Why most vegan leather is not sustainable


One of my pet peeves is when vegan shoe and accessories labels use the word sustainable in their marketing, claiming to be sustainable when the vegan leather they use is PVC. 

I was born and raised vegetarian, and I am sympathetic to vegan ideals. And the industrialised meat industry is highly unsustainable. To be fair, there are some sustainable vegan shoe options- shoes that use organic cotton canvas, natural rubber, recycled materials, and cork leather. However, vegan leather in the form of PVC can never be called sustainable. So beware the greenwashing when it comes to vegan fashion.

Here is a fabulous article by Kamea Chang, a fellow member of the Ethical Writers Coalition, which outlines the environmental impact of PVC. This post originally appeared on her blog Kamea World, where she writes about health and wellness, sustainability and design. 

Greenwashing Alert: Beware Vegan Leather

It’s truly amazing to see more and more existing brands take sustainability more seriously and new eco-brands popping up. Consumers are demanding more responsible practices, and the industry seems to be responding with greener products. Unfortunately, this comes with a price.

As people are becoming more conscious of what they buy, looking for labels or descriptions that denote sustainability in one way or another, some companies are also taking advantage of this by “greenwashing” their products. What this means is that they use deception to make you think that their products are eco-friendly when they are really not.

One of the prime examples of greenwashing is the so-called “Vegan Leather.” While some vegan leathers are made of natural materials such as cork, the majority of vegan leather out in the market today are made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). And, although PVC is certainly vegan in the sense that it is not made from animal fibers, vegans and conscious consumers alike need to know that

PVC is one of the most toxic fabric choices out there.

Unlike natural fibers, PVC is a type of plastic and will not biodegrade in nature. Therefore, it will end up sitting for centuries within landfills while leaching toxins out into the environment. In addition, the manufacturing of PVC also creates a type of toxic byproduct called dioxins, the most carcinogenic synthetic chemical ever to be tested in labs. These chemicals have been found within whales deep in the ocean, polar bears up in the far north, and even in humans and newborn babies. It is a global pollutant that not only harms the health of wild animals, but also that of our own.

While “vegan leather” may sound like a more environmentally friendly alternative to leather, I challenge you to look past this label and check to see if it the material is actually just Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). The staggering amount of evidence for health risks associated with PVC should be enough to make anyone, vegan or not, to think twice before buying into this evil deception masked by greenwashing.

You can read the original post, and find out about Kamea’s upcoming book Thrive on Kamea World.