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Alternative leather


Before going into further analysis of the current challenges with vegan leather, one must discuss the term “vegan leather”. The Textile Exchange, defines leather according to the following criteria, aligning with the EU directive 94/11/EC, ISO 15115, and EN 15987:2015.


  • A hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact and tanned so it does not rot
  • Either with or without hair or wool attached
  • Inclusive of hides or skin split into layers or segmented either before or after tanning

The term “recycled leather” should only be used if the fibre structure remains intact during the recycling process. Leather disintegrated into fibrous particles, small pieces or powders and combined or not with chemical biding agents, and made into sheets, with a minimum amount of 50% in weight of dry leather fibres should be referred to as “recycled leather fibre”.

Materials that do not meet the definition above will not be described by the Textile Exchange as leather, regardless of any past designation or common usage of the term. 


There is currently a gap in the legal framing of the classification and naming of the diverse materials sold as alternative materials to leather. For the moment, these diverse manmade materials, fully or partially plant-based will be grouped in the ‘manmade non-fibre materials’ until further legal guidance on the naming and categorisation of these materials is available.

Source: Textile Exchange:


While vegan leather offers several advantages as an alternative to genuine leather, it also faces some challenges, particularly related to its production, durability, and environmental impact. Below are some key challenges with regards to vegan leather:

Environmental Impact

While vegan leather can be more environmentally friendly than traditional leather, not all types are equally sustainable. Some synthetic vegan non-fibre materials, such as those made from PU and PVC, are derived from petrochemicals, which have a negative impact on the environment due to their reliance on focal fuels and the production of greenhouse gases. Additionally, the disposal of non-biodegradable vegan leather can contribute to waste problems.

Durability and Quality

Some types of vegan leather may not be as durable or long-lasting as genuine leather. Depending on the quality and manufacturing process, vegan leather can be more prone to wear and tear, cracking, or fading over time. Finding high-quality and durable vegan leather products can be a challenge.


Many synthetic vegan non-fibre materials require significant resources, such as water, land, and energy for cultivation and processing. This can lead to potential environmental impacts, especially if the production is not managed sustainably.

Lack of standardization

The term “vegan leather” encompasses a broad range of materials and production methods, leading to a lack of standardization. One may find it challenging to determine the exact composition and sustainability of different vegan leather products, making informed choices more challanging.

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