The rise in the demand for vegan products since 2018 in the US and UK has only grown significantly over time. There was a recorded 64 percent YoY growth in vegan products stocked in the US by the end of January 2020, while the UK was having a considerable growth as well at 43 percent. Germany, on the other hand, plays as an outstanding major market for cruelty-free fashion by its growing industry record of 95 percent since 2018.
No doubt that these numbers prove that retail industries are starting to make waves in promoting a healthier alternative for its materials. It has been an ancient tradition to utilize animal hide for clothing and tents, and it continues to be the practice in modern times due to hides’ impeccable durability that surpasses most materials. Animal hide remains the main material for some luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton and Hermes, and a lot of retail brands due to its versatility and durability. Animal leather is made into stylish clothing, purses, luggage, wallets, accessories, and upholstery. The premium goods are often added with a personal touch by etching names or initials through a leather laser engraver.
However, the excessive rearing of livestock for the massive business of the retail industry has caused dire consequences to the ecosystem. Sustainability issues such as gas emissions, deforestation, water, and land overuse ensue as the demand for livestock grew over time.
The worsening of these issues eventually led to ingrained conscientiousness among consumers. Vegan culture started to rise as more people gain awareness of the reality of human consumption.
The first known history of veganism dates back to 1944. It started as a movement by The Vegan Society. Its definition has evolved in the slightest over the years, but The Vegan Society officially describes it as:
“A philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Simply put, veganism is the practice of abstinence from anything that promotes and practices exploitation and cruelty of animals.
The Search for the Better Leather
The world of fashion has been rigorously doing intensive research to make breakthrough innovations to eliminate the need for genuine leather.
1. PVC & PU
The first alternative to gain prominence in the industry was PVC or polyvinyl chloride. Matt & Natt is a vegan brand known to utilize the material in their products. Although it is considered ‘vegan,’ the use of PVC in vinyl purses and shoes exposes the wearer to toxic fumes, dioxins, and BPA. A better synthetic alternative for fast fashion brands is the use of polyurethane (PU) because it does not contain harmful toxic elements and is enjoyed for its suppleness quality. Aside from fast fashion brands, fashion house Stella McCartney is known to incorporate the material into its products.
Ananas Anam, a London-based company, has made a more sustainable stride in the hopes of the best leather alternative. Extracted fibers from pineapple leaves from the Philippines are turned to Piñatex, a plant-based leather option that can even be seen on Hugo Boss’ product line.
3. Banana Leaves
Aside from pineapple leaves, banana leaves are used in Micronesia to make durable, water-resistant tropical designed wallets. Green Banana Paper had already recycled over 170,000 pounds of leaves that would otherwise turn to waste after harvest season.
Mushrooms do not only make a delicious healthy food choice for vegans but are also used to make leather. Mushroom mycelium is an eco-friendly leather option that has comparable qualities to the real thing. It is durable, water-resistant, and biodegradable.
5. Living Cells
Modern Meadow is taking a more scientific approach to mimic the authentic in an animal cruelty-free way. The company grows living cells in a lab to create bio-fabricated materials exactly like leather.
6. Vineyard Wastes
Milan is not only considered as one of the fashion capitals of the world, but it is also well-known for its vineyards. Instead of throwing out wastes from winemaking, the company Vegea uses the skins, stalks, and seeds from the used grapes to create leather-like fibers. With this recent innovation, almost 14 billion pounds of discarded grapes globally every year are used as a leather alternative that can be widely used in the world of design and fashion.
With a lot of vegan-friendly leather options emerging in the market, the trend is only forecast to flourish in the future due to its positive effects on the environment. Not only is it a good business idea, but venturing into the vegan business also promotes compassion among animals, as well as our planet.