Once in awhile, we receive emails asking when Jolie Laide will create our products from vegan leather, and after many individual explanations, we realize that it would be great to finally explain to our customers the reasons why we choose not to work with this type of material. Below we will discuss the big picture of the long-term sustainability of vegan leather vs bovine cow leather and the pros and cons of both.
Before we start, it is important to remind you that this is not a scientific article. Our intention is to share a little bit of our knowledge and journey toward sustainable production. So let’s begin into this topic by defining both, leather and vegan leather, and understanding their production processes.
As you might be familiar, leather is a natural and durable material, usually made from bovine hides. There are many variations of leather (depending on the animal it came from) with different types of finishes – treatments to improve quality, to make smoother or flexible, to protect from weather conditions and so on.
On the other side, the vegan leather (also known as pleather, faux, fake or artificial leather) can originate from different sources natural and/or synthetic. Even being called vegan, very few artificial types of leather are 100% natural – made from apples, pineapple leaves, cork, and kelp. In most cases, they come from synthetic materials, especially from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polyurethane (PU).
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU) are plastic-based materials. In other words, they are non-biodegradable, something that should be considered when we talk about sustainability and the green cycle – production, use and, disposal. Even PU being considered a less toxic alternative then PVC, pointed by Greenpeace as “one of the most toxic substances”, it still is far from a vegan solution for the environment, because its processing often involves toxic solvents.
The PVC leather fabric consists of combining polyvinylchloride with stabilizers, plasticizers, and lubricants, then applying to a base material like polyester, nylon, cotton or other. After being dyed, the material receives a textured finish to look like genuine leather. The PU process happens in a very similar way but applying a 100% polyurethane finish to a base material. Check the process video: “How It’s Made Synthetic Leather“.
This procedure usually results in the production of toxic substances which are inhaled by the workers and can cause diseases when in contact with human skin even after washing, not to mention the damage caused by its discharged in rivers and lakes. A very good reference about this topic is the report “A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future“.
And you might be asking… What about the cons of the leather industry? Yes, there are many. We have seen news about cruelty with animals, which, besides heartbreaking, it is a criminal act. Another big issue in the leather industry is the use of chemicals in the tanning and finishing processes harming workers and also polluting water. We still should consider the deforestation and land conversion for cattle ranching.
Unfortunately, we still deal with this kind of problems and irresponsible manufacturers in the leather field, but we also do have eco-friendly companies with ethical and very serious standards that act in partnership with NGOs and other regulators of the market.
Here in Jolie Laide, for example, we are committed to creating unique, high-quality products and will not cut corners to compromise quality. Authenticity and transparency are important not only to the customer but also to our business partners, especially our manufacturer. For this reason, before and after making any agreement, we keep track of how the partner works, from where does the leather come from, how is the treatment of the articles, how happy/health is the manufacturer’s team, to list some of our concerns.
We have already talked about how we meet our manufacturer Eduardo in the article “Meet the artisans | Leather production in Mexico”. Still, it is important to reinforce that we only started working together after walking around their production house and understanding his standards.
Many aspects are considered before creating our partnership, particularly two things. The first one is knowing that his workers are in a healthy and good environment and secondly that these artisans are paid a fair, living wage by Eduardo, who has taught us a lot about Mexican culture, leather history, labour pricing, conditions, and also leather cost and quality.
This year for the first time Jacqueline, creative director at Jolie Laide, visited the farmers and tanneries to source and choose the leather first hand to provide high quality and consistency for her customers. We have chosen to work with 100% bovine leather, the full grain of skin and all our leather is by-product leather meaning that no part of the animal is wasted but instead used for food and horns and bones are used for other products. This has been done ethically for generations in Mexican culture. These are not big factory farms or large corporate tanneries, but both facilities are owned and operated by small families who have run these businesses for generations.
How synthetic/ vegan leather ages
How genuine leather ages
Natural leather can survive for generations when properly cared for, whereas an artificial leather might last a year or two. As a result of this material being partially or totally waterproof (after all, it is plastic), conditioning products cannot enter the fiber of artificial leather, the reason why fake leather easily cracks. Of course, you can imagine that to replace the damaged product, it is necessary to make purchases more often, which generates more waste and harm to the environment and the continuation of the fast fashion machine.
Nevertheless, we at Jolie Laide will always be open to the possibilities of using alternatives to bovine leather, with the recent developments in plant and fruit leathers – yet there are still many questions: Will these products endure environmental changes? What is there lifespan? What are the waste and chemical pollution associated with its production? As we evolve, we hope to continue to learn and grow with the industry and provide the best to our customers.
As a sustainable company, Jolie Laide is always dedicated to creating something unique and durable – accessories that go along with you not only in one but in several trips. We are committed to getting what is best in design, quality, and comfort to explore the world.
We hope these ideas have been useful. If you agree, disagree, need to know more info or have reading references to share, leave your comment below. We at Jolie Laide are very interested in conversations on sustainability and design because sharing knowledge not only leads to better decisions for our consumers but also ourselves.
Written by Fernanda Bezerra
Marketing + Creative Content Assistant