Leather is a very versatile and familiar material. It has been around and used for thousands of years, and yet, the use of leather has remained much the same.
But as we progress further into the future, and Earth’s capacity for leather demand is slowly being pushed to its limit, alternatives may be the appropriate direction until a solution for the demand of real leather is addressed.
Here’s a list of the top 6 alternative leather brands, what sets them apart from real leather, and how they’re slowly changing the face of the material world.
Who they are: Tree Tribe are an accessories and outdoor lifestyle brand, with the mission to bring eco-friendly products to its customers, whilst promising to plant 10 trees for every sale.
Their Material: Tree Tribe use Teak Leaves as their flagship material. These leaves are sustainably harvested in Thailand, and then handcrafted and turned into products with an environmental conscience, and using a minimal carbon-impacting sealing process.
Key Features: Community driven, unique one-of-a-kind designs, socially and ethically responsible! Check out how they’re made here.
Own Thoughts: Though not to everyone’s tastes; I for one LOVE this brand and what they stand for. Their designs are truly unique and have a genuinely positive impact both socially and environmentally. Plus they’d make great conversation if you’d happen to have one on the table during a lunch meeting. Truly one of Earth’s best friends.
Who they are: With a contemporary focus, Montreal-based accessories brand Matt and Nat have strived to create forward thinking and fashionable bags and accessories with a strong ethical approach, whilst maintaining a recognisable design pattern throughout their lines.
Their Material: Matt and Nat are pioneers of recycled materials, including plastic bottles for linings, recycled cork and rubber, and a focus on the more greener PU (Polyurethane), as apposed to PVC (polyvinyl-chloride), which they use as sparingly as possible.
Key Features: Modern, timeless and durable designs, ever increasing product line, a transparent work ethic and strict adhering to the SA8000 standard. Very lightweight. Plus products for pets!
Own Thoughts: I have used Matt and Nat now for over three years, and that’s just one bag. What I love most about this house, is they have a very identifiable signature design, without the overwhelming brand-shove many companies place on their products. A little off-topic, but something else I admire is they are Canadian-based, considering the abundance Canada has of animal materials, yet Matt and Nat have severed convention and created an ethical identity.
Who they are: Embracing the ideals of “slow fashion”, Brave Gentleman, founded by fashion instructor Joshua Katcher, otherwise known as The Discerning Brute, has created a brand that focuses on emerging, innovative and ethical solutions to create a better environment within the fashion world.
Their Material: BGM are all about “future materials”, materials that resemble what the industry is used to but by using techniques and ingredients that benefit everybody from consumer to producer. Biodegradable polyurethane is used for their leather, recycled cotton and polyester blends for their future-cotton, plastic bottles for silk among many others.
Key Features: Are currently investigating in the use of “synthesized keratin fibres (lab-grown wool fiber). BGM work strictly with their manufacturers to ensure fair working environments. Advocates for “slow-fashion”, the ideal that fashion should be considerate to all parties involved, and that inexpensiveness and high volume should be a warning to consumers.
Own Thoughts: As someone who is all about innovation, especially in the fashion world, I can’t commend Joshua Katcha and his team enough for their tireless efforts to retain fashion’s creativity and craftsmanship, all whilst breaking down the unnecessary use of animal materials. My vegan hat goes off to all of you!
Who they are: Founded in London 2015, Charlie Feist is Based on the ideals of companionship, whilst adhering to vegan, caring and consideration principles in its products. A brand that specialises mainly in affordable vegan backpacks. They also host a valuable blog on their website.
Their Material: Charlie Feist uses lots of cotton and nylon in their designs, though there isn’t much description yet about the origin of its vegan leather, which assumingly is made from PU (Polyurethane), they do in fact have a great blog post at how this is made.
Key Features: Designs with practicality in mind. Fully Vegan brand with modern designs.
Own Thoughts: As a relatively young house, I hope to see much more from Charlie Feist, yet their work ethic is definitely in the right direction, with a great blog aimed at an ethical-rich lifestyle.
Who they are: In 1993, two brothers developed the brand Freitag with their first bag made from truck tarpauling and seat belts. The brand has now gone global, offering an array of unique and one-of-a-kind designs from bags, accessories and apparel.
Their Material: Other than using the recycled tarpauling covers from lorries, Freitag also uses a special biodegradable material in some of its designs known as F-Abric, all natural, non-toxic and developed in Europe and made from natural ingredients like hemp, flax and modal (birch).
Key Features: A magnitude of unique designs. Innovative new material usage. A signature style throughout ranges. Ultra strong designs that last the test of time. Repair service for wear and tear.
Own Thoughts: I love anything unique, and this is as unique as it gets. It seems the further away from convention you go, the more ethical you become. What I like about Freitag is they not only up-cycle most of their materials, they also do lots with innovation and biodegradability, something planet Earth NEEDS!
Who they are: Born in 2005, Elvis and Kresse are a luxury lifestyle accessories house, using material-reclamation to create highly unique and one-of-a-kind bags, accessories and even home products, made entirely of reclaimed materials, specifically those from decommissioned London Fire Houses.
Their Material: Using mainly reclaimed fire hoses, Elvis and Kresse do in fact use real leather in some of their designs, though this leather (from Burberry) would otherwise be destined for landfill as it is merely cut offs. This is interesting, as – since the cut off pieces of leather are usually so small and otherwise useless – Elvis and Kresse have developed their own interlocking “Modular” design pattern in many of their products to make full use of this leather.
Key Features: They donate “50%” of their profits back to charites! (WOW) They also have a lifetime repair policy, Made in the UK and have an apprentice training program. They are also sustainable and even include handmade reclaimed-materials in their packaging. Highly transparent company.
Own Thoughts: I love a brand that boasts transparency in their work ethic. Not exactly a Vegan brand, considering their use of leather, though it makes a lot of sense in how they recycle and reuse what would otherwise be thrown into landfill, all 35,000 tons of it each year. That’s a lot of animal for nothing. I must also commend them for their charity donations, which go to companies such as WWF, Help for Heroes, Comic Relief, British Forces Foundation and many Fire Fighter charities. Really excellent job, guys.
There’s a lot to be learnt from brands and houses like these. I am always on the look out for what I will always class as “Ethical Evolution” and I do believe small houses like this are the future. What’s more interesting is that some of them aren’t even trying to be conventional, they are in fact finding their own way, much as we did before leather even existed.
But leather, as a material is and always has been superior in both luxury and durability, but only because we have allowed to be deemed so, purely because we have had no other competition in the centuries it’s been used. It’s worth noting technologies like those above, have not been around as long as leather has, and it will take time to change the stigma around them.
But as we progress further into the future, many good things are likely to come our way, especially with the ever-growing demand and technology behind biofabrication. But that’s for another time. In the meantime, show your support as animal lovers, and invest in the ethical, civilised, and retained luxury of above.