Is ‘Vegan Leather’ Better?

The Debrief

Dec 14 2022 • 14 mins

A number of products made from leather alternatives have begun to hit store shelves. BoF’s chief sustainability correspondent Sarah Kent unpacks why it's so hard to market — and scale — these new products.


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.

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