Traditionally, the most highly sought after clothing and footwear has always been made from fabrics such as leather, silk, and suede. One thing that all of these materials have in common is their reliance on animal cruelty. Designers who are passionate about the fair treatment of animals are constantly searching for high-quality materials that mimic those made from animal byproducts. Among the most popular is of course, vegan leather.
A well-made piece of vegan leather material can look and feel almost identical to the real thing, offering the same design appeal and longevity. When you see a fabric like this, it is impossible not to wonder how on earth it was made. Vegan leather can be made using a variety of different methods and ingredients. Over the years, producers have experimented with everything from plastics to food products.
At Grounded People, our priority is to create a collection of footwear that is not only 100% vegan, but also made from ethically-sourced, environmentally-friendly materials. Here we are doing a deep dive into the fascinating world of vegan leather and the various production methods used to create it.
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to produce a believable vegan leather hide is by using a polymer called polyurethane. A mixture of plastic chemicals are strategically layered to create a thick yet flexible fabric with the same texture and sheen as real leather. Unsurprisingly, the mass production of polyurethane-based faux leather releases harmful chemicals into the environment, rendering it fairly unsustainable. However, there are changes that can be made to the manufacturing process in order to limit these emissions. This is done by maintaining a strictly controlled chemical process in which the ingredients are well contained within the final product.
Perhaps the most environmentally damaging ingredient used to create vegan leather is polyvinyl chloride. Like polyurethane, this is a plastic mixture that is engineered to be highly flexible and versatile. Additionally, this is an incredibly affordable option for faux leather producers, which explains its popularity. Almost half of polyvinyl chloride-based vegan leather comes from carbons derived from fossil fuels. This harmful plastic has been responsible for much of the pollution currently taking over our oceans, as it takes hundreds of years to naturally decompose. Thankfully, many fashion brands are starting to move away from these materials due to their adverse environmental effects and cheap feel.
With many vegan leather producers missing the mark on sustainability, we are starting to see the emergence of various eco-friendly fabric production companies. One of the newer and more innovative ways to create a vegan, leather-like material is with a compound found in mushrooms. Mycelium is the name of the cells that are extracted from these plants, and used to create this faux leather. The result is an extremely durable material that is 100% biodegradable. This exciting development in the sustainable fashion industry is gaining a lot of traction due to its ability to rapidly grow and perhaps even offer health benefits when worn in the form of clothing, footwear, and accessories.
Not too long ago, kombucha became all the rage as a natural, healthy alternative to soda and other sugary beverages. Fast forward a few years, and kombucha enthusiasts have found a way to turn this drink into a sustainable, vegan alternative to leather. Scoby is one of the main ingredients used in the kombucha-making process. As it turns out, this visible, string-like bacteria is not only useful for slowly fermenting tea, but it can also be dried and formulated into a durable material fit for the fashion industry. This is another great, sustainable option that is entirely biodegradable and vegan. It should be noted however, that scoby is only considered vegan if it is not used in combination with beeswax, which has become an increasingly common practice.
Do you remember opening your lunchbox to find those fruit leather snacks when you were a kid? Well it didn’t take long for the fashion industry to start taking notes. Today, you can find plenty of leather alternatives made from fruit waste such as apples, mangos, or the leaves of pineapples. Not only does this vegan option help reduce the number of plastics used to create clothing, footwear, and accessories, but it also helps address the global food waste problem. By using some of the food scraps that would otherwise be thrown away such as apple peels, vegan leather production can change our world for the better. While these fruits are often blended with a small quantity of polyurethane to bond them into a durable material, this is still a more sustainable alternative to 100% plastic-based options.
At Grounded People, we are committed to offering our customers beautiful, cruelty-free footwear made in the most sustainable ways possible. Shop our selection today.