A lot of people think that nothing measures up to real leather in terms of quality and aesthetics, and there can be a lot of pressure for designers to use real leather if they want to make their products seem more aspirational. During my fashion design studies, there was a lot of pressure to opt for real leather to make the garments ‘better quality’ and ‘more professional’. I never actually used real leather in any garment I made even though I wasn’t vegan at the time, but when I made pieces with faux leather I was made to feel like I had cut corners and only chose it as it was the cheaper option.
If there are any of you reading this and going through the same thing if you are studying fashion or even working in the textiles/fashion industry – I urge you to speak up! It’s only by saying no to the status quo that we will see any change. It’s down to all of us to speak out against the archaic traditions of the fashion industry and come up with new, creative ways to avoid cruelty to animals.
For anyone looking for alternatives to leather, there are SO many options out there now, it’s all down to what you prefer! I’ve done a bit of research (a.k.a glorified Googling) and found some cool ideas people have come up with, these are some of the innovative ones I’ve seen…
Ocean leather, or kelp leather, is made from seaweed (mainly kelp), which grows naturally and in abundance – plus no pesticides! The dying process uses eco friendly dyes that don’t contain heavy metals. This product is however at the early stages of development and very rarely used. The only downside from what I can see is that it does not have the hard wearing properties and strength of leather, but I guess this only matters if you’re making something that needs to be particularly hard-wearing like backpacks or shoes.
Researchers at XXLab, a female collective that focuses on art, science and free technology in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, are using waste from the ‘tofu’ industry to make a sustainable leather alternative. I could describe the science behind it (and pretend like I know what I’m talking about) but there’s an amazing AJ+ video that explains it way better than I ever could; www.youtube.co.uk/soyamaterial
Although it’s not yet available to the public, designer Ratna Djuwita hopes that soybean leather or "soya culture" will become a "new trend of material" in the future.
Leaf leather is one of my favourite techniques, using the leaves from sustainably sourced trees, the most common being the pineapple plant. Piñatex™ is a textile made from the fibres in pineapple leaves that closely resembles leather. Another company harnessing the power ofthe leaf is Thamon London who uses sustainably sourced leaves of the Sal tree which grows in India. Fun fact; 15% of revenues of Thamon go directly to the leaf harvesters in poor rural areas of South Asia.
There are several brands that are already using vegan leather, like Matt and Nag who make gorgeous bags and accessories. Nasty Gal only stocks products that use vegan leather and there are also companies like H+M and Forever21 who widely uses imitation leather (but does also stock some real leather products).