What if your Zara clothes were vegan friendly and made of bark and beans?

accreditation
Could animal leather can be completely replaced by vegan leather in the fashion industry?
Could animal leather can be completely replaced by vegan leather in the fashion industry?

Pleather has always had negative connotations for me and an insult to have any clothing item referred to as that.

Increasingly I’ve been hearing a lot about the term vegan leather and I wonder if the dominantly vocalised ‘meat loving culture’ in South Africa will ever drop its “genuine leather” aesthetic and chase vegan leather instead.

The word vegan in most instances rings more positively in my head, but we do know that vegan is not always healthier or more environmentally friendly – especially when the reduction of carbon emissions is important when it comes to the fashion industry.

The textile production produces about 1.2 billion tonnes of emission per year, according to Nature.com’s The price of fast fashion article.

For decades synthetic leather alternatives have been available as plastic based materials, but this has not always been the most ideal solution. In recent years, variants of vegan leathers that are seen as more environmentally friendly and animal cruelty free have been explored, one of which is cork leather.

According to African Leather and Skins, cork leather is a one of the best vegan and eco-friendly fabrics and similar durability and feel to leather because of its water resistant properties.

READ MORE: Tiisetso Molobi talks about her fashion brand Urban Mosadi

Other types of vegan leather such as paper leather are available in the market. But, will there ever be a time where animal leather can be completely replaced by vegan leather? 

“We think the advent of mushroom, pineapple, leaf, paper, bark and apple leathers, to name just a few, which often use waste, tend to employ non-toxic methods of colouring, are hard wearing and trendy, also environmentally and animal friendly, is incredibly exciting and certainly should be the future materials of choice,” said Toni Brockhoven, chairperson Beauty Without Cruelty SA, about vegan leather.

READ MORE: There's more to becoming vegan than simply throwing all the animal products in your fridge away

Nerisha Jairaj, executive director at the South Africa Footwear and Leather Export Association, said it is not possible to get everyone to stop using animal leather but there may be more sustainable ways of manufacturing the leather. 

She said in South Africa most people prefer animal leather but often, because of the costs, resort to other alternatives.

In terms of sustainability in the manufacturing, she said there improvements being made.

READ MORE: Fashion that's both political and sustainable

“There are ethical regulations for such things. There may be a reduction of purchases but leather goods will not cease to exist. 

“There are a whole lot of developments worldwide to create leather out of paper, to create leather out of cork, to create leather out of tree bark so people at it, they are looking to it but our actual bovine (cow) leather will not be succeeded by it,” said Nerisha.

She said: “The meat is used for our consumption and we don’t waste the leather thereafter, so it can go into footwear and handbags.”   

READ MORE: Meet the women turning plastic waste into a communal fortune they can use to pay school fees and feed other kids

Toni said the position of Beauty Without Cruelty is that “animals suffer and die needlessly for décor, trinkets, trims, bags, coats and footwear”.  

From the environmental and animal cruelty free perspective, Toni said leather production is damaging on both fronts.

“There is no such thing as humane leathers or skins, and the ‘finer’ the product usually the greater the inherent animal cruelty. As far as the environment goes, with leather, there’s the issue of the carbon footprint of cattle rearing and with the recent climate change revelations, this is an added incentive to move towards plant based materials,” said Toni.

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Do you think it's important to get married in this day and age?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes, it's important in order to create a family unit and for companionship
23% - 922 votes
Not at all. Being single is far more liberating
9% - 368 votes
There is no general answer to this, it's each to their own
49% - 2008 votes
Yes, society still frowns on unmarried people, especially women
1% - 56 votes
It depends on whether you are able to find a compatible partner
18% - 718 votes
Vote