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Vegan leather becomes increasingly popular in the UK

By Léana Esch

20 Sep 2021

Fashion

Image: Unsplash, Amber Martin

British charity The Vegan Society has released a new report, dubbed “The Rise of Vegan Fashion”, which highlights the growing importance of leather alternatives in the fashion industry. Our main take away from it? Over 70 per cent of the 1,000 customers surveyed say they would be ready to spend more money on plant-based leathers over animal-derived ones, confirming a flourishing demand.

From high street labels to luxury houses, more and more brands are committing to sustainable and ethical options, whether it be using vegan leather, certified textiles or going fur-free. Neiman Marcus and Canada Goose are the latest ones to ban fur from their collections, joining brands such as Prada, Gucci or H&M.

Nick Drewe, e-commerce expert at coupon provider WeThrift explains in the press release, “Brands are catering to customer preferences and societal shifts. With a 43 per cent increase year-on-year in products described as ‘vegan’ in the UK, fashion companies are increasingly looking for animal-free alternatives to leather and suede as well as other materials such as Bamboo and new fabrics such as Nullarbor.”

Indeed, more online retailers are targeting audiences that are particularly drawn to responsible fashion, therefore diversifying their offering with more eco-conscious pieces. The Vegan Society’s report revealed that almost 50 per cent of the customers surveyed want to see more vegan verified fashion across all clothing categories.

The Vegan Trademark has been around since 1990 - it’s the oldest in the world - and credits products that are entirely free from animal ingredients. However, there are still many improvements to be made three decades after its inception: a lot of processes and materials used to conceive fashion items contain animal elements without consumers even being aware. Think synthetic leathers, metals, fabric dyes, adhesives and glues among others.

But customers’ perception still needs to shift, so they’re more familiar with the scope of the problem. According to The Vegan Society, only 37 per cent of the customers surveyed believe leather coming from cows is cruel whereas almost 60 per cent believe skins coming from exotic animals are cruel. Plus, as little as 34 per cent think plant-based leather is ethical. Although ‘sustainable’ is the first word that comes to mind when consumers hear ‘plant-based leather’, it’s also referred to as innovative and modern, proving that changes can be made in the industry.

Vegan leather most commonly comes from plant materials and does offer a durable and sustainable alternative to animal-based leather. One of the first plant-based options developed was Piñatex, which was created at the beginning of the noughties and is now used by a large array of fashion brands, including Hugo Boss. It’s made from waste pineapple leaf fibres, yet many alternatives are now seeing the light of day: mushroom, cactus and apple leathers are all becoming increasingly popular.

Even if many brands are still learning about vegan fabrics and slowly committing to more ethical choices, some are already leading the way - and not always the ones we’d suspect. WeThrift indicated in its Inclusive Index study that ASDA has been the first supermarket to introduce vegan fashion products to the market.