What’s the Difference: Vegetable Tanned Leather vs. Chrome & Vegan Leather
With environmental issues being a hot topic and society’s growing interest in sustainability, vegetarianism and animal rights, vegan leather is on the rise. At first glance it looks like a perfect solution to the aforementioned problems, therefore we can see a lot of labels screaming VEGAN, ECO and many other types of leather everywhere around us.
But what exactly is Vegan leather and is it the best type to use to solve all the environmental problems that many people are so concerned about? To answer these questions we should explain what types of leather are on the market and what their nature is.
Generally, there are two main types of leather: genuine leather and vegan leather. Genuine leather of course is made of animal skin. That is a growing concern for many but in reality, genuine leather is only a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry. Some leather is sourced from sustainable ranches, therefore the amount of waste from the meat industry is reduced. Vegan leather is a term that refers to materials that are made to look like natural leather, though does not come from animal hides. The most commonly used materials for synthetic leathers are polyvinyl chloride(PVC) and Polyurethane(PU) which are plastic-based materials and are not biodegradable[i]. Scientists are also developing some plastic-free options from pineapples, mushrooms, and kombucha-cultures. Some chemicals may still be used to make these fabrics durable however it is much more environmentally friendly than PVC leather. However only a very small part of all vegan leather is plastic-free.
Now that we’ve learned what is what, let’s dig deeper into genuine leather. It is important to tan the leather so that it doesn’t rot. The most common method is the chrome tanning. It requires a highly toxic lead, arsenic Chromium, Methylisothiazolinone, anthracene, and formaldehyde to be used. After the tanning process, toxic water is disposed of, therefore it can cause damage to our oceans and ecosystems. Besides, when being exposed to such toxic water it may cause health problems in the eyes, lungs, liver, kidneys, skin and also lymphatic systems[ii]. A better nontoxic option is vegetable tanning, a method that Time Resistance has proudly adopted. It is an ancient practice that utilizes organic materials, such as tree bark to purify the hide. There are around 300 different plant species worldwide, which can be used for tanning. Unfortunately, only around 10 percent of genuine leather is vegetable- tanned as it is a much longer and more expensive method[iii].
One does not have to be an expert to distinguish genuine leather from vegan leather or vegetable-tanned leather from chromium tanned leather. When it comes to the most common types of vegan leather it has a smell of chemicals or plastic. Sometimes it can be described as a "fishy" smell due to cheap fish oils used in the making process. Chrome-tanned leather also has a chemical smell, whereas vegetable-tanned leather has a sweet fragrance, it has that classic leather smell that is intoxicating and addictive.
Other great features of vegetable tanned leather are longevity and ability to develop a beautiful patina, it also softens over time. Vegetable-tanned leather is very durable and can last several lifetimes if cared well for. Chrome-tanned leather does not wear that well, gradually losing appearance with time and exposure to the elements. Vegan leather on the other hand easily wears over time and can crack or puncture. Genuine leather can be considered a slow-fashion material because of its ability to withstand wear and tear and last in your closet for longer than less quality materials. Also, vegetable-tanned leather breathes much more easily than chrome tanned leather[iv]. Breathable tanned leather allows the air to circulate therefore sweat quickly dries and bacteria do not build up. Vegan leather on the other hand is not breathable. Therefore bacteria on the skin releases the odor that we associate with sweat.
Since Time Resistance uses only vegetable-tanned leather we are proud to say that this is also the most sustainable option there is. Fibers removed from this leather are used in agriculture and another waste is used in the construction industry, more specifically, to create bricks[v]. Even though chrome-tanned leather originated as an organic substance, due to all the chemicals being used in the production process it’s no longer in that category and can’t be recycled[vi]. As compared to animal leather which takes approximately 50 years to decompose, PVC (the main component of vegan leather) takes upwards of 500 years, and even then, its particles get washed into oceans[vii].
In conclusion, a lot of great marketing ideas and tools have been used to advertise vegan leather and it worked. Vegan leather has been promoted by various retailers, celebrities and animal organizations. However, this is unfortunately just a false illusion created by those who are concerned. In reality, what seems like a great solution to protect animals is just a mixture of various types of plastics and chemicals that take upwards of 500 years to decompose, while micro-beads get washed into our oceans. On top of that, items made from such leather have an unpleasant artificial smell, and what is more important is not durable nor breathable. Chrome-tanned leather is also not recyclable, nor it wears, smells or breathes well. Vegetable-tanned leather, the one that Time Resistance uses for its products seems to be the least harmful option. It is very durable, breathable, recyclable and sustainable.