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Spotlight on sustainable vegan textiles: Vegan leather alternatives

by Summer Edwards | Posted on January 20 2017

For committed vegans, avoiding leather made from animal skins is a key priority. But also well as wanting to be cruelty-free, there are environmental and eco-system implications to our choices. Here is the run down on all the vegan leather alternatives, and their benefits and drawbacks. 

Spotlight on Vegan Leather Alternatives

Synthetic Vegan Textiles


PVC, short for Polyvinyl Chloride, is the the world’s third most produced synthetic plastic polymer. Like all conventional plastics, it is made from petroleum and has a high environmental impact. In its rigid form it is used for things such as water pipes. In it’s flexible form it is commonly used as vegan leather, as well as in electrical cabling and as a replacement for rubber. To make PVC flexible requires to use of phlatates, which are harmful to human health and leech into the environment. According to Greenpeace, PVC is the world’s most harmful plastic and it is best avoided if you want to minimise the impact you have on the environment.


Polyutherene is a synthetic material that is in the same ‘family’ of plastics as polyester. It does not have the same harmful reputation as PVC because production does not require the harmful chemical solvents that PVC requires. However, it should be considered of a similar environmental impact to polyester. In fact, according to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, polyurtherene has about 50% more environmental impact than polyester (this is cradle to gate impact, and doesn’t include the impact of disposal- which can be assumed to be similar for the two products).

There are two types of fungus which can biodegrade polyuthere in landfill, but the harmful synthetic particles will still persist in the ecosystem at a microscopic level. It is also possible to make polyuthere from natural oils rather than petrochemicals, and these can then biodegrade. However, bio-made polyutheres are not yet common in vegan fashion.

In terms of vegan leather options, polyutherene is a better choice over PVC. It is commonly used in vegan shoe options, including some stocked at Bead & Reel. It is far from ideal if you want to protect ecosystems, waterways and our climate. But the challenge for Bead & Reel as a vegan boutique is to find vegan options for shoes and handbags that are the less harmful for the environment. For this reason we do stock polyutherene.

Spotlight on Vegan Leather alternatives

Biodegradable Vegan Leathers

There are an increasing number of biodegradable vegan leathers made from natural materials. These enable you to find cruelty-free leather alternatives which are also sustainable. Not all of these are easy to find, but they are increasing in availability. This is a very exciting space to watch.

Cork Leather

Cork leather is made from the bark of the cork tree. Cork bark can be collected without the need to kill the tree, making it sustainable renewable resource. You can find cork leather products for purses, handbags and shoes. Bead & Reel stocks a handful of cork leather products.

Pineapple Leather

Pineapple leather- known as Pinatex- is a very recent invention. It is made from the discarded pineapple leaves from plantations in the Philippines. It is makes use of a natural waste product, and is also completely biodegradable. It also gives farmers an additional sources of income. So this vegan leather alternative has a very positive social and environmental impact. It is an ideal textile for making both shoes and handbags.

This product is very new, and only a few vegan brands are currently using it. But we are on the lookout pineapple leather products to stock here at Bead & Reel

Mushroom Leather

Mushroom leather, known as MuSkin, is a very exciting new development in the area of vegan leather alternatives. However it isn’t yet widely available for consumer products. When hope to find some to stock soon!

Kombucha Leather

Kombucha leather is made from the kombucha scoby - the fungus that is grown to make fermented probiotic kombucha tea. It uses tea and sugar to grow, so it a very low impact natural material to work with. Many designers and are experimenting with this product and we are waiting to see it more readily available in consumer products. It is another one to watch.

Guide to Vegan Leather Alternatives

Bead & Reel is a committed vegan boutique, so providing products that are cruelty-free is our number 1 priority. We constantly aware of choosing the most sustainable products we can. For now that means we predominantly stock polyurethane but we ensure that we use the lowest impact (free from the most harmful toxins) products we can. We look forward to stocking some other options, as some of these newer materials become more readily available. So watch this space. In the meantime, you can rest assured that we’ve chosen the best products that we can find for your environmentally-conscious vegan wardrobe.

If you enjoyed getting an insight into the your sustainable vegan textile options, you will get a lot out of my Guide to Sustainable Textiles- a 60 page guide to all the sustainability considerations for textile choice in your wardrobe. At only $9, it gives you all the information you need to be able to make sustainable choices when shopping for your wardrobe. 

(This post contains some affiliate links)

1 comment

  • Stacy Stevens : February 09, 2017

    Thank you for this most informative educational article. This will now be my go to reference guide when shopping for vegan leather.

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