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14 May 2019

The Myth of Sustainable Leather, and The Benefits of Vegan Alternatives

If you’ve found yourself here on the ALIVE Boutique blog focusing on the benefits of vegan leather and discussing the long-debated myth of sustainable leather, then chances are you are wondering, what are the benefits of vegan leather?

Moreover, is it any better for the world than natural leather?

If we’re right, continue reading because we’re about to dive straight into this topic in lots of detail.

Different Vegan leather materials

Should you want a refresh, and find how many different vegan leathers there are out there, we have summarised them all here (23 as of May 2020).

As the world and fashion industry, in particular, has evolved over the last few years, becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the production of clothing, we’ve seen the on-going debate about the effects on the environment of real vs faux leather.

Pro leather arguments have up until now outlined the idea that although ethically synthetic leather is better for animals, natural leather is better for the environment.

However, with the publication and spreading of The Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report 2017, this argument is quashed, and the debate appears to be over.

The report uses facts and statistics to prove that not only is vegan and sustainable leather better in terms of the ethics involved in choosing materials, but it is also unequivocally less damaging to the environment.

However, let’s start our chat looking at some of the impacts and benefits on the environment when it comes to deciding between real and faux leather clothing and accessories first. 

The Environmental Impact of Genuine Leather

There are lots of blogs and articles detailing the impact of genuine leather on the environment, so we’ve compiled some of the standout pieces of information into one space.

Genuine leather is finished in today’s industry using several hazardous and dangerous chemicals and materials from mineral salts, formaldehyde and coal-tar derivatives to a range of cyanide-based oils.

A single leather chrome-tanning facility wastes nearly 15,000 gallons of water for every ton of animal hide that it processes.

Processing practices for real leather include the waste and poor dispersion of used water, which mixed with the chemicals used to treat the leather, not only pollute crucial drinking water but pollute soil, leading to the degradation of essential agriculture.

One of the leading producers in the leather industry is Bangladesh where toxic chemicals from over 200 facilities are dispersed into open sewers which line the streets, and the Buriganga River has famously turned black from the impact of this production.

Pollution caused by nuclear power plants

The Benefits of Vegan Leather

There are also many vegan blogs and websites alongside environmentalists shouting about the benefits of vegan leather. So, we’ve brought together some of the key benefits to help showcase the pros of choosing sustainable, synthetic leather instead of the real deal.

Vegan leather has now been proved to be less damaging to the environment when compared to real leather (just take a look below).

Not only does vegan leather benefit from being eco-friendlier when compared to real leather but it’s also animal-friendly, which is what is so important to us.

It looks so good. Check out our collection of vegan leather handbags and accessories, and you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Vegan leather is animal-friendly and looks great, but it will also last due it’s durable properties and water-proof finish, making it the perfect choice in the fashion industry for handbags and accessories.


Sustainable Leather Facts and Figures

The Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report 2017 was published by the Global Fashion Agenda, a leading forum that focuses on fashion sustainability, and the Boston Consulting Group, a leading global advisor on business strategy.

The report discusses the future of the fashion industry, shares insight into the current state of the environmental impact of the industry and within the 112-page report, there are some pretty important facts and figures regarding the ecological impact of both real and synthetic leather.

Table showing the consumption of resources in making fabrics

One of the most critical sections of the report for this debate is regarding the environmental impact of selected textiles.

Looking at everything from cotton to acrylic as well as real and synthetic leather, the above chart details each material and its relative environmental impact when looking at four factors; water scarcity, global warming, eutrophication, and abiotic resource depletion.

Within the report’s environmental impact category, climate change was used for the assessment.

Climate change is related to the emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and the reference unit of climate change impact category is kg CO2 equivalent. 

In three out of the four comparable dimensions, synthetic leather falls dramatically below cow leather in terms of its impact on the environment and cow leather continues to have a drastically bigger impact than the majority of other materials reviewed.

There is one dimension, however, that shows synthetic leather as having a more significant impact than cow leather; abiotic resource depletion.

This means, “depletion of natural resources faster than they can be replenished. Prevalent in raw materials and manufacturing (sundries and packaging).”

Another other revolutionary and pivotally poignant statistic within the report is the cradle to gate environmental impact by a material resource.

Table showing the consumption of resources in making fabrics

This chart looks at the four previous dimensions as well as the material’s chemistry.

A fairly shocking visual for members of the pro cow leather argument, we can see that synthetic leather lands at around a third of the environmental impact when compared to cow leather and cow leather is by far the most damaging overall of all fibres tested.

Raw material extraction and processing always impact on the environment, resulting as they do in soil degradation, water shortages, biodiversity loss, damage to ecosystem functions and global warming exacerbation. 

Products need energy and water, as well as land for shipping, marketing, and use. This section of the report clearly shows that this impact is by far higher for cow leather than for synthetic leather.

The facts and figures from the Pulse of The Fashion Industry Report were curated using the Higg Material Sustainability Index (MSI).

To understand a little more of the figures, let’s take a quick look at what this index means and how it works.

What is the Higg Material Sustainability Index?
The Higg MSI is a cradle-to-gate material scoring tool that:

  • Helps companies compare their materials against others
  • Makes environmental data available to the public
  • Can be used to empower product development teams to make more sustainable choices during materials selection

The Higg MSI is a cradle-to-gate material scoring tool, which addresses impacts that range from the extraction or production of raw materials, through manufacture and finishing, to when the material that is ready to be assembled into a final product.

The declared unit of the Higg MSI is one kilogram of material. Therefore, the Higg MSI allows the comparison of one kilogram of a specific material to one kilogram of another material.

Currently, there are 80 base materials, or common materials, that are automatically provided in the Material Library. Four hundred nine production processes/specifications can be used to customise those base materials.

Girl wearing vegan leather Chelsea Boots in Chestnut

We’ve outlined the damaging impacts of the real leather industry on the environment as well as the benefits of vegan leather and the statistics behind the production of synthetic leather.

The mission now is to make these facts and figures heard beyond those in the industry.

The fashion industry knows that change is coming and that choosing vegan and sustainable materials for fashion and accessories is the future.

For the lovers of fashion out there and the followers of trends within the industry, ALIVE Boutique aims to continue to shout the facts and show the damage that real leather is doing to the world, alongside the vegan and ethical argument to ban real leather.

With so many amazing vegan leather brands available now, is there really any other choice but to choose vegan leather products?

We don’t think so.

Let us know what you think in the comments below or come and find us on Instagram for more vegan fashion and news.

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Discover why we started, what makes us really stand out in this space and why you want to buy vegan from us in our short video, featuring ALIVE Boutique founder, Lucas. Learn more Verified Reviews Badge
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Fast shipping! Product as described. Would definitely purchase from Alive again

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D.L. (Lower Saxony)
Very beautiful!

I have the brown one, it it absolutely stunning!

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PR (California)
Flattering , Formal and functional design

A Sleek design that is both formal as well as functional to hold a large smartphone and cash and a few cards.

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Mark Palos (England)
Great gift

Happy with item looks great (This is a dad's opinion, a gift for my daughter).