniture and cabinet coverings.
Villani Leonello is also using the vegan leather alternative to create small leather goods, such as mobile phone cases.
We have seen flexible stone start to appear in the fashion world, first seen with the luxury vegan brand, Lucky Nelly from Berlin.
Used to create stunning handbags and even stone leather bow ties from waste stock, the label continues to create luxury fashion pieces using only vegan leather alternatives.
Vegan Leather from Oranges
We’ve previously discussed the use of Pinatex, a form of Pineapple leather in the fashion industry which is now going from strength to strength and becoming much more widely used by a wealth of brands.
But now, pineapples aren’t the only fruit bringing vegan leather alternatives to the market.
There are whispers of orange leather within the fashion industry, although as of yet, the fabric hasn’t been widely used or promoted.
The material is said to be crafted using the waste of the fruit after the production of orange juice, offering an animal-friendly fabric but also a fantastic use for all wasted produce.
Several companies are also working to produce orange silk, which could well be the next big thing in the fashion industry, having arrived as part of H&M’s sustainability collection just this week!
Vegan Leather from Apples
Alongside oranges, apple leather is a real leather alternative that is currently being used in both the fashion industry and the home interiors world in a more significant way.
Apple leather is crafted using apple waste following apple juice production. Where the waste would usually be discarded, it is now hydrated, ground and added to a binder and spread onto a canvas, where it moulds into a PETA-approved, leather-like fabric.
From here, handbags, accessories and even furniture are being crafted.
The previously mentioned brand, Lucky Nelly is also known for being one of the first in the fashion industry to start using apple leather to create handbags and accessories.
Crafting beautiful, luxe accessories made from waste apple skin, the brand again is at the forefront of luxury vegan leather accessories and design.
Whether you’re interested in vegan materials from a sustainability or an ethical stance, there is no denying that the fabrics being creating now are better for both the environment and the welfare of animals, while looking amazing when finished too.
By 2025, the vegan leather market is predicted to be worth an estimated $85 billion, proving that vegan leather and leather alternatives to the real animal hide is undoubtedly the future for the fashion industry and beyond.