Faux Leather vs. Real Leather: Environmental Sustainability, Durability, Cost to Customers

In today's society, we are often bombarded by ads of fast fashion that promise affordable stylish option. An example of fast fashion that we often see in various stores are faux or vegan leather accessories. They are cheap to make, sold at low price points, and claim to be less detrimental to the environment than genuine cow leather.

However, the reality is a bit further than that. 

To uncover this, first, we need to look at how vegan or faux leathers are made. Most fake leathers are made of some kind of plastic product—which is derived from petroleum. Other faux leathers are made of polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC), a product that contains phthalates.

Phthalates are a group of industrial chemicals that add flexibility and resilience to consumer and building products. To render plastics as soft as leather, it requires phthalates. Exposures to phthalates in humans has been linked to various side effects, such as: changes in sex hormone levels, altered development of genitals, and low sperm count and quality, and obesity. They have also been linked to reduced female fertility, preterm birth and low birthweight, a worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms, and altered toddler behaviour. 

These harmful chemical substances used in the creation of faux leathers will then be released into the air which ultimately harms humans and animals that are exposed to them.

When assessing environmental impact, we also need to look at its durability. Faux leather products also don't last as long as real leather. This means that they will end up in landfills and can only be broken down to microplastics. Microplastics will then become pollutant in our ocean and enter our digestive systems. In fact, plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean's surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile.

Garth Covernton, a PhD candidate at University of Victoria's department of biology, and his team looked at 26 papers assessing the amount of microplastics found in individual food items. The study found that a person's average microplastic consumption would likely be somewhere between 70,000 and 121,000 particles per year. Not to mention, 93% of Americans age six or older test positive for plastic chemicals in their bodies. 

Knowing that faux/vegan leather is not as good to the environment as it claims to be, genuine leather is not innocent either in this matter. The tanning process of cow leather is known to use a lot of clean water in the process, a scarcity in some parts of the world. Tanning with chromium salts also impacts the tannery workers' health negatively.

With all of this in mind, let's assess the benefits and downfalls of using faux vs. genuine leather based on 3 important aspects that directly impact us day-to-day: durability, environmental impact, and cost to consumer.

At its core, faux leather is not as durable as real leather because it is made of plastics and it breaks down faster. When they begin to wear out, they don't wear out as attractively.

Real leather, on the other hand, far outlasts faux leather in long term endurance, and the more you wear it, the better it looks. Given the proper care, the same wear and tear that would wear out and tear up another product will instead develop the character and patina in real leather that make it even more desirable over time.

Environmental Impact:
As we have mentioned earlier, the process of creating faux leather is dangerous to the environment. It involves harmful chemicals (such as phthalates) that can affect our health negatively.

Faux leather also tends to end up in landfills faster than real leather, and at best, become microplastics. However, it can never be broken down or decompose completely. In fact, all of the plastics that we ever produced are still with us here today and they continue to pollute our environment.

Genuine leathers, on the other hand, are made of animal hides, which are biodegradable. Due to their durability, they tend to last longer and at the end of its lifespan, they will decompose and return to earth naturally.

Cost to Customers:
Faux leather is cheaper at face value. They can be as much as 10x cheaper than real leather and hence, more accessible to customers at any level of purchasing power. However, it is important to note that they don't last as long as real leather. This means that while they are cheaper and easier on our wallets, they are also fuelling the fast fashion industry and adding to more plastics waste in our landfills and oceans. 

Genuine leather is known to last forever, even generations. This is why leather has been used by mankind since the beginning of time. When you buy a leather bag or a pair of leather boots, they usually last a very long time. When cared for, they can last generations. This means that while they cost more at first, if we look at the cost per wear, they become cheaper overtime, but more valuable at the same time (due to the development of wear and tear and the priceless patina). 

At Majas, we produce sustainably-sourced genuine leather goods. This means that not only our leathers are the end products of the meat industry (which will be wasteful to throw out), we also only produce our goods every 6 months to ensure a sustainable cycle. All of our products are designed in Toronto by our Founder and we work directly with women artisans in Central Java to craft each piece by hand. 

To view our handcrafted pieces, head over to the Shop section now.