With a growing need for good practices to ensure a sustainable and healthy environment both now and long-term, the leather industry has seen some major additions of leather types. In this article, I research on the difference between leather (real/natural) and eco leather and I’m ready to share with you the fantastic discoveries I made.
What is the difference between leather and eco leather? The difference is leather is primarily sourced from the hides of animals while eco leather is a broad term that is used to describe all leathers that are sourced, manufactured or processed in an eco-friendly way.
There is an interesting dynamics to what leather and eco leather is and the difference goes beyond how both terms are used.
What is Eco Leather?
The concept of eco leather is very interesting as it includes any type of leather obtained from alternative environmentally friendly materials or recycled leather products or leather processed in an eco-friendly way.
This type of leather is designed to drastically reduce the number of leather pollutants and wastage in both the manufacturing and disposition. Also, eco-leather goods or accessories are designed to inherit the durability but in a much cleaner way.
Eco Leather: Using Environmentally Friendly Materials
There have been several innovations in the quest to make our environment safer and still enjoy the luxury of leather. This has brought about the use of fantastic vegan leather alternative materials such as pineapple leaves, apple, mushroom, cork, upcycled rubber,lab-grown fibers, and grape leather.
So with all these awesome alternatives to leather from the hides of animals, it begs the question of why then is real leather still popular while eco leather alternatives are more sustainable to the environment?
The answer to this is in 3-fold that is most of the traditional real leather producers either do not have the technical know-how to execute the use of vegan alternatives or the share lack of unwillingness by some leather producers to invest in the vegan industry or their willingness to hold on to the traditions and culture of producing and using real leather.
Eco Leather: Using Recycled Leather
Leather obtained from recycling centres is also classified eco leather. Leatherworkers and tanneries deliver tons of leather scraps that will otherwise end up in landfills to leather recycling centers. Here, fellow leather craftsmen and women purchase the leather scraps at a relatively cheaper price to make products.
What is Leather?
Natural leather has seen a lot of attention for a really long time and while it is a great material for products most parts of it is not sustainable.
Leather is obtained commonly from the skin of cow, goat sheep, lamb, and other exotic animals like alligator, kangaroo, among many others.
After the skin of the animal is removed, it is tanned. There are different tanning methods with majority of them not being eco-friendly. There is the chrome tanning, alum tanning, combination tanning and the likes that have harmful chemicals as key tanning ingredients.
Of all the tanning methods, vegetable tanning is generally eco friendly because it involves the use of natural plant extracts such as seed, roots, tree backs, etc to make leather imperishable. It is, however, expensive and takes such a long time for the tanning process to be completed.
Is Leather Better than Eco Leather?
On quality and durability level, natural leather, especially, full or top-grain are generally of high-quality and can last years when proper care is given to it.
Due to the newness of “most” eco leather, there isn’t adequate data to show how long it will last although leather technologist makes their own anticipations.
Plus, conventional synthetic leather that developed in the 19th century has not lasted half the length of natural leather.
In addition, eco leather is often a lot thinner and lightweight than natural leather. While its lightweight it is great for making leather fashion items like garments, it also makes it slightly less durable than natural leather.
At the environment level, eco leather is natures best friend. Eco leather made from natural material like fruits, leave, etc are fantastic biodegradable materials.
Although in many cases the argument hold for eco leather, it is worth to mention that usually environmental benefits “most” eco leather present are but only for a short term because having to replace eco leather made products multiple times is arguably more damaging in the long run than the purchase of one high-quality real leather item.
On a beauty level, natural leather and eco leather are just remarkable pieces of materials as both shows unique decorative grain patterns, smoothness, and come in a wide range of beautiful colors.
The main advantage leather has here is that the beauty of natural leather persist permanently as it becomes richer and develops an amazing patina with time when proper care is given to it.
“Majority” of eco leather will not develop a patina which is to many the hallmark of leather beauty and added character.
In addition, breathability is another important feature most leather users look out for in any kind of leather. Leather is a very porous material because of the pores the results when the hair on the animal’s skin is removed. This makes natural leather very breathable allowing it to regulate heat and cool.
Although the breathability of leather may be good for items like shoes, it may not be ideal for other products such as jackets where eco leather does a better job in making the wearer more comfortable.
Furthermore, at a price level most of eco leathers are generally far cheaper and a much sustainable than leather. Eco leather is cheap mainly because it is cheaper to produce. Natural leather, on the other hand, is much more difficult and expensive to produce.
For example, animals raised for their skins will need to be bred for months and in some cases years for the animal to be at the level where it is ready for harvesting.
The breeding periods require feeding, medication, sheltering the animals, labor and then an expensive tanning process which in the case of vegetable tanning can take up to 6 months for the leather to be ready.
Finally, on an ethical level, there’s a lot of debate. Argument for natural leather is that if all skins, that are by-products from the meat industry are not used for leather, the environment will be polluted heavily with them.
On the other hand, arguments against the use of natural leather span the brutality of how animals are slaughtered to the use of harmful tanning substances and chemical dyes to treat leather, thus putting “most” of eco leather on a pedestal.
Similarities Between Leather and Eco Leather
Leather share a lot of similarity with eco leather;
- Both leather and eco leather have some sorts of grain textures
- They both have two primary surfaces
- Both can be colored or dyed
- Eco leather and real leather are great materials for leather products
- Both go through some sorts of man-made processes to make them imperishable and highly workable
- In the best case scenario where best practices are ensured by producers, leather and eco leather may have some parts of its production and disposal to be somewhat less eco-friendly
Differences Between Leather and Eco Leather – Summary
|1. Its primary source is animal
skin or hide
|1. It is sourced from different
sustainable materials like
fruits, lab-grown fibers, and
essentially all environmentally
friendly way of producing
|2. Leather requires tanning to
make it imperishable
|2. Tanning in “most” case is not
required with eco leather
|3. Very expensive both on the
pocket and the environment in
the short term
(chemical tanning processes)
|3. Relatively cheap a short term
basis but costly in the long term
Overall, it can be concluded that there’re peculiar differences between eco leather and leather. The key take away from this article is leather is essentially a multi-billion dollar industry and as a result, it largely has something to either good or bad to contribute to the environment or take away. As such, the industry must ensure the best of the best practices so that our beautiful planet isn’t put to jeopardy. Cheer 😀