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The Debrief | Is ‘Vegan Leather’ Better?

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Leather alternatives have been called both industry-changing eco-innovation, and dismissed as mere plastic — covering up complexities in how products are made and how much better or worse for the environment they are. At the same time, brands are increasingly using buzzy terms like “vegan leather” and “plant-based” to sell products, without doing much to explain their environmental impact.

“You have to be very careful and very switched on to understand what it is you’re buying as a consumer,” said BoF chief sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent.

Key Insights:

  • The emergence of items made with alternative materials — like mycelium, also known as mushroom “leather” — has sparked a conversation about how brands should name and market products without greenwashing.
  • Because innovation is in its early stages, it’s hard to understand, track and compare impact versus leather. Without clear data, the space is difficult to regulate.
  • Plastic is a dirty word. But, the material is so useful, it’s hard to replace in fashion. Most available leather alternatives aren’t plastic free, but rather, just feature reduced plastic content.
  • For brands working with such materials, the best course of action when it comes to talking about them is to be transparent with the consumer — rather than leading them to believe they’re buying a magic, new harmless material.

Additional resources:

  • The Truth About ‘Vegan Leather’: Leather alternatives have been boosted as eco-innovation and dismissed as mere plastic, but the truth is more complicated than that and demands clearer marketing to avoid misleading consumers.
  • The Debrief: Is This the Beginning of the End for Leather? Brands including Stella McCartney, Balenciaga and Hermès are making products from mushroom-based material. BoF’s chief sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent details the forces pushing next-gen fabrics like mycelium leather forward — and whether the much-hyped sustainability solution has a future in fashion.

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