Leather is not a vegan material

Let it be said one more time: leather is not a vegan material!

So why is this information not widely known and understood by professionals in the fashion and luxury industries and by consumers?

Here we will explore certain ideas that could explain this phenomenon and set the record straight.

Let us begin by repeating the precise definitions of the two types of material in order to understand their obvious difference:

Leather: “Can be described as leather any product made from animal skin through a process of tanning or impregnation that maintains the natural structure of the skin fibres and all or part of the natural grain.” (1)

“Vegan product: product exempt from any substance of animal original, that has not used any technical agents of animal origin and has not been tested in any way on animals.” (2)

Despite these clear and explicit definitions, the two concepts of leather and vegan are often incorrectly associated. We believe this amalgam is the result of a number of factors.

 

 

First of all, there is often confusion between the idea of vegan and the concept of “vegetable leather”.

A product known as “vegetable leather” exists but its name is the shortened version of “vegetable-tanned leather”.  This is a leather of animal origin, of course, where the tanning process is based on tannins from plants such as mimosa, chestnut or quebracho. Although this procedure is not widely used, it is sufficiently familiar to the media and buyers for the idea of “vegetable leather” to stick in minds and perpetuate the confusion between vegetable and vegan!

Credit: Tense vegetable lamb by Raynaud Jeune

Another explanation comes from the fact that a great many materials that are not of animal origin are presented as alternatives to leather.

These can be innovative materials made from plants such as Pinatex tm which is a material made from cellular fibres extracted from pineapple leaves, or Mylo tm, a material based on mushroom cells, developed by the company Bolt Threads.

Other new innovative materials are the fruit of more sophisticated technology, such as Zoa tm, a product made from collagen by Modern Meadow.

But it can also refer to what is commonly but incorrectly known in Asia as “synthetic leather”, the name given to textiles coated in PVC. This material is well-known and is widely-used to partially reproduce the appearance of leather.

All of these materials can be vegan as they are not of animal origin, and they can therefore offer an alternative to leather, but these products are not leather. Furthermore, they often perform very differently to leather, notably in terms of usage, comfort or durability.

A further difficulty comes from the fact that there is a certain confusion about whether the term “leather” can be applied to these innovative materials or not, and even whether the name of these products can be associated with the word “leather”.

Let us be clear that from a legal point of view, juxtaposing the two terms, “leather” and “vegan” or “leather” and “synthetic” is not only totally inaccurate but it is strictly forbidden under French law and is punishable under the terms of the decree of 2010 (1).

 

Credit: Reptile style decoration in polyurethane by Gripmore

All of these materials can be vegan as they are not of animal origin, and they can therefore offer an alternative to leather, but these products are not leather. Furthermore, they often perform very differently to leather, notably in terms of usage, comfort or durability.

A further difficulty comes from the fact that there is a certain confusion about whether the term “leather” can be applied to these innovative materials or not, and even whether the name of these products can be associated with the word “leather”.

Let us be clear that from a legal point of view, juxtaposing the two terms, “leather” and “vegan” or “leather” and “synthetic” is not only totally inaccurate but it is strictly forbidden under French law and is punishable under the terms of the decree of 2010 (1).

Also, the concept of animal well-being is growing in importance in western countries.

This concept is not exclusively linked to the vegan movement as anyone can wish to see animals treated well during their lifetime. Consequently, some consumers concerned by animal welfare are looking for leather that respects animal well-being and may believe that so-called “vegan leather” is the solution.

Let us reassure these consumers, it is possible to purchase leather that meets this demand for animal well-being, as this principle is already very present in the value chain, from farming to the manufacture of the material. Indeed, for a number of years, regulations have been put in place at the European level, since 1998 (3) and more recently in France in 2018 (4) in order to improve the protection of farmed animals.

There is also another explanation showing this misconception comes from an assimilation of products of animal origin versus vegan products.

It is clear that around the terms “leather” and “vegan” there are many concepts and ideas that are intertwined and lead to misunderstandings or ambiguous attitudes to consumption and purchasing.

Materials of animal origin, such as wool, cashmere, leather and fur are natural materials, whereas vegan materials are made from plants or from polymers.

Ultimately the consumer, who may be confused by these misunderstandings, is seeking greater transparency from companies and more traceability in the value chain. At an international level, the profession has heard this message and in recent years has been working hard to achieve progress towards these goals.

 

Yves MORIN

Consultant for Première Vision Leather

(1)          French Decree n° 2010-29 of 8 January 2010
(2)          Association Vegan France
(3)          Directive n° 98/58/CE of 20 July 1998
(4)          Law n°2018-938 of 30 October 2018

Next September at the show, follow our comprehensive trail for the design of leather goods, shoes and leather apparel collections:

300 tanners, 300 accessory manufacturers, a selection of fashion contractors specialised in leather manufacturing and an updated presentation of the sector’s trends in the fashion forum. Halls 3 and 4.

In the meantime you can consult our leather selection in the Première Vision Marketplace