What Is Vegan Leather and How Is It Made
The materials used to make clothing and fashion accessories and their impact on the environment have forced us to look for more sustainable alternatives. Vegan leather, also known as faux leather, is therefore becoming increasingly popular with both designers and factories in the textile industry. Contrary to what you may think, vegan leather does not refer to a single material, but to several materials that are not made from animal origin.
The following oneHOWTO article explains what vegan leather is and how it is made.
What is vegan leather?
Artificial leather refers to any type of man-made material that is designed and manufactured to look like natural leather. It is often made of plastic and comes in a variety of textures, finishes, colors, patterns, and even smells. Vegan leather, then, is a type of artificial leather.
The most commonly used materials for artificial leather are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), which are plastic-based materials. This makes them much cheaper to produce, faster and easier to work with, and require much less care and maintenance than natural leather.
These two commonly used synthetic materials in particular have raised questions about the safety and environmental hazards of vegan leather. Very few vegan leathers are made from natural materials, although it is possible to find more environmentally friendly products made from materials such as cork, seaweed, and even pineapple leaves.
Because artificial leather is man-made, it can be given a variety of features and benefits to meet many needs. These include both style and functional requirements. In addition, faux leather can be made in very large sizes and even on casters.
Finally, vegan leather is also much cheaper to produce, faster and easier to work with, and requires much less maintenance than natural leather.
You may also be interested in this other article, where we present some natural alternatives to leather shoes.
How vegan leather is made
Synthetic or artificial leather and vegan leather are the same thing. There are different names for artificial materials that are meant to simulate the texture, feel, and performance of natural leather. Artificial leather can be made from a variety of materials: from plastics to materials such as cork, recycled plastic, rubber, and even leaves and plants.
Artificial leather is usually made from plastic polymers. Therefore, it can be made quickly, is inexpensive, and is available in a wide range of colors, shapes, and textures. Some newer faux leathers contain natural fibers, such as Pinatex material, which uses pineapple fibers.
Despite the use of plastics, the incorporation of natural materials makes it more recyclable and preferred as a more sustainable vegan leather alternative.
Faux leather manufacturing is quite fascinating with its variety of styles, thicknesses, colors, and textures. The most basic steps to understand the process are as follows:
- Mixing: First, the plastic-based composition is mixed together; this forms the main mixture of the material. The plastics used in this process are usually polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is also known and referred to as vinyl.
- Extrusion: Once the faux leather fluid is mixed, it is extruded (pressed/molded) onto a flat surface to hold it in place after it dries. If you want a thicker material, additional layers can be extruded onto the first layer at this point. This process can be repeated as needed to obtain a thicker, finer product.
- Stamping: After the leather has been dyed, a surface texture can be applied. This can be done to make the material more similar to the natural grain of the leather, to add performance features such as better grip (less slippery), or even to imprint brand features or logos.
- Finishing: After the material has been die-cut or printed, it is ready for finishing. In this phase, the material is covered with a protective layer.
You may also be interested in this other article, where we explain how to clean a faux leather jacket.
Is vegan leather more sustainable?
The sustainability of vegan leather depends on the materials used to make it. As mentioned earlier, most vegan leather is made from synthetic materials derived from plastic.
In recent years, several natural alternatives to plastic have been developed that make it possible to produce a durable synthetic leather while reducing plastic consumption. Pineapple leather, for example, is a new material made from natural and synthetic fibers. It is made from a blend of natural pineapple leaf fibers, thermoplastic polyester and petroleum-based resin.
It should be noted, however, that these are not yet common alternatives, and most artificial leather is currently made of plastic. Plastics, which also take years to biodegrade, are thus in some ways worse for the planet than regular leather. Because this material is processed and manufactured with large amounts of water, energy and chemicals, microplastic pollution is a major threat.
Finally, the processing of real leather can be harmful because of the tanning process. To make animal skin wearable, a lot of energy and chemicals are used to turn the skin into the leather we are used to. Leather production is affected by heavy metal pollution during tanning and dyeing. They endanger the environment by leaching chemicals into waterways, workers and even the consumer. In addition to the hazardous chemicals, the production of genuine leather also harms the environment through deforestation.
You may be interested in this other article, where we give some tips on how to reduce your plastic consumption in everyday life.
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