The Cow vs the Polar Bear
Debunking the age-old debate of vegan leather versus genuine leather.
If you’re reading this, you’ve definitely had the "genuine leather versus vegan leather" argument at some point of time. Opponents of genuine leather often cite its environmental impact and almost inevitably bring up the cruelty-to-animals argument. While we can see where those arguments originate from, the foundation they are based on is, shaky at best.
Let’s understand where ‘vegan’ leather comes from. ‘Vegan’ sounds great and all, but is nothing but marketing-speak for polyurethane (now you know why they needed marketing-speak). Polyurethane, or PU, leather is manufactured using petrochemicals, and thus entails a whole host of environmental problems. The chemicals used in the manufacture of PU leather are not only bad for the environment, but quite horrible for the people who have to work with or around them too.
To compound this issue, the durability of PU leather is substantially lesser than that of genuine leather, calling for more replacements and thus, ultimately, more production. A genuine leather article, on the other hand, will probably outlive you.
You also have the problem of disposal. PU leather is, ultimately, a plastic, and thus, non-biodegradable. If thrown into a landfill, it will just sit there for eternity, and if burned, it will emit foul, toxic gases into the atmosphere. Genuine leather, on the other hand, will last you a lifetime, thus making disposal redundant. In any case, it is biodegradable, considering it is a natural product to begin with.
Moving on the second argument - the cruelty-to-animals part. While it is true that genuine leather is derived from animals, the hides used to make genuine leather are simply a byproduct of the meat, dairy and wool industries. The waste of these industries is put to use in the leather-making industry, as opposed to simply being discarded.
Vegan leather poses other issues too: it lacks the richness, look and feel of genuine leather. Every piece of genuine leather is unique, carrying with it the signature of the hide it was made from. Vegan leather, being a product of mass manufacturing, is standardized and sans character. Vegan leather also does not age well. Time cracks and peels vegan leather, and at the same time gracefully ages genuine leather (provided you take care of it; read our handy guide on caring for your leathers). And lastly, vegan leather is just not as comfortable as genuine leather. Genuine leather has natural pores which allow it to breathe. Vegan leather, on the other hand, is a plastic, and as such, is a non-breathable material. This has obvious implications for leather apparel, but also makes a difference in maintaining the suppleness of the material in other leather goods: a material that cannot breathe is likely to stiffen and crack over time.
Vegan leather, ultimately, pales in comparison to genuine leather. It’s more damaging to the environment, creates waste as opposed to reducing it, looks cheaper, ages poorly and isn’t very comfortable. It may cost less money in the short run, but its implications for your wallet and the world are far more negative in the long term.
For tricks to differentiate between Vegan and Genuine leather, check out How to identify genuine leather?.