sustainability Vegetarian leather

As a vegetarian brand, we never use leather, skin, fur or feathers. By taking this stance we are proving it is possible to create beautiful, luxurious products that are better for everyone – animals, people and the environment.

When we established our brand in 2001, there were doubts in the industry that it would be possible to create a luxury fashion brand without using leather or fur. But we proved, and continue to prove, that it is possible.

By choosing vegetarian leather, we are demonstrating how a luxury fashion brand can push the boundaries to make products that are beautiful, sustainable and cruelty-free. No compromises.

A better environmental impact

Our leather alternatives do not just look good, they are also better to the environment. Using recycled polyester instead of Brazilian calf leather, for example, creates 24 times less of an environmental impact, as calculated through the Environmental Profit and Loss (EP&L).

  • Animal agriculture & leather
    • Leather impacts are driven by land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal agriculture, as well as the energy use and water consumption requirements of tanneries.
    • The FAO estimates that animal agriculture is responsible for between 14.5% and 18% of global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, and 65% of this is from cattle (compared to other animal species).¹
    • In the Amazon, around 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.²
    • The livestock sector is the world’s largest user of agricultural land, through grazing and the use of feed crops.³
  • Vegetarian leather vs. real leather in the EP&L
    • Through the EP&L we have been able to directly compare the impact of the synthetic alternatives that we use to the impacts of leather use.
    • We have learned from the EP&L that one of the most significant drivers of impact is the land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal rearing. Other important impacts are energy use and water requirements of tanneries as well as water pollution resulting from chemicals used in the tanning process.
    • In Brazil, the cattle industry has been a big driver of deforestation and land conversion, which results in the loss of important ecosystem services. As a result, Brazilian calf leather has a high environmental impact in the EP&L of around €17 per kg compared to polyester which has an average EP&L impact of €1 per kg of material.
    • We make the comparison between Brazilian calf leather vs. polyester as it clearly highlights how high the impact of leather can be, however even when comparing a low impact source of leather such as leather from France a synthetic alterative has 1/4th of the impact per kg of material.
    • Although our decision to avoid leather enables us to have a lower environmental impact than those that do choose to use leather, we openly acknowledge that the synthetic alternatives are not without concern.
    • The EP&L has shown that the most damaging impact of polyester production is the extraction and processing of oil into yarn. However, the shedding and environmental impact of microfibers from synthetic materials has been significantly undervalued in LCA datasets that the fashion industry relies on.

“I think one of the biggest compliments is when I know people go in and buy a Falabella bag or a pair of shoes, or a faux leather skirt, and they have no idea they’re not real leather. I think that’s really where it becomes sexy. Where you’re not just providing an alternative…you’re creating a great product.” – Stella McCartney in Vogue, 2017.

Innovative materials and safer chemicals

Since 2013, we have been using alter-nappa for our shoes and bags. This breakthrough material is made from polyester and polyurethane and has a recycled polyester backing. This reduces the amount of petroleum we use in our products. And the alter-nappa coating is made with over 50% vegetable oil, a renewable, natural resource.

We are also switched our polyurethanes to water-borne and solvent-free polyurethanes. As well as being less energy and water intensive, they are made without solvents and therefore much safer for people to work with.

Our decision to not use leather has enabled us to reduce our environmental impact. However, we do acknowledge that the synthetic alternatives we use are not without environmental concerns. The EP&L has shown us that the majority of the impact associated with synthetic fibres is due to processing oil into yarn. We are working to reduce the impact of our alternative materials by using recycled and bio-based materials.

The future of vegetarian leather

We are excited for the future of cruelty-free leathers. One opportunity we are currently exploring is lab-grown leather. What may have seemed impossible just a few years ago is quickly becoming a reality. As a modern business, we want to bring these incredible feats of design to the fashion industry and pave the way to a more progressive approach to materials.

 


 

¹ Key facts and findings, Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations

² Deforestation Overview, WWF

³ FAO’s role in livestock and the environment, Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations

 

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