WORDS BY ASHLEIGH GRIBBON
More and more, designers are choosing to use cruelty-free, eco-friendly leather alternatives in their collections. And designers like Stella McCartney – a brand rated well by the world’s leading source for ethical brand ratings, Good On You – are pioneering sustainable substitutes using innovative new biomaterials. But it’s important to note that not all synthetic leathers are produced in the same way, and, while all vegan leather is animal-free, some are produced using plastic – with many designers choosing to upcycle pre-existing plastic materials.
If you’re interested in buying into vegan leather alternatives, there are a few conscious brands that should be on your radar. Find out more about how each brand makes their vegan leather, how best to care for it and shop their highlights from the season below.
Young contemporary brand Nanushka has been an Instagram favorite since its inception thanks to a strong vegan leather offering in its ready-to-wear and accessories collections. ‘Our vegan leather is buttery soft and, by touch, you can't even tell the difference [from real leather],’ says founder and creative director, Sandra Sandor. ‘It’s made from polyester and polyurethane; no animal skin or animal derivatives are used in the manufacturing process so we believe it’s a good option for those who are vegan and want to wear a leather alternative. One of my favorite pieces at the moment is the Blair blazer, which I love because it combines masculine tailoring with a touch of feminine draping. I’d pair it with vegan leather shorts or high-waisted trousers for a classic tailored look. Recently, my favorite work-from-home outfit is a pair of the vegan leather shorts which I style with a cozy knit. Our vegan leather is machine washable on 30 degrees which makes caring for it very easy, too.’
A.W.A.K.E. Mode is the brainchild of Fashion Director of Harper’s Bazaar Russia, Natalia Alaverdian. ‘We buy our leather from a sustainable, eco-friendly Italian supplier called Coronet,’ notes the founder and creative director. ‘They make their leather out of bio polyols – elements derived from plant materials – and it contains more than 50% bio content which comes from renewable sources. It feels so soft and very similar to expensive natural leathers, and similar to the softest of suede on the inside. My favorite pieces from this season are the little pillow Lucy bag, the draped midi dress and multi-panel midi skirt,’ adds Natalia. ‘I would recommend not to keep vegan leather pieces next to dark-colored leather as color transfer might occur. If you happen to mark it, many stains can actually be simply removed with a napkin dabbed in water, and a general dry clean is ideal if your garment gets overly dirty.’
Stella McCartney has been a pioneering voice for veganism in the industry for almost two decades, long before it gained popular traction. And SS20 proved no exception, with the designer releasing fresh iterations of her animal-friendly faux leather. This season’s highlights? The knotted tote bags from the runway show – in polyurethane, available in blue, brown and black faux leather – and the Karli double-zip trousers. Care-wise, the brand recommends having these ‘skin-free skin’ pieces dry cleaned for the most enduring wear. In addition to its current offering, the brand’s partnership with Bolt Threads – a biotech company rooted in creating sustainable fashion biomaterials and fabrics – has led to the creation of a new biomaterial-grown leather substitute called Mylo. Watching this space for a release of the fabric into mainline collections.
Soft tailoring, earthy tones and natural textures are signatures of Low Classic – and the Seoul-based brand makes a strong case for cruelty-free leather in every collection. ‘The faux leather that we use has a powdery tactility, so it feels very soft,’ notes creative director Lee Myung Shin of the brand’s polyurethane leather alternative. ‘Natural leather is not only cruel to animals, but also uses lots of dangerous chemicals including formaldehyde and cyanide in its tanning process. My favorite pieces from the season are the burgundy faux leather jacket – it’s a slimmer shape than the oversized jacket and features a cinching waist belt and large, practical pockets – and the white faux leather skirt. I love the unbalanced hem, and the natural gloss of the faux leather gives it a luxurious feel. We advise people to keep their vegan leather pieces in the shade, away from direct sunlight.’