Lack of regulation
Despite all the new innovations, not much has changed since the days of synthetic leather – today most vegan leathers are still made from polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), both incredibly pollutants. And even brands that say they use plant-based materials often make as little as 25% of their product from, say, cactus or pineapple skin, and the rest from plastic. The fashion industry remains deeply unregulated, so there is little hindsight on this.
“It’s greenwashing, 100%,” Lee says. “It makes me very angry, but we see it on a daily basis. We often have brands coming to us with this new vegan leather we’re offering them and we have to tell them it’s basically plastic. I would be as bold as saying that vegan fashion is the main area where greenwashing is a concern.
Unfortunately, these companies market their products to consumers who, on the whole, do their best to make a positive impact. This is especially true in January when, thanks to the popularity of the “veganuary” plant-based eating initiative, searches for vegan fashion are higher than at any other time of the year.
“It’s a shame, because so many kids are excited about vegan diets and want to buy a vegan purse, and are horrified when they find out it’s mostly plastic,” Lee says.
Shades of gray
The problem starts when people confuse their eating habits with their clothing consumption. “We need to educate people to think about fashion in shades of gray rather than black and white,” says Lee. “Eating vegan is simple, especially because the ingredients are listed. We don’t get that with materials, so there’s plenty of opportunity to hide what’s hidden in products.
She cites a few companies that claim to make accessories out of cactus or apple leather, but which – according to Lee – base few materials on real plant products, relying instead largely on plastic, which is much more polluting.
But because these “alternative leathers” are only partly plastic, have been processed and contain multiple different elements, it is also difficult to recycle them. This means that much of the discarded vegan leather will likely end up in landfill.
For some people, this is even better than contributing to the slaughter of animals or the creation of materials made from crude and environmentally harmful fossil fuels – but the lack of transparency means that few consumers do this choice in an informed way.
Pangaia is a company trying to fight back against some of the misinformation. This innovative LA-based brand is scientifically very advanced and has become one of the pioneers of vegan fashion. It is also a policy to give customers as many details as possible.
“Right now, about 60% of all fashion is synthetic, and synthetic is pure fossil fuels,” says Amanda Parkes, COO of Pangaia. “We don’t want to add anything to that, and we want to make sure all pristine content is ethical and no animals have died – but we know solutions aren’t always perfect, so we say as much as we can. to the client.”