Vegan Leather Explained

Vegan Leather Explained

Over the past few years there has been a big shift towards bags that are not made from genuine leather. Cruelty free, sustainable, ecofriendly materials were in short supply but the market is moving fast now and more and more innovotive materials are being produced.

There are many different types of natural materials that can be, and are, used in the manufacturing of bags. However, many people wanted good quality bags that looked like leather, but acutally weren't. Italy was at the forefront of working on and producing this type of leather alternative and work is still continuing. They are known as 'Vegan Leather' or 'Faux Leather' and are a different issue to making bags from natural materials such as cotton, hemp, straw, linen and hemp. This article is to explain what a few of them are.

In Italy, the main materials currently used as a leather alternatives are as follows:

Cactus Leather

Cactus leather is biodegradable, breathable, durable, resistant to scratches, mildew and bacteria. It is also extremely soft, smooth and very supple.

The cactus leather is made by trimming the mature leaves every six to eight months. This trimming does not harm the plants, but acutually encourages new growth. The leaves are then left to dry in the sun before being made into a powder, which is then mixed with non-toxic binding materials and made into the leathery material.

The real plus side of cactus leather is that not only do cacti not require chemicals in order to grow, they also have minimum water requirements, making the process very eco-friendly.

Apple Leather

This leather is totally vegan, cruelty free, ecological and made from the waste product of apples. It is hard wearing, breathable, waterproof and biodegradable.

Apple leather came about when, in 2004, an Italian inventor, Alberto Volcan, was trying to find a way of using the apple waste from the fruit juice industry in northern Italy. He first used this waste to make more ecological paper, followed by a vegetable glue which was unsuccessful. He then joined forces with Frumat, an Italian recycling company, and tried again with the vegetable glue, which when made he put it through a pasta machine. The sheet of material that came out was the beginnings of apple leather which he refined, developed and eventually, along with Frumat, made a commercially viable leather-like material.

Cork Leather

Cork leather has a smooth, shiny finish and is hypoallergenic, water resistant and flame resistant. In addition it is durable, retains its shape, does not absorb dust and is considerably lighter than leather. Cork has long been used around the mediterranean Europe, particularly in Portugal, and around eight percent of the worlds cork grows in this region. Made from the bark of cork trees, cork leather is totally vegan and does not cause any harm to the trees from which it is taken. The Italian island of Sardinia has a rich supply of good cork trees and this has been used for centuries for wine stoppers, flooring and other items. Recently, some new young Italian designers have started a trend in using it for different styles of bags, either on its own or with faux leather.

A cork tree needs to be a minimum of twenty five years old before the bark can be harvested and it will then continue to produce bark for up to five hundred years. The harvest only takes place once every nine years and the removal of strips of bark regenerates the tree resulting in elongating its lifespan.

Once the strips of bark are removed they are dried for at least six months before being boiled in water and flattened. These strips are backed with a natural material such as cotton, which is stuck on with suberin, a natural adhesive found in the cork.


UltraWer, also known as PU leather, is perhaps the closest in characteristics to genuine leather. It is soft, pliable and will eventually even wrinkle and stain exactly like natural leather. It is also waterproof, sunlight resistant and extremely lightweight.

This PU leather is a mixture of E-Ultra (a renewable resource made from the inedible part of corn) and recycled plastics, mainly post-consumer recycled polyester fibres. The resulting leather-like fabric is more environmentally friendly than vinyl or pvc based leather. It is also more expensive, mainly due to the extensive manufacturing processes that are needed to produce it.

There are also many other plant based leather alternatives in the pipeline from products such as coconuts, banana leaves and grapes.

Other than the faux leathers mentioned above, there are many other natural products used in for making a large range of bags. These are also vegan friendly but cannot be classed as leather. .

Baci, Chiara

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