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For people who love the look and functionality of leather but are committed to a lifestyle prohibiting the use of animal products, vegan leather is an appropriate choice. Clothing, shoes, and fashion accessories made of artificial leather are produced and marketed as animal-friendly options. Upholstery, travel bags, laptop cases and other products can also be made using leather alternatives. This material is produced from synthetics without using any animal products and is also referred to as faux or artificial leather. There is no difference between most artificial and vegan leathers except for terminology.
Cruelty-free vegan clothing requires an artificial leather that is pliable and breathable. Early artificial products designed primarily for upholstery usually did not have these qualities. Additionally, some of the early formulations used animal leather powder with binders and were therefore not vegan. The most common modern forms are produced using synthetic materials sourced from petroleum. A variety of plastics and synthetic microfibers are used in the production of the various types of artificial leather.
One common type is made from a base of fabric coated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). People concerned about the environment as well as animal welfare tend to avoid this form of synthetic leather, as it is not as environmentally friendly as other varieties. Polyurethane leather uses a different manufacturing process and is viewed as less harmful to the environment. This type of vegan leather is softer and more pliable than PVC-based leather, making it more comfortable to wear. Still other leathers are made using microfiber, a thin diameter polyester or nylon fiber.
Not all vegan leather is made completely from synthetic materials. Some is made from sustainably harvested cork, which may be combined with synthetic materials to make it more pliable and durable. Ocean leather is another form, and it produced from plant sources. Kelp or seaweed is used in the manufacture of this type of artificial leather. Neither of these leathers are as common as those made from petroleum products.
Many types of faux leather are visually indistinguishable from real leather and are used to produce coats, jackets, handbags, and shoes. Additionally, household products, such as upholstered furniture and accessories, are manufactured and marketed for those who avoid the use of animal products. Some vegans question whether faux leather is the best choice when there are natural fiber products that do not resemble leather available. They are also concerned about whether choosing artificial leather may encourage the wearing of real leather products.