Real leather v.s Vegan leather, which is more sustainable?

Vegan leather has sailed up as a sustainable alternative in the public eye. However, is it really more sustainable than real leather?

First of all, we need to be clear about what vegan leather is. Simply explained, it's a leather alternative that doesn't involve animal products. It is a synthetic fabric that's structured to feel and perform like leather. PVC and polyurethane are the most common materials used for vegan / synthetic leather. These materials are essentially plastic-based, and they come with many of the same environmental problems as of other synthetics. To mention one aspect, these materials are produced from fossil fuels which has a large negative climate and environmental impact.  

Both PVC and polyurethane produce very toxic chemicals during their production. Polyurethane requires a chemical-intensive production process and PVCs release both chlorine gas and dioxins during the combustion and incineration cycles necessary for production. As a rigid plastic, PVC requires fossil-based plasticizers to be added to make the material flexible, which also can leak from the material as they break down over time. Of course, some leather producers, especially during the tanning process, can also use noxious chemicals such as chromium to tan their leather, which in some countries are dumped into rivers once the process is complete.  However, there are leather tanning alternatives that are much better, for example vegetable tanned leather or closed chromium tanning processes.

The most important aspect of evaluate environmental sustainability of a material is to look at the whole life cycle of the material. Vegan leather often have a much shorter lifespan than real leather since plastic materials break more easily. It is also hard to recycle and do not break down easily since it´s made of fossil components. However, real leather often develops a more characteristic look with time and can also be recycled to a higher degree. For us, slow fashion is the true friend of the environment.

 The obvious advantage of vegan leather is that it does not contain animal products and is “cruelty-free”. However, its components make vegan leather an enemy in the war against plastic, which one could argue is worse than natural leather.

As a conscious consumer it can be difficult to keep up to date with what alternative that is the best for mother earth, especially with all the different solutions and innovations emerging all the time in the industry. At some point we believe that we need to make a decision regarding which problem to prioritize. For us it’s important to create products that are made to last with high quality materials that are responsibly sourced. We make sure we source the best leather possible with modern production without unnecessary environmental hazards and animal cruelty. Kondens stands for slow fashion and sustainable consumption, and it is something we take into account in everything we do.