Is It Leather

The Sustainability of Leather vs Vegan Alternatives – Choose Responsibly

Table of contents

Background Info

Sustainability is an often-discussed topic as people around the world are prioritizing and promoting living sustainable and environmentally responsible lifestyles. The word sustainability is more than just a clichéd buzzword as its impact may have lasting effects on the world, we live in. The sustainability movement has grown considerably, and consumers are now more conscience than ever about what products they buy in an effort to reduce their personal carbon footprint. This article will examine the sustainability of common purchasing decisions as it relates to Real Leather vs Vegan Alternative (Fake Leather) products.

If you have ever bought a new car, shoes, handbag, purse, wallet, or furniture, then you have likely faced the decision of whether to buy a product made from Genuine Leather or Fake alternative “Vegan Leather.” This decision is one that consumers face relatively often, but many are not informed or aware about what truly goes into making these products. Many are surprised when they learn the truth regarding sustainability of Leather and Vegan (Faux Leather) products.

Real Leather

To start, we will examine the sustainability of practices regarding Genuine Leather. It is common for consumers to be concerned about the ethics of buying products containing real leather as leather is made from the hides or skin of an animal. This idea alone scares many consumers away from purchasing leather products, as they are under the impression that animals are killed for their hides. This is a common misconception, however, as it is typically untrue.

The reality is that the majority of hides used to make Leather comes from animals that are raised for their meat and dairy. In fact, reports that 99% of the worlds leather comes from animals raised for food. This means that leather is a secondary product that promotes the highly sustainable process of maximizing animal utilization. As long as humans consume meat and dairy products, there will be leftover hides and skins. Without leather products, animal skins would be wasted in landfills which is a highly unsustainable practice. A strong argument can be made that we actually have a social responsibility to recycle these hides into leather as this process is typically far more environmentally responsible than alternative options. The main concern regarding the sustainability of leather is the tanning process. While it is true that the leather tanning process can be a cause for concern, there are more natural tanning options available as well. We support and encourage the leather industry to continue to prioritize sustainability in production, as leather in its natural state is recyclable, biodegradable, and sustainable.

“Vegan Leather”

On the contrary to real leather, there are all sorts of plastic-based alternatives in the automotive, furniture, shoe, and fashion industries. These fake leather products are typically referred to as Vegan Leather, Faux Leather, Pleather, Vinyl, Leatherette, among others. Regardless of what fancy marketing term is slapped on these products, the truth remains that they are often composed of plastics such as Polyvinyl Chloride and Polyurethane, which have been linked to numerous environmental concerns and health issues. According to, these chemicals may pose significant threats to the environment. Furthermore, reports that Polyvinyl chloride has also been linked to notable health risks in humans such as cancer. It is surprising to see environmentally conscience consumers supporting these plastic based “Vegan Leather” products as their environmental impact appears to be much worse than simply buying real leather.


When considering the real leather vs “vegan leather” debate, it is important to look beyond the marketing terms ( and perceptions that often are associated with the products. Names such as “Vegan Leather” often give consumers an impression that the product is more sustainable than it actually is. This greenwashing of fake leather may lead many consumers to unknowingly make an uninformed or misguided purchase. Real leather appears to be far more sustainable than many plastic-based alternative products. With this being said, it is ultimately up to consumers to do their research and choose responsibly the next time they must decide between real leather or plastic based alternatives.


Ehrath, R. (2022, March 13). Is faux leather toxic? |

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Noyes, L. (2021, October 21). A Guide to Greenwashing and How to Spot It. EcoWatch.

Stop the confusion: Only leather is leather. (n.d.). One 4 Leather.

Vinyl chloride – cancer-causing substances. (2022, February 17). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from 

Meryl Siegman

Meryl Siegman

Meryl Siegman is a professional content writer with a rich background in the leather industry. As the owner of Cortina Leathers for over 30 years, she gained her knowledge of leather making in Arzignano, Italy, where she lived for three years as a leather purchaser. During her tenure at Cortina Leathers, she taught sales reps and clients about leather technology as a certified Continuing Education Unit (CEU) instructor and served as a guest lecturer at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Currently, she consults and writes content for a number of clients in various sectors of the leather industry, including furniture and accessories.

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