Jesco Korea | The Rise of Vegan Leather

Jesco Korea | The Rise of Vegan Leather

The Rise in Vegan Leather: Revolutionizing Sustainable Fashion (Maybe).

In today's blog, we're going to cover one of the hottest topics of 2024 in the fashion industry which is leather, specifically, vegan leather. We'll go over what it is, why it is the way it is, how it's made, what it really means to be utilizing vegan leather and some of the practical reasonings as to why it is being used. 

Let's go!

Introduction: The Vegan Leather Revolution

In the world of fashion and sustainability, vegan leather has emerged as a revolutionary material, offering a cruelty-free and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional animal leather. This innovative fabric is not only gaining popularity among consumers but is also being embraced by leading brands seeking to reduce their ecological footprint. We're going to delve into the various types of vegan leather, explore their unique characteristics, and examine their impact on the fashion industry, including the creation of iconic apparel and accessories.

A Brief History of Vegan Leather

Vegan leather, also known as faux leather, has a rich history that dates back to the early 20th century. Initially developed as an alternative to genuine leather, early versions were made from natural rubber and later from synthetic materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). Over the decades, these materials have been refined to better mimic the texture and durability of animal leather, while advancements in technology have introduced new plant-based options such as cork, kelp, and even pineapple leaves. 

Types of Vegan Leather and Their Characteristics

1. Polyurethane (PU) Leather

Known for: Flexibility, soft texture.
Advantages: More breathable and flexible compared to PVC, does not contain harmful plasticizers, easier to clean.
Disadvantages: Less durable than traditional leather, can crack over time.
Price Range: Generally mid-range, varies based on the quality and brand.

2. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) Leather

Known for: High durability, water resistance.
Advantages: Cheaper than PU, easy to maintain, wide variety of finishes.
Disadvantages: Contains phthalates (harmful chemicals), less breathable.
Price Range: Typically lower, making it accessible for mass-market products.

3. Plant-Based Leathers

Known for: Being eco-friendly, made from sustainable resources.

  1. Cork Leather: Waterproof, lightweight, and soft.
  2. Piñatex® (Pineapple Leather): Made from pineapple leaf fibers, durable and water-resistant.
  3. Mushroom Leather: Biodegradable, similar feel to suede.

Advantages: No harmful chemicals, biodegradable, supports sustainability.
Disadvantages: Often more expensive, limited availability.
Price Range: Generally higher due to the complex manufacturing process. (anywhere from $18 - $40 USD (2024/Q1 Standard)

Practical Applications in Fashion

Vegan leather has paved the way for designers to explore new realms of creativity without compromising on ethics. For instance, Stella McCartney has been at the forefront, using vegan leather in her designs to promote animal-free fashion. Her iconic Falabella bag, made entirely from cruelty-free materials, has become a symbol of luxury vegan fashion. Similarly, Dr. Martens has introduced a range of vegan boots, utilizing synthetic materials that replicate the feel and durability of real leather.

Controversy Surrounding Vegan Leather

When we're talking about vegan leather, we can't forget about the big controversy that rose with Louis Vuitton's PVC pouch. Let's breakdown what happened and why this event was an important one in the vegan leather industry:

1. Luxury Branding vs Material Cost

When you're purchasing something from a Luxury brand, it is expected that you want to feel like you are purchasing something of high value. Luxury brand, such as Louis Vuitton, is known for its craftsmanship and the use of premium materials in its products. When the public discovered that certain items were made using PVC, a material commonly perceived as being 'cheap' or 'low-end', it sparked massive controversy. 

The crux of the dissatisfaction was about the apparent disparity between the material's cost and the high price of the finished goods. Consumers questioned whether the value proposition offered by LV was justified, particularly when similar materials could be found in far less expensive products.

Just because a luxury brand utilizes a material that is perceived as being 'cheap', doesn't necessarily mean that the product itself is cheap. This is where 'branding' so to speak will also come into play. 

2. Brand Value and Pricing Strategy

A luxury brand will often price their products based on brand value, which includes non-tangible factors such as heritage, exclusivity, and the symbolic status associated with their items. The pricing is not solely based on the cost of the materials but also on the brand's market positioning and the perceived value to the customer. This strategy is common in luxury markets but can lead to consumer backlash if the public feels the material quality does not justify the high cost. 

To give an example of pricing strategy coupled with brand value, imagine if a luxury brand priced other non-essential items close to their cost of manufacturing. How would this change your perceived brand value? 

If LV, a manufacturer known for its leather goods with streamer trunks and monogram handbags, decided that T-shirts aren't one of their essential products so they sell it near the cost of manufacturing. You have a $5,000 USD bag, and on the other hand, a $35 T-shirt. That would mean that the T-shirt is accessible to EVERYONE which kills the exclusivity of the brand.

3. Consumer Expectations and Transparency

The controversy also underscored the importance of transparency in the marketing and product composition. Modern consumers, especially in the luxury segment, are increasingly informed and conscious about what they buy. THh expect clear information about how and with what materials products are made. Any perceived disconnect between the product offering and the brand's promotion can lead to dissatisfaction and public outcry. 

In LV's case with its PVC, this is exactly what happened. They perceived that the bag which costs thousands of dollars would have been made with real leather, not PVC. But is PVC really that bad when we look at the bag itself and the purpose it's supposed to serve?

4. Choice of Material Arising from Practicality

Yes, the PVC material is quite cheap. But does cheap mean bad? Not necessarily. From the brand's perspective, the use of PVC might be justified by design choices, durability and the functional benefits that come with utilizing such raw material. PVC is a highly durable material that is meant to last. It's supposed to be utilized without you having to worry about dropping it and leaving a scratch that scratches your soul with it. When you look at it that way, it's not as bad. 

Ethical Consideration and ESG

This brings us to the final point to consider which is ethical consideration along with ESG. While some prefer to rock a leather belt knowing that no animals were involved in the making of that belt, others won't wear a belt unless they know it's genuine leather. Some may argue that the the hide is a by-product of cows being farmed for food, while others think that the hide is the reason why cows are farmed in the first place. Did the egg come before the chicken? That's up to you. I'm definitely not touching that topic because that's a whole blog in it of itself. 

Regardless of which side you're on, vegan leather had definitely seen a rise in popularity in the past couple of years. Is it justified? Again, this is up to your interpretation. If you think it's worth purchasing vegan leather, then more to you. If you like genuine leather, that's good too. You weigh the benefits and detriments to come up with YOUR conclusion. 

Vegan Leather = Marketing Gimmick?

One side note that we should cover is the term 'vegan leather'. Vegan leather isn't a new thing as much as I'd not like to admit it from a vegan leather manufacturer; but it really isn't. Vegan leather, a.k.a. 'faux leather', 'pleather', fake leather', 'PU leather', 'synthetic leather', 'artificial leather'... (you get the point), isn't a new concept. It's always been here, but it's been packaged in a new wrap which makes it shiny and nice. 

There's definitely benefits of utilizing vegan leather as opposed to real leather, but just know that it's not some new thing that came in 2023. It's always been here. 

Conclusion: The Future of Vegan Leather in Fashion

The evolution of vegan leather is a testament to the changing landscape of fashion, where sustainability and ethics are becoming as important as aesthetics. With ongoing advancements in material science, the future of vegan leather looks promising, offering an ever-expanding array of options for designers and consumers alike. As technology progresses, we can expect vegan leather to become even more indistinguishable from real leather, further cementing its place in the world of high fashion and beyond.

By embracing vegan leather, brands and consumers are not just making a style statement but are also contributing to a more sustainable and humane industry. Whether it's a luxury handbag or a pair of trendy boots, vegan leather offers a stylish, ethical, and eco-friendly choice for the modern consumer.

If you'd got some value from this blog, please give it a share as it helps us out! Comment what type of topic you want us to cover, and we'll get on it! 

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