Sourcing ethical & eco-friendly alternatives to leather

Any cool leather pieces sitting in your wardrobe?

My guess is yes. Most people I know, including myself, own a leather jacket, skirt or even trousers. From a fashion point of view, it is an amazing material, adding instant edge, personality and style to an outfit.

There are, however, both ethical and environmentally issues surrounding leather.
The main ethical concern is of course killing animals to use their skins for clothing, bags and shoes. Leather was once a luxury product and something that lasted a lifetime – or at least many years. Today, leather has entered the fast-fashion market and our consumption of the material has become overwhelmingly irresponsible. We all know how important it is to have this season’s it-bag if we want to maintain our membership of the fashion tribe. According to an article in the Guardian, we will have to slaughter 430 million cows (!) annually by 2025 to sustain our current consumption rate of leather bags, shoes and clothing.

And this mind-blowing fact is closely linked to an environmental concern about the high emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, from livestock contributing to climate change. A recent article in the Guardian mentions that methane is on a sharp rise linked to our increasing consumption of red meat and mass-production of dairy and leather products. Eeek!
Another environmental concern is the chemicals used in the tanning and dye process of the leather. These chemicals are heavy stuff, affecting the health of the people working with them, the water quality in the surrounding areas and potentially also negatively affecting our health. If you want to learn more about the impact of the leather tanning industry, this video is an excellent source.
There are of course many vegan leather alternatives on the market and while they are certainly all better for the animals, the manufacturing process of many of the substitute materials are as toxic as the leather tanning.

It is all rather unpleasant and one could easily be tempted to close one’s eyes to it all and pretend it never happened. There is however no need to despair and enter denial mode. Changing our consumer habits to only buy leather products we believe will last at least a decade, to buy less leather overall and embracing new innovative materials, will get us far in the right direction.

At VILDNIS, we have made it a high priority to source an ethical AND eco-friendly alternative to leather. A material that is produced with people, animals and the planet in mind. And equally important; a material that looks like leather, feels like leather and ads the same rock’n’roll sass to an outfit as leather.

Our sourcing journey has taken us via many new interesting developments, such as Muskin made from a subtropical fungus and Pinatex made from Pineapple. Not to mention Barktex made from an East-African fig tree and Paper no 9 made in a similar way to wall paper.
Some of the materials are still on an experimental stage, some are incredibly expensive, some only come in very small pieces and a couple are still to become widely available. We love the idea of these fabrics, and it is an area we will continue to watch closely with a view to trial them in the future.

Meanwhile, we turned our attention to environmentally friendlier versions of PU (Polyurethane) fabrics. PU is based on oil and created using a host of chemicals, and as such is not ideal in its traditional form. There are however quite a few companies who have made it their mission to develop more eco-friendly versions of the material.

One such company is Ultrafabrics, who specialises in leather-look polyurethane fabrics that are ethical and easier on the environment. In their own words, Ultrafabrics defines what sets them apart as; “Made for humans, by humans. We are ethical, sustainable and future-focused – with planet and people in mind”. This statement resonated well with us, as did the fact that more than 99% of the chemicals used to produce Ultrafabrics PU are recaptured and reused, and the fabric GREENGUARD certified.
What sold us completely on the fabric was, however, the incredible close to leather look of the fabric, the buttery soft handfeel and the wide range of stunning colours. In fact, when we received the initial swatches of the fabric at VILDNIS HQ, my initial reaction was to smell it since it looked so much like real leather. Only the soft brushed backing gives it away!

With so many great alternatives to real leather around, I am hopeful for the future. It can only be a matter of time before buying new leather products every season becomes an un-cool behaviour of the past. And wearing ethical and eco-friendly pleather the way forward!


PS: If you are an absolute leather addict, check out the brands specialising in recycled and upcycled leather. And of course, there is always the exciting hunt for vintage pieces in charity shops…

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