What IS Vegan Leather Anyway?

Click here to see our shopping guide of 15 vegan leather jackets for fall!

A lot of the products I feature here — especially bags and shoes — are made out of “vegan leather”. While vegan leather is an animal-friendly alternative to real leather, it can mean several different materials.

vegan leather jacket

(This jacket is completely animal free!)

Vegan leathers include:

  • Vegetan: This is a microfibre material that is specifically designed and used as an animal-friendly leather substitute.
  • Lorica: This material is made out of several different microfibers. Sidi, an Italian motorcycle company uses it a lot.
  • Birko-Flor: This is what eco-icon Birkenstock uses. It’s made out of acrylic and polyamide felt fibres. There are two kinds — the kind you find on normal Birks and a kind that looks like pleather.
  • Birkibuc: Another Birkenstock baby. It’s made out of the same stuff, but looks and feels like nubuck leather.
  • PVC: Finally, a term you should be familiar with! Good for animals. Not so good for environment.
  • Kydex: This is an acrylic-PVC alloy. It’s produce by Kleerdex, a manufacturing company.

I hoped this helped! Also, remember that being animal-friendly does not necessarily mean you are being eco-friendly. Using old and recycled leather could be better for the environment than buying a brand spankin’ new vegan-friendly bag. It just depends on where your priorities lie and what you are comfortable with!

Consume with a conscience and you’ll be fine!

photo source

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    • http://www.ladiessportswear.co.uk Kirsty

      I’m suprised there’s not a hemp-based leather been made. Its incredible the different products you can manufacture form it. Paper, fuel, food, clothing – the list is endless.

    • http://www.choubelle.wordpress.com choubelle

      Oh, thank you so much! I was so confused about finding synthetic natural materials…last I heard, vegan leather was called “pleather!” This is sooo helpful.


    • http://none Tom

      So could a purse, belt or wallet made from PU (poly-urethane) be considered as a “vegan leather” product?

      • clemence

        I don’t think so, since PU leather is partly made from animal skin.. strangely enough, some websites claim that PU is a vegan alternative (??) even though it’s a mix of leather and polyurethane.
        If anyone has a more precise answer to this I’d love to hear it, I’m still unsure, but I hope that helps :) (5 years later that is).

    • Morgan Alexander

      What material is the jacket made out of? I am a vegan that does hand made clothing and I’ve had a design for a leather-type hoodie, but haven’t found a material that I want to use. I’m looking for something light weight and close to leather, but would also like to increase my material inventory for future designs, too.

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    • amy

      Vegetan leather is leather that has been coloured using vegetables instead of the harsh chrome tanning. This is a eco friendly leather and NOT a leather substitute!

      • Jack

        No, it is actually a grade of course microfiber used by a specific company.

      • realist

        No..it is actually short for vegetable tanned leather. Hijacking the word to justify buying some cheap Chinese bag doesn’t make the synthetic leather any more eco-friendly.

      • D

        No, amy’s right. The term vegetan has been used for decades to refer to vegetable-ranned leather.
        Some random company just decided to hijack the term resulting in a situation that is ridiculous for anyone who knows anything about leather, and problematic for consumers who care about the distinction.

    • Gail

      I just received a vegan friendly handbag by Urban Expressions; just love it!!

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    • Ray

      What am I missing here? So now it’s better to throw away the hides from slaughtered beef and create a chemical intensive industry to replace it with. Sounds like an ecological nightmare. Not to mention the issues with using non-recyclilable materials, many of which are used to create this stuff.

      • ben

        You’re not missing anything Ray. Vegan Leather is a befittingly hypocritical term. Cracks me up. So much “green” “vegan” BS going around!! Where do they think the oil came from that all the synthetics are made out of? What about the carbon footprint of those stupid twisty light bulbs, and “outlawing” the glass/metal ones in the paper packaging. And that of hybrid cars. Suckers! The consumer might feel good about saving gas or electricity but it’s not real- The cost of production and disposal are worse for the planet than what you save. It’s marketing hype aimed at our good-intentioned conscience. Are we really all that short sighted? [Y] “Consumers”! Split wood, not atoms. Leather is a terrific, natural material. Carbon-neutral. Wasting that resource/by-product is cruel,wasteful, irresponsible, disrespectful to the animals and expensive. Leather is renewable. Pleather is NOT. Eco-friendly my ass! THINK people.

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    • LKW01915

      OK, I looked it up and this is what I found-”vegan” leather is not leather. It’s synthetic material. “Vegetable” leather IS leather but just tanned (as Amy said), with vegetable color but she referred to it as “Vegetan” leather so I guess your best bet is to look at the price-a leather handbag is going to be a lot more expensive than a non-leather.

    • Adele in Texas

      This is LUDICROUS fodder for the gullible. Give me a smooth as butter leather bag or real alligator shoes any day that will last in style AND substance for years, not some over priced piece of junk with a ooh la la label stuck to it. When the original is as cheaply made as the knockoff, something’s definitely wrong with that picture and fashion houses trying to pass their product offs with gimmicky high falutin words is just wrong-headed.

      What is “vegan leather”? The same manmade materials you find in any other cheap product.

      • Sri Isa Mayi


      • Carnivore

        Well aren’t you sweet! You need some protein, you’re getting cranky. Try steak, it’s delicious!

      • AgNO3

        Only if you are Hindu.

      • Sri Isa Mayi

        Karma or cause and effect works whether one beljeves it or not. It is the immutable law of physics. Religion merely reflects this. As you sew you reap.

      • AgNO3

        Its has no basis in Physics what so ever. It is also not cause and effect. it also has nothing to do with animals other then the belief that the animal is someone reincarnated as an animal or bug or other living object. ANYWAY. As long as I repent on my deathbed according to Buddha I’m all good.

        Every birth
        is conditioned by a past good or bad karma, which predominated
        at the moment of death. Karma that conditions the future birth
        is called Reproductive Karma. The death of a person is merely
        ‘a temporary end of a temporary phenomenon’. Though
        the present form perishes, another form which is neither the same
        nor absolutely different takes its place, according to the potential
        thought-vibration generated at the death moment, because the Karmic
        force which propels the life-flux still survives. It is this last
        thought, which is technically called Reproductive (janaka)
        Karma, that determines the state of a person in his subsequent
        birth. This may be either a good or bad Karma.

      • Sri Isa Mayi

        Untrue. And you arent allowed to keep spewing your aggression and hate. Demonic one.

        You will see this truth only through experience. I will not reply to ugly vile slime as your hgly spirit. Bye. And a car accident is in your future. Enjoy! :-)

      • AgNO3

        So my japanese Buddhist parents and wife have it wrong and your for profit business has it right. Your comments about a car crash alone prove you do not know the teaching of Buddha.

    • CAsurfergirl

      Adele in TX – a woman after my own heart. I remember when shoes/bags/coats were “real” leather. Anything leather is better quality + lasts forever. Could “youngsters” have never owned animal hide? Personally, I never want Anything “vegan”. Make believe stuff is worth about 5 cents.
      p.s. wish I could afford a fur coat – quality/lasts forever…

    • ihopethemayanswereright

      The term “vegan leather” is a BS moniker to make idiots feel better about themselves and puff up own egos. It’s plastic, pleather, PVC, or just call it synthetic fiber. Whatever. IDIOTS!!!!

    • Steiner

      You are some serious fucking genious vegans… Using hydrocarbons on your clothes it makes so much sense making more contamination sources…

    • Realist

      The problem with “vegan leather” is, since it is not leather, when the user is finished with it and throws it out, it will stay in a landfill forever. At least real leather, which is a byproduct of our food chain, will completely decompose in a landfill. So much for being eco-friendly.

      The amount of chemicals in vegan leather far exceeds those used to make real leather and are not a byproduct of food production, but usually made from oil derivatives. Lots of potential for air, water, and land pollution. (Especially if it comes from China)

      • suzannecarlson

        Turning skin into “leather” is one of the most toxic processes on planet Earth.

      • D

        Depends on the type of leather actually.
        There are quite a variety of leather types, named for the tanning processes used, and several of them use entirely natural substances.

        Vegetan is actually the most common term for vegetable-tanned leather, which produces the only form of leather that’s really usable for tooling, and sees a fair bit of use in shoes, cases, etc. It uses nothing other than the hides and plant matter.

      • poof

        Why would someone throw their jacket in a landfill if it were well made? If they were already buying a vegan jacket, I suspect they’d reuse/donate/recycle it if they were to part with it.

        The writer is correct; we’ve probably made all the leather jackets or things we need to clothe as many people as there exist; what if we had a hide that already existed to every human and cut up no more cows? That’d be fair enough. Well overpopulation. But since we’re on the topic of overpopulation…

        there are MANY ‘food chain’ animals to which you refer and you are incorrect about there existing a “byproduct” for the vast majority of the food animals in existence.

        Leather is not a by product of the food industry. Food animals, in America along with the highest meat producing countries, Brazil, Turkey etc, with industrial factory farms, contribute nothing to the leather industry. The food animals are skinned alive, absolutely no hide is salvaged and the flakes become waste.

        The actual process of extracting the leather of a cow for instance, is rather brutal. You can read: http://www.olsenhaus.com/the-truth. And there again, the majority of production has little to no overlap, except on the most myopic/local/micro of economic and global levels, with the ‘food chain’.

        tl;dr/ie the leather industry contributes nothing to the food industry and vice versa.

    • a german humanist

      Birckenstock support german neonazi and right-wing groops. They don’t let workers organize and if they do they cut wages. Humans are animals too, you know.

    • Just saying

      Well I suppose vegans who buy and wear ‘vegan leather’ don’t eat animals products at all, so in their mind it’s not wasteful because they’re not killing for food in the first place. These products are still terrible for them environment though.

      • stacey

        I k ow its a year late….. never really thought of it like that before. Quite insightful look at the other side of the situation its a shame vegans cant rationalise their arguements this way instead of screaming murderer at any meat eater and leather wearer. Definitely opened my eyes a bit but will say that they dont like killing animals for materials but dont mind killing the earth for them.

      • Leon

        Vegan or not, leather is made in factories. Factories = bad for the environment. If you’re so concerned about the environment, quit worrying about vegans and stop wearing either kinds of leather, end of discussion.

    • Ray G

      You can just got get a deal BOGO at Payless (Plastic Shoe Source) for your vegan products. LOL. It is cheaper.

    • VeganBrainDeadFriendly

      Vegan Friendly? Now there’s a term for man made. I shall swap for ‘vegan friendly’ bags at the supermarket instead of the organic paper bags, a life is a life after all. Thrilled that I have a ‘vegan friendly’ car that spews ‘vegan friendly’ pollution into the atmosphere.

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    • http://www.facebook.com/oldvet70 George Long

      PVC ? Vegan friendly I guess but not Earth friendly. Made from OIL and takes a gazillion years to degrade. Stupid people

      • Leon

        Here I was thinking the PVC jacket I buried last month would flower… now I know why It didn’t!!

      • AgNO3

        You went to public school didn’t you?

      • Leon

        I believe you didn’t go to school at all.

      • AgNO3

        Leon, sarcasm responded to with sarcasm.

    • http://www.facebook.com/deanna.vestal DeAnna Vestal

      Not to keen on this “Vegan Leather” I’m too old fashion….. I want the real stuff. My 20 year old coat is leather, my 25 year old purse is leather and my shoes last me 5-10 years has to be leather or else the stink from my feet would clear a city

    • Rydog

      I love how angry meat eaters get when they hear of anything vegan. That’s enough for me to support it.

      • AgNO3

        So you support the drilling of Oil and Fracking to obtain the fossil fuels needed to make this stuff? Is that what you are saying.

      • Leon

        Vegan leather is not the only thing made in factories. Educate yourself.

      • AgNO3

        LOL MORON. NO Kidding. I wear natural fibers made form cotton as much as possible and don’t wear fake leather because I need something to look like leather Its hypocritical to be Vegan for the environment and WEAR PLASTICS. You my friend need to just go smoke more pot. Things made in factories aren’t inherently bad. Plastic made from Fossil oils is well exactly that. Drilled from the ground transported on ships and then made in a factory into plastic. Which depending on the type will need to be recycled. This process isn’t exactly green it uses a A LOT of energy to recycle plastics. On the other had WOOL and Cotton are both renewable and cause less environmental damage.

      • Leon

        Moron? What are you so upset about? Can’t you have an intellectual conversation without calling names? It’s not hypocritical as long as no animals are harmed. What I meant was that everything that is made in a factory is harming the environment one way or the other. Sure, not wearing any kind of leather (Fake or real) is the best way to go. But I don’t think anything can justify killing animals for clothes.

        Vegans aren’t angels or saints. They’re compassionate about animals. That doesn’t mean they have to be perfect. It’s not an all or nothing approach. You never use plastic bags? You don’t use computers or the freaking internet? You don’t drive? Or maybe even smoke? Chances are that you do at least one (likely more) of these things, so what gives you the right to lecture vegans on environmentalism? At least they do one thing that you’re clearly too weak to do – quit eating living beings.

        Now go and eat your dog or whatever.

      • Rydog

        You know the computer / iPhone / iPad or whatever you’re using to reply with has coltan in it. Go research that and enjoy that fact you’re supporting kids mining in the congo. We’re all hypocrites vegan or not. Chill out and just try to be a good person, that’s all we can do.

    • retroz

      Let’s simplify. “Vegan leather” is just a fancy way of saying “plastic.”

      • Top Kek

        It’s a fancy way of selling synthetic garbage to envirotards.

    • Jennifer in CA

      I have a unique perspective on the vegetarian/vegan side of things. I grew up in rural Minnesota hunting and fishing – I’ve eaten venison heart (delicious) from a deer that was butchered in my garage, dismembered a grouse, and filleted a fish. I have no problem with people that humanely raise or hunt their own food.

      However, I made the choice to go vegetarian due to my disgust and horror at “factory farming”. There are free-roaming options, but A.) I don’t trust most labels, and B.) I use my meatless lifestyle as a means of protest. Since leather goods are mostly produced by factory farming, I’ve recently chosen to also forgo purchasing new leather items. Voting with your purchases will and does cause real change. (I’d like to note that with the exception of toiletries and undergarments, the vast majority of my purchases are good-quality, second-hand items. Thrift stores, consignment shops, Salvation Army, and craigslist are my go-to’s for nearly everything else I buy.)

      As far as the damage to the environment, EVERYTHING Americans purchase creates some kind of waste and pollution. It comes down to a matter of priorities. I acknowledge that the man-made items might be more detrimental to the environment in some aspects, but factory farming is also highly detrimental to the environment, and tortures living, sentient creatures at the same time. It’s not feasible to live a completely selfless, environmentally impact-less life and still remain a member of functioning American society. I HAVE decided, though, to choose what I believe to be the lesser of two evils.

      PS: I really, really miss steak. As in, when and if true change is made and factory farming as we know it is abolished, I’m going to make myself sick with filet mignon.

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    • afish

      So, if I’m looking at a pair of boots that are made of “vegan leather”, are most of you saying, don’t waste your money?

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    • ANGie

      Real leather is not a “by-product” of food production but a “co-product.” Cows are often skinned alive for the fashion industry to receive leather. Toxic chemicals or killing innocent animals? How about no leather at all and help animals and the environment.

      • Nathan

        I have known a lot of brave men in my time. I haven’t known any that were brave (stupid) enough to try to skin a 1500 pound animal alive…

        I hate to use reason to object to your emotional statement, but I think it is bull (pun intended).

        That said, it is a free country. If you want to wear processed petroleum instead of natural leather, go for it. Just don’t try to remove the same right from me.

      • topaz

        Actually it’s neither bull nor stupid. They don’t skin them alive using humans to do the work. They skin them alive with machines. The hides come out on the blood soaked factory floor still pulsing from the blood that’s still flowing through them. There was a disturbing scene in one of those ‘reality’ shows (from the UK) called ‘Blood, Sweat & Takeaways’. It followed several teenagers as they attempted to do the jobs that bring us our consumer items in more privileged countries. The kids were clearly not far from throwing up when they realised what was happening to make their ‘must have’ shoes.

        That’s not an argument for or against vegan leathers btw. Just noting that if we’re willing to wear it we should probably be willing to know how it gets made.

      • AgNO3

        In the US it is required that the cow be bled out before being skinned THAT THE LAW OF THE USDA. Federal LAW.

      • skye

        But how much of the leather you are buying is made is the USA? Very little I presume. Most is produced in India or China then imported and they don’t have the same laws.

      • AgNO3

        Oh you know how china kills cows? Please show us your proof.

      • GuestWatt

        Show us your proof supporting your Karma rant earlier.

        Am I missing something? Get real leather because it lasts, but don’t get plastic because it lasts forever in a landfill? Is that right? Plastic can be great if it’s not disposed of poorly. How recyclable is leather?

        Idunno, I stumbled on this because I saw a used phone case that was vegan leather and wondered what exactly vegan leather might be. Looks like it’s gonna destroy the world and get me reincarnated as something terrible, like an animal that gets skinned alive but not eaten in China with chemicals and worn by celebrities then hipsters who buy it second-hand before ending up degrading in a landfill next to eternal plastics which will mock me with their…eternalness, because they’ve escaped Karma. There we go, I think that’s right. Or I’m doing good cuz I’m buying second-hand?

        No matter what I do, I’m pissing someone off. I guess I’ll go back to not worrying so much about what other people think. I’ll assume Karma works both ways and I get to do bad things now cuz I was so good in a previous incarnation. It’s like…incarnation vacation. And if my purchase helps bring about an end to humanity, it’s a bonus. If you’re worried about your impact on the environment so much, dieing might be the best thing you could do to help out.

        One last thing. Would I be better off or worse off eating vegan leather if I’m starving? Regular leather right? If only everything could be made out of fruit-leather. Tasty tasty fruit-leather.

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    • suzannecarlson

      Why wouldn’t you wear any of these? These pieces are downright gorgeous in
      their own right. Not wearing the skins of tortured, dead animals?

      • AgNO3

        Adding to Global warming and dependency on Fossil fuels. Priceless.

      • Leon

        Meat/Dairy industry is the biggest source of environmental pollution. When I told you to educate yourself earlier, I meant it. Global warming wasn’t caused by PVC jackets, it’s caused by people like you who can’t find any source of pleasure in life other than eating flesh.

      • AgNO3

        Oh so the fracking to get the Natural gas and oils isn’t doing any damage. The GMO Corn and soy used to make the Vegetable oils is just marvelous. You go with that.

    • D

      I mentioned this in a reply to somebody else, but the term “vegetan” has been in use for decades (at least) to refer to one of the oldest types of real leather: vegetable tanned leather. It’s a process that uses nothing but plant tannins, and still gets a lot of use.

      Folks wishing to buy leather leather that doesn’t have an animal component should avoid anything called “vegetan” unless you’re absolutely certain which it is.

    • That guy

      Look, either it’s vegan or it’s leather. It can’t be both. That’s like trying to sell petroleum free gasoline.

    • nataly carbonell

      Or in other words “FAKE LEATHER”

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    • Sri Isa Mayi


    • Sri Isa Mayi


      • AgNO3

        The use of viscose is declining, in part because of the environmental costs of its production as the Lyocell process uses N-Methylmorpholine N-oxide as solvent

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    • William Fellows

      Vegetan – This is LEATHER, MADE FROM COWS, that use a an organic based tanning process rather than chromium salts. Turning hide into leather can be done in a safe non toxic way (10000 years of leather making were talking about) For example, brain tanning. Did you know that almost every animal that has a hide that can be tanned contains enough tannins in their own brain to tan the hide. Fun fact! Also, if you burn or bury any of the other items you suggested it will be in a land fill for the next hundred years, killing all those animals and fish.

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    • Michelle Smith

      Yes. A vegan product would be made of non-animal materials. That could also mean cotton or canvas or rubber…. lots of options.

    • http://www.examiner.com/x-5111-Detroit-Wine-Examiner Chris

      Most of which were thought up while the inventor was smoking hemp.