Vegan Leather Evolution: Unveiling Sustainable Fashion Trends

Decoding Vegan Leather: From Misuse to Sustainability, Explore Eco-Friendly Options and Industry Innovations.

The Evolution of Vegan Leather: Unmasking Misnomers and Embracing Sustainability


In recent years, the term 'Vegan Leather' has been widely misused within the fashion industry, often incorrectly applied to materials resembling leather but devoid of animal skin. Originally known as plastic, polyurethane, eco-leather, or leatherette, the term 'vegan' gained traction with the rise of veganism in the past three years.

Understanding Vegan Material

If you are delving into vegan materials, alternatives like cotton, viscose, or polyester, which are animal-skin-free, could also be considered. However, in countries like Italy and Portugal, the term 'leather' is restricted to materials sourced from animal skin.

But what exactly constitutes vegan material?

Most commonly, vegan material comprises polyurethane or PVC, featuring two primary layers:

1. The Backing

Serving as the manufacturing base, this layer is typically crafted from polyester, occasionally incorporating cotton, viscose, or microfiber. The choice of backing is pivotal for ensuring the material meets technical specifications, with sustainability enhanced by opting for recycled polyester.

2. The Top Coating

Comprising polyurethane or PVC, this plastic compound derived from fossil fuels forms a liquid coating applied to the backing. While some companies have moved away from PVC due to environmental concerns, others, like Louis Vuitton, still utilize it for its durability. Rigorous quality checks and tests are essential to guarantee a phthalate-free material.

Evolution of Vegan Materials

The journey of vegan materials unfolds across various sustainability levels:

1960s / 1970s - PVC:

Despite durability, concerns arise due to potential phthalate content, and its slow biodegradability—taking hundreds of years.

1990s - 2000 - Polyurethane (PU)

A basic option using solvents in production, posing hazards. It closely mimics leather but takes centuries to biodegrade, with no repairability.

2017 - Water-Based PU & Recycled PU (respectively)

A solvent-free alternative with slightly reduced performance, gaining popularity in accessories.

Contains over 50% recycled fibres, with a primary certification being the Global Recycled Standard (GRS).

2019 - Bio-Based PU

Incorporates biobased materials (e.g., corn, apple waste) into the fossil fuel compound, addressing circularity and waste issues.

2022 - 100% Biobased

Innovations like Mirum and Hyphalite introduce materials made from natural rubber, cotton, or viscose backing, featuring a higher percentage of biobased content.

2022 (not scalable yet) - Mycelium

The root of mushrooms is used to create materials, showcased by companies like Mogu and Hermes. While not 100% biobased, they offer enhanced aesthetics and properties.

Incorporating Vegan Leather

To seamlessly integrate vegan leather into collections, thorough testing is imperative, especially for durability. For sustainability claims, ensure your supplier possesses the necessary certifications and conducts a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

Avoid generic terms and be specific about your environmental impact to prevent accusations of greenwashing.


Embracing the potential of vegan materials requires diligence and a commitment to genuine sustainability, contributing to a fashion industry that prioritizes responsible choices.

Published: 29/12/2023


Nicolò Giusti
Nicolò Giusti
BIO: Nicolò is an innovative and sustainable material specialist working in the fashion industry for more than 15 years. His passion for traditional materials but also for innovative solutions brought him to create the Sustainable Academy, a community that supports students, entrepreneurs and fashion companies to be more sustainable and avoid greenwashing.
"I really believe in the power of collaboration. Sharing and learning is the only way we can get to the next level. Why waste time protecting ourselves when we can use it to improve?"