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Unconventional Guide to Vegan Leather, Next $10 Billion Idea!

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Before we move onto what Vegan Leather is and how it’s come to change the world, let’s learn a little about Leather – How it is made, where it comes from, what is the impact on environment and health.

Throughout history leather has been worn, valued and revered by humanity. In its most basic form, leather is the skin of animals that have been processed and tanned. To produce leather, the animal’s skin is scraped off, rinsed and dried. Then it is processed to remove hair, connective tissue and most of the blood. The hide is then soaked in a tanning solution, which consists of a preservative, salt, and lye, which is a chemical derived from wood ashes. This process not only restores the leather’s color, it also softens the skin. The hide is then stretched and pressed to remove water. Finally, it is dried in an oven.

Leather is not only used for shoes and purses. It is used to make gloves, belts, car seats, wallets, purses, jackets, handbags, luggage, furniture and clothing.

Now, let’s look at this as it is in steps –

  1. We rip the skin off of someone.
  2. Clean it, remove all tissues, blood etc & treat it chemically. These chemicals are reason for lot of pollution & also genetic skin diseases as will be shared shortly.
  3. After treating, it’s made into shoes, bags etc. All of this could have been made with far less cost and without comparable pollution and cruelty, without harming animals for their skin.

Does this look like a natural product to you? Cavemen who had no machines or idea about what to wear, probably wore animal skins for protection in different seasons, but obviously doesn’t justify doing the same now!

When you think of leather, what comes to your mind? Think about the last time someone mentioned they were wearing a leather jacket, what was their expression and what were they trying to potray? Leather is a sign of luxury. People are proud to say a certain product they are wearing is made with “genuine” leather. Marketing of such a horrible practice has been done so good, that wearing someone else’s rightful skin is considered a Social Status!

Is Leather Harmful to Environment?

Leather is among the MOST POLLUTING INDUSTRIES.  The leather industry is devastating to the environment, causing massive deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. It is extremely energy and water intensive to produce, with many harmful chemicals used in the tanning process.

Deforestation

Amount of Land use per Leather Boot/Jacket is much much higher compared to plant alternatives. For example, 16.8 Leather Boot Pairs are made per Hectare of Cleared Land! Imagine the amount of just land use for this purpose. Not to forget the number of animals killed in the process to get the final finished hide/skin. Source: Circumfauna.org

Leather is not just a by-product as many might say, it’s an entire industry. Thereby adding more pressure on the Animal Agriculture industry. This leads to large amount of Deforestation! To get into the math would be boring, so I am leaving that part for now.

Water Pollution & Devastating Health Impact

Soaking & Washing of Leather requires a lot of water. For example, 17100 Litres of water is used per Cattle till the time it’s considered right for slaughering. 1 Cattle might give maximum upto 6 kgs of basic leather. Now multiplying the amount of water per kg of leather comes to around 1 Lakh Litres of water. Source: UNESCO-Institute for Water Education.

Some might say making cotton clothes also requires a lot of water. But comparing the 2 products, and keeping aside the immoral act of killing a being to wear it’s skin, the amount of pollution and harmful chemicals released into the sea and oceans by Leather treatment is in higher multiples.

80-90% of Leather is tanned with cancer causing ingredients like chromium with formaldehyde and arsenic. The leather industry creates large amounts of solid waste and waste water effluent containing harzardous and toxic chemicals. Source: Sciendirect.

Price of Leather Documentary in Kanpur India.

Another News channel has covered the horrible state of Leather industry and its health and environmental impact. It says every day, 500 Million Litres of Contaminated Water Enters RIVER GANGA! Check it out for yourself.

Dangers of Leather Industry & pollution of our rivers!

This is a cruelty not just to future generations of humans but also to animals living in those areas, apart from the ones who have been slaughtered for a horrible/Useless cause. For decades and decades this industry has been allowed to flourish and so much amount of pollution is neglected and only possible explanation could be Bribery and Direct breach of environmental laws. There is no logical way in which such acts would be permitted legally.

There are companies working towards making water free tanning processes which would reduce water pollution but deforestation & animal cruelty still lies as the main issues. We have to realize that being called luxury, making it a social status comes at a heavy cost!

Condition of Tannery & Slaughter House Workers is another cost that is paid for leather product. Exposure to carcogenic chemicals increases the likelihood of pancreatic cancer by 50%. Skin diseases, mental trauma working in such dangerous conditions, forced labour, PTSD in slaughter house workers and destruction of their lives are other outputs of this industry. The more we demand such products, more such people suffer.

This awareness is on the rise and hopefully people can give up this material and swtich to natural & sustainable products. This is where VEGAN LEATHER comes into picture!

What is Vegan Leather?

Vegan Leather

Vegan leather is finding its way into wallets, bags, book covers, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Its collection of benefits include environmental friendliness, fossil fuel reduction, and, of course, vegan friendliness. In addition, vegan leather is cruelty-free.

Vegan Leather has been around for a while in the form of Faux Leather or PU Leather as we call it up until now. It’s a cheap alternative and has similar looks and texture. Faux leather is synthetic product and it does seem to use plastic/micro-plastic in its manufacturing. This product can be recycled and although it seems less durable compared to leather, it is far more eco-friendly than real leather. Adhesive used in PU Leather could at times be animal based, so looking for a cruelty free or vegan mark on the shoes would be ideal.

Some of the products on Amazon are listed below for Faux Leather material –

Types of Vegan Leather

Vegan leather has been a buzz word for the last few years, with animal advocates and vegetarians alike claiming it is an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to leather. But what does it actually mean?

Vegan leather may sound like a contradiction, but it’s actually a material that is derived from plants. The process involves using materials such as polyurethane, rayon, and cellulose to give leather-like properties. Faux Leather is what we get normally at cheap rates in the market everywhere. But we are interested in more innovative ways to replace animal leather.

We are going to discuss 6 types of vegan leather in this article. There will be plenty more in different corners of our world, but this gives a good idea of the upcoming practice!

Mushroom Leather

Mushrooms have been part of our diets for as long as existence of humanity. They have have been used as food supplements and for their medicinal properties. In present day, it’s the chef’s best friend as it brings that umami flavour to the savoury dishes. It is also used to mimic meaty texture in food.

Mushroom, generally considered vegetable, is neither a plant nor an animal. They are a type of fungus that contains a substance called ergosterol which can be transformed to Vitamin D by UV. We had mentioned Mushroom under the list of Vitamin D and B12 sources in the linked article. Mushrooms can vary in shapes and sizes. There are roughly 10,000+ types of Mushrooms.

In this particular decade, there has been rise of a few other uses of mushrooms. Namely, Mushroom Leather, Mushroom Furniture & Building Blocks, Clothing. We are going to focus on Vegan Leather in this article.

Production of Vegan Mushroom Leather

Is Mushroom Leather Better than Animal Leather?

Mushroom Leather as the name suggests is made from mushrooms. Growing the mushrooms, requires particular humidity and temperature control. Apart from that, what qualities and strength comes as output depends on what we feed the spores. Checkout the video above for details on how it’s prepared.

  • Water consumption of Mushroom leather is less than 1/10th compared to that of Animal Leather
  • As the video suggests, there is hardly any use of chemicals in the process. Thereby saving our oceans from tonnes of harmful contaminants otherwise generated by leather industry.
  • Carbon emissions are much less comparatively, so our air is cleaner with less green house gases emitted.
  • Space required to grow mushrooms is far less and they can be grown vertically which saves even more. This prevent unnecessary deforestation caused by animal agriculture.
  • Mushroom Leather is flexible and lasts much longer than PU Leather, and hence can be compared to animal leather in terms of longevity.

With Plastic Ban in the Country, we need more efficient, biodegradable material which behave like plastics.

This video discusses the future of plastics which are made from Fungus. 3D printing of such furniture items would be so much more eco-friendly even more than cutting down trees for making wooden furniture. It’s light, strong, fire-resistant and I am guessing leak proof as well. So these could be the future of packaging, and hopefully will replace plastic.

Future of Plastic: Fungus

Cactus Leather

Let’s start here with this real good video that tells you about the journey of 2 young individuals who came together to use their skills and experience to make something noone could have imagined.

Cactus Vegan Leather

Why Cactus though?

Ideally, Cactus seems to be the perfect plant because –

  1. Doesn’t need much water to survive.
  2. Grows in Harsh weather conditions without much care of irrigation.
  3. Durable and Long Lasting.
  4. Because of above points and the fact that they dont need too much chemicals, they are a low cost plantation.
  5. Only mature leaves are cut, not the whole plant. So the leaves grow back and this way, same space can be used for quick harvesting without that much effort to grow them from start.

If similar properties can be gerated using a material that helps the environment, isn’t taking someone’s life and isn’t destroying the rivers, then why not?

Pineapple Leather

Let’s introduce you to the person who in most certainity invented Pineapple Leather. The idea was taken from a village where women engaged in working with pineapple leaves.

Pineapple Vegan Leather

In India, sadly all the pineapple leaves are burnt, hence there is a huge potential to get these leaves are very low cost and produce pineapple leather. Obviously, process to make it will vary and need machines, but on a small scale, following video shows you the method.

Machines and method to make this leather.
Manual Efforts to extract pineapple leaves fibre.

Same as cactus leather, pineapple leather is also flexible enough to be used in fashion industry for clothes, shoes, belts etc. Known brands like Puma have are also inclined to try these products as they are light and breathable, not to mention far more sustainable.

Fashion Industry using pineapple leather

Mango Leather

Fruit Leather is a new area, not done on large scale yet. Due to this, pricing becomes an issue but soon this wont be an issue as more and more fruits like apples and many more are seen as a source to make vegan leather. Another issue here is durability. It currently doesn’t last as much as animal leather or above mentioned vegan leather. Check out the brothers discussing their journey to understand the process they use to make it.

Mango Vegan Leather

Cork Leather

Let’s move onto our last vegan leather and move to other topics.

Cork Leather comes from the same material used to make wine bottle stoppers. These are sourced from Portugal majorly, because it is protected under their rights.

Cork Fabric

Cork Fabric is a long lasting vegan leather product, it’s water resistant. They are made by harvesting the bark of the tree. After one time harvesting, they are not touched again for a while till it all grows back. Life of these trees vary from 80-120 years.

Check the next 2 videos to see how to work with Cork fabric if it interests you 🙂

Cork Fabric Introduction
Cork Fabric Sewing Tutorial

Cork Fabric may make a decent vegan leather alternative, which will last long, but it isn’t very elastic like the other fibers discussed above. Therefore best application of cork leather can be majorly for shoes or belts or wallet/purse. Since this process doesn’t destroy the plant/trees, they are sustainable and a green option for vegan leather generation.

Conclusion

Frankly speaking, when we have options coming into market where there is absence of any cruelty done to animals, people and environment, then there’s no better option to save ourselves and our environment along with it.

We have discussed just 6 sources to make vegan leahter, but there are several more in the making and this article just goes to show you the possibility of a $10 billion idea! All you need is the idea, investors will follow along as this is a very promising industry.

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