Fur has long been persona non grata with many designers and consumers. In 2018, the material is just one of many animal products being questioned by a shopping public with an ever-greater awareness around the realities of fashion manufacturing.
Shoppers are turning their backs on products including down, mohair and leather because they’re concerned about the impact they have on the environment, and the animal cruelty inherent to their production.
And designers are responding, offering exciting alternatives to standard leathers and skins. It’s important to note, though, that vegan leather can come with its own issues – particularly environmental ones. Polyurethane (PU) is often used as a leather substitute and “the solvents that are used in producing polyurethane-based synthetic leather… are highly toxic,” the Sydney Morning Herald reports. PU takes a long time to degrade, it can’t be recycled, and it’s made from fossil fuels. But it’s considered a less environmentally toxic leather alternative than PVC, for example.
So if you’re looking to make the switch to vegan leather, do your research and inform yourself about what you’re buying – some labels are doing it better than others.
Here are four of them.
Previously a leather-only label, Australia’s Hobes recently introduced a range of vegan footwear. The $179 shoes resemble floppy brogues and are almost weightless, making them ideal travel companions. They can also be thrown in the wash, which isn’t possible with the animal-made alternative. Founder Georgia Hobart and her team make each pair by hand, drawing on Italian techniques. “The new material we’re using is a micofibre comprised mainly of cotton, with a little polyester to provide the finished product with flexibility and to allow the shoe upper to keep its shape,” she explains. The Italian manufacturer it relies on, Oeko-Tex, is Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals by European Chemicals Agency)-certified to ensure the manufacturing process is sustainable. All the raw materials used to make a pair of Hobes shoes are solvent free, making them safer to work with.
The former managing and creative director of Australian accessories label Mimco, Cathryn Wills, is behind Australian vegan-leather accessories label Sans Beast. After working with leather for a decade, Wills became aware of the harm done to animals in the process of creating leather bags. Sans Best uses Eco PUs, also known as non-isocyanate polyurethane (NIPUs), to make all of its bags and accessories. Acrylic plastic is also used, as is cellulosic acetate, a mix of wood pulp and chemical compounds that give a lacquer-like shine. “We are not suggesting perfection – our pieces are not going to disappear from the earth any time soon. Our combat plan is to design pieces with spirit and integrity for people who will love them,” Sans Beast says on its website. “Adored pieces don’t go to landfill, they’re treasured, collected, shared and upcycled.”
Avenue The Label
Australian accessories label Avenue makes minimalist faux-leather berets, scrunchies and head bands using 100 per cent polyester. It also offers a bunch of stylish solutions for managing unruly beach hair this summer.
Matt and Natt
This Montreal label, founded in 2007, experiments with recycled materials including nylons, cardboard, rubber and cork, making it a leader in the sustainable accessories space. The lining of each bucket bag, belt bag, shoe, backpack, satchel, clutch and briefcase is made from 100-per-cent recycled-plastic bottles, and bike tires. Around 21 plastic bottles are recycled for every bag that’s manufactured, including the label’s sleek dog carrier. “It’s important for us not to use leather. Simply put, we don’t like hurting animals and we care about the welfare of the planet,” the company says. Matt and Nat uses various vegan leathers including PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinylchloride). “PU is less harmful for the environment than PVC and its use is definitely preferred, whenever possible.”