Leather vs Vegan Options: The Pros and Cons

Hailey Baldwin wearing a bright red PVC dress

Increasingly people who feel uncomfortable with the use of animal products, are opting for some form of alternative lifestyle such as vegetarianism or veganism.

Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism.

” Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

By this definition, leather shoes, accessories and/or clothing are avoided by vegans in favour of synthetic products.

Leather: the pros and cons

Pro: Leather is a durable product which ages well, often acquiring a desirable appearance through wear. Environmentally, traditional production is said to be a ‘closed-loop’ system which replenishes itself.


Con: Apart from appalling cruelty which see animals sometimes skinned and dismembered while still alive, the hide tanning process is water-intensive and involves chemicals such as formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and some finishes that are cyanide based. These are not only extremely detrimental to the health of leather workers, but also hazardous to the environment.

Vegan, synthetic, or faux leather


Polyurethane. Synthetic leather can be manufactured in innovative finishes

Pro: These products are cruelty-free, when dyed have more vibrant colours than leather, and can be created in a variety of colours and finishes to order.

Con: Synthetic leather does not decompose easily and is difficult to recycle, as it is a petroleum-based product. Formerly, most synthetic leathers were made from PVC, which release dioxins (potentially hazardous chemicals) if burnt. The manufacturing process also requires the addition of phthalates, which can over time leech out of the product.

Nowadays polyurethane (PU) is used to manufacture vegan leather. The chemistry behind this is complicated, which increases the price of the merchandise. Environmentally, the solvents used to liquefy the product so it can be painted onto a fabric backing, can be toxic. However, waterborne coatings are becoming available.

The most environmentally friendly faux leather is made out of kelp or corks. Other materials that can be used to substitute leather, include recycled rubber, waxed cotton and even tree bark.


Shoes made from cork

New development

An interesting new option is MuSkin, a mushroom leather created from Phellinus ellipsoideus. This large parasitic fungus grows in the wild, attacking trees in subtropical forests. Cells are extracted and then grown in a laboratory. Unlike most other synthetic leathers, MuSkin is breathable and antibacterial. Waterproofing can be achieved with an inexpensive eco-friendly wax treatment, making the end product fully biodegradable.


MuSkin handbag

It would appear that leather is no longer so irreplaceable after all…