9 Best Vegan Leather Purses For 2021 (And Material Pros & Cons)

Vegan leather is not made from animals—a win for vegans and those concerned about animal cruelty in the fashion industry. It also avoids some of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising livestock.

And while conventional leather often needs to be treated with dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde, vegan leather doesn’t require the preservative.

Instead, vegan leather mimics some of the positive qualities of leather—durability, breathability, flexibility, wrinkle-resistance—using materials other than animal skin. So, what are those? What does the ‘P’ in the infamous pleather stand for?

More often than not, vegan leather is made from Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or Polyurethane (PU). “In other words,” Preeti Gopinath, a textile designer and associate professor at Parsons’ School of Fashion tells mbg, “it’s plastic.”

And as we all now know, plastics derived from fossil fuels come with a number of environmental concerns. They are energy-intensive to produce, difficult to responsibly dispose of, and tend to linger in the environment for a long, long time. From this standpoint, vegan leather is not the most sustainable material.

Part of what makes it so difficult to create a truly sustainable vegan leather—one that is petroleum-free and biodegradable—is that it takes chemicals to achieve many of the impressive qualities of leather. As Gopinath points out, biodegradable fabrics are meant to degrade in sun, wind, and water, yet we want our leather alternatives to stand up to all of these elements when we use them.

“We are asking the material to do too many things,” she says. “We are asking it to be biodegradable and resist water and sun. If it has to resist all of that, obviously it won’t be biodegradable.”

At the end of the day, sustainable stylist Cassandra Dittmer agrees that comparing vegan leather to animal leather is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. They’re different, and one isn’t inherently better than the other from an environmental perspective.

Which one you choose will require you to weigh the pros and cons, and then decide which qualities you value most.

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