What the heck is vegan leather?

Lately, I’ve noticed more and more ads and fashion blogs referring to garments and handbags made of vegan leather. Really? What the heck is that? As a lover of words, I was compelled to find out.

Vegans are usually defined as a strict vegetarians who omit all animal products, including dairy, from their diets, but The Vegan Society offers a much broader definition. “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” Hence, vegan leather.

In reality, though, vegan leather is nothing more than fake or faux leather by a different name. Pleather, as it was once known, is a synthetic leather usually made out of petroleum byproducts such as polyurethane or PVC bonded to a fabric backing. A few are cork or kelp based. Though once deemed tacky, under its new and classier name, pleather is suddenly seen as eco-chic.

Make no mistake though, the production of these synthetic leathers involves excessive levels of toxic substances and since they aren’t fully biodegradable, they produce micro-particles that are ingested by animals and thus enter the food chain at all levels.

Animal-friendly or not, synthetic leather offers advantages to both fashion designers and consumers. The softer, realistic-looking material is a popular choice with designers as it offers them a flexible, versatile textile to work with; one that can be made to sparkle or shine or even be saturated with a rich or bright shade that no tanning process could mimic. Not everyone in the industry is happy to call the fabric vegan leather, however. Some would prefer to avoid the connotation that their clothing is designed exclusively for animal-cruelty advocates.

Like many consumers, I simply like the fact that faux leathers are a nicely priced alternative to the real thing. I can’t help thinking that the new term sounds overly pretentious though and I’ve also noticed that the so-called vegan leather products that I’ve seen advertised tend to be pretty pricey. Could it be that people are paying more for the sense of superiority that comes with the fancier moniker and the feeling that they’re doing something good? With apologies to William Shakespeare, a faux leather by any other name is just as fake!


One of my latest thrift store finds. The label says it’s “100% polyurethane with 100% rayon woven backing.” It doesn’t say vegan leather. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t!


9 thoughts on “What the heck is vegan leather?

  1. Looks good on you, Elaine! Still teaching, but a little tougher with work to rule conditions….hope to have a settlement very soon, but it’s not looking too promising. Say hi to the gang for me…

  2. Pingback: How many is too many? | Following Augustine

  3. Using the phrase, “vegan leather” in an attempt to sell a product is extremely pretentious. Why not just be honest and call it what it is (faux leather) instead of appearing to stand on some kind of moral high ground?

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