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    A Green Look at Vegan Leather Alternatives

    by Colleen Ward

    Vegan leather. Sounds good, but what is it? And is it green?

    An early definition of veganism is “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.” Vegans are concerned not just about removing animal products from their diets, but about other products made from animals as well, including clothing.

    Vegan fashion has to find alternatives to leather for shoes, bags, belts, and so on – products that have to be durable, waterproof, comfortable and good looking, among other qualities. A bit of a challenge!

    Many materials have been tried and much is being learned in this area. Unfortunately, some of the most frequently used materials for vegan shoes are forms of plastic – a fossil fuel-based product, the manufacture of which is not exactly environmentally sound.

    You probably recognize the point we’ve reached in this story – it’s where you roll your eyes and give up, frustrated that trying to do the right thing feels like a trap.

    Wait! Eluxe magazine’s Chere Di Boscio explored a range of environmentally friendly alternatives to leather in her article, “6 Truly Eco Friendly Vegan Leathers.” Instead of highly chemically treated or fabricated materials, such as classic polyurethane, she found vegan alternatives that are also good for the planet.

    Some of the materials may surprise you – for example, paper! Designers like Bottega Veneta use the bark from a fast-growing Japanese Kozo tree, which can be woven into beautifully crafted handbags that are surprisingly durable. They are quite expensive now, but prices are likely to come down in the future (remember when flat-screen TVs cost $20,000?).

    Cork is another natural material that has many of the qualities needed in a leather alternative. Cork forests can be managed sustainably and often help protect endangered species and prevent deforestation.

    Recycled Rubber can make a great substitute for the leather feel people look for. Waxed cotton can be used instead of patent. Other materials that made the list include Coolstone Leather, and Tree Bark Leather, which has been used by Dolce and Gabbana.

    Vegan leather alternatives that are also environmentally sustainable do exist, but clearly we are in the early stages of learning how to use them in ways that are practical, stylish and affordable. Stay tuned!

    Following is a short list of stylish sources for vegan accessories:

    Handbags, Messenger Bags, and Laptop Cases

    Matt &Nat

    Heidi & Adele

    Canopy Verde

    Ono Creations

    Urban Expressions

    Belts and Accessories




    PETA’s List

    PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) now has a PETA-Approved Vegan logo, and offers a longer list of designers that offer non-leather accessories.

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