I know that faux leather has gotten somewhat of a bad rep over the years (doesn’t “pleather” have such a negative connotation to it?! I’ll be referring to it as “faux leather” or “vegan leather” from here on out… way more chic-sounding). People seem to think of it as leather’s less cool, less fashionable twin – SOOO NOT TRUE! It is all that us vegans have in order to achieve edgy leather-like looks, and to be honest… I love it! It is less expensive, durable, waterproof, easy to clean, less toxic, and less of a negative impact on the environment (if you choose the right materials).
So let’s talk materials…Faux leather can be made of two different types of materials: Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polyurethane (PU). I always make sure that my faux leather is made of PU. PVC has a verrrrry slow (I’m talking hundreds-of-years kinda slow) rate of biodegradation, therefore having a negative impact on the environment. Also, PVC is a plastic, and like any other plastic, it contains toxic chemicals and carcinogens that can transfer to your skin through contact.
So at this point you’re probably thinking, “What makes polyurethane any better? Isn’t that the stuff they use to seal wood floors and insulate houses?” And yes, you would be right. But the truth is that the same toxicity concerns with PVC are not present with PU. PU is only toxic during application, but once dried and sealed, those chemicals do not transfer, like with PVC.
So what about the factory workers that produce PU goods? Although PU is not toxic to the end user, aren’t the factory workers still affected? And yes, if not given the correct protection, the production of PU fabrics definitely could be toxic to factory workers. This is why it is important to do research on the brands you purchase from to ensure that they source from ethically responsible factories. Luckily, most companies that are concerned with being green, vegan, ethically responsible, and environmentally friendly, will also make it a priority to use factories that have the same morals, but still always do your research if that is a concern for you. I include some of my fav ethically responsible companies below.
So all in all, a fair conclusion would be that PU is your best option when comparing genuine leather vs. PVC. vs. PU. I personally would prefer a completely non-toxic material as a leather-alternative, but at this point in time it doesn’t seem to exist. Hopefully, by supporting the faux movement and therefore increasing demand for faux products, this will allow there to be more research put into faux materials to come up with something completely non-toxic (all while decreasing demand for leather!).
If throughout this article you have been wondering what the issue is with genuine leather production (other than the obvious cruelty concerns), here are some great sources that explain how toxic leather tanneries are to the environment:
My Go-To Brands/Retailers for Fashionable Vegan Leather:
*Matt & Nat – 100% Vegan Handbags – They use PU over PVC whenever possible. The linings of all bags are made of 100% recycled plastic bottles.
*Cri de Coeur – 100% Vegan Shoes & Bags – They use low-VOC eco-PU and recycled plastics.
*Coral 8 – 100% Vegan Shoes – They only use PU.
*VeganChic.com – 100% Vegan shoe & handbag retailer. Amazing customer service, if you email them for info on materials for a specific style they will let you know if it is PVC or PU. If it is PU, it is recycled.
Free People – (Search: Vegan) I’m waiting to hear back from FP as to what materials make up their “vegan leather” – I will update this post once I hear back! They have a great vegan leather selection of jackets, clothes, shoes, and handbags.
TopShop – (Search: Polyurethane) I’ve scored great handbags & shoes at very reasonable prices.
Forever21 – Check material description/tag, but I’ve only seen them use polyurethane as a vegan leather material. I got such cute shoes this season!!!
Blank NYC – (Go to: “Vegan Leather” section) Check material description/tag, they specify what materials make up the vegan leather.
* = Ethically Responsible Sourcing
Structured Vegan Leather Jacket: Blank NYC Available Here
*Perfect fit and I love the padded shoulder detail. The inside is super soft, warm, and comfortable. 60% PU and 40% Rayon
Boyfriend Jeans: Zara Similar Here
Vegan Mock Neck Sweater: Urban Outfitters Available Here
Vegan Leather Lace-Up Wedge Booties: Forever21 Available Here
*Sooooo comfortable. I walk miles in these and they never bother me. They have a faux fur lining up near the ankle that keeps the cold out which is a big thumbs up for me. 100% Polyurethane
Sunglasses: Urban Outfitters Available Here
For more great faux leather info sources check out the links below: