Can Leather Be Cruelty-Free? (Includes 4 Natural Options)

by Becky

January 31, 2021

The process of making leather is cruel to animals that are killed for their skins.

There is an argument that only dead animals, or those already used for meat, are the ones being used.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t cruel to wear a dead animal’s skins around.

While real leather cannot be made from anything except animal skins, faux leather (or fake leather) can be made from many kinds of materials that do not originate from animals – making them cruelty-free. The most common materials used include polyurethane, recycled materials and cork.

Many companies are working on producing faux leather that is made from naturally occurring sources.

These advancements mean that fewer animals might be killed for their skin which reinforces the point that we don’t need animals to die for us.

Materials That Can Make Leather

Faux leather

Unless you are specifically looking for key identifiers that tell the difference between real and faux leather, chances are you would never be able to tell.

Most of the time, the quality you will get from faux leather is just as good as you would get with authentic leather.

While most faux leather is advertised as cruelty-free, environmentally friendly, or vegan – you still have to do your research.

Faux leather made from chemicals that can kill someone if it gets too hot is not environmentally friendly. Just like leather that could be harming a species of plants isn’t great for the environment either.

The most significant way to fight against animal cruelty when it comes to leather products is to do your research and only buy from those who are genuinely cruelty-free.

Give your business to someone who does the right things. 

Man-Made Materials

Man-made materials are usually created with a long list of chemicals and products. The materials are not typically clean resources, even though they are cruelty-free most of the time.


Used in place of PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, to reduce the number of chemicals and fumes released during making it.

PVC has been linked to certain types of cancer when being made or exposed to too much heat.

Thankfully, polyurethane is a safer way to make faux leather.

While it still releases dangerous chemicals when exposes to too much heat, it can handle a higher temperature before it starts to breakdown and become hazardous.

However, no matter which of these materials you use to make leather, the environmental impact is still an issue.

Chemicals being released into the atmosphere are an issue that isn’t quite on par with the vegan or cruelty-free lifestyle. 

Recycled Materials

Recycling materials to make other items is an excellent use of the product.

While killing animals for their skins the first time around may not be good for the environment, reusing them to create new products can save future animals from being killed for the same purposes.

While there are several things you can reuse to make leather, the most common is rubber.

You can reuse rubber from several different things to make faux leather. Things such as:

  • Tires;
  • Inner tubes from bike tires; and
  • Shoes.

Natural Materials

Naturally occurring materials originate from nature or from natural sources such as plants or trees.

They are usually more environmentally friendly than animal skins or man-made products.


Cork is a durable and sustainable material that can be used to make faux leather. It is harvested from a type of cork tree that is native to certain parts of Europe and Africa.

The features that make it appealing to anyone using it for leather, include the fact that it is:

  • Waterproof;
  • Fire-resistant;
  • Elastic; and
  • Pliable enough to sew and cut.

For the most part, it does such a good job at mimicking the properties of leather that you wouldn’t be able to notice that your purse or belt is actually made from parts of a tree.

Mushroom Leather

Some companies have found a way to take a mushroom's properties and use them to make sustainable form of leather.

One of the most popular ways to do this is to harvest the mushrooms’ mycelium cells and combine it with cellulose-rich nutrients.

This mixture is left to grow and develops into thick fibrous sheets that can be cut and tanned to look like leather.

This is a fantastic advancement into the fashion industry, and while it is not something used commercially yet, it is on its way and will reduce waste or the need for animal skin.

Grape Leather

One company in Italy, Vegea, has found a way to use grape skin, stems, and stalks to create faux leather.

As these parts of the grape usually go to waste in the wine industry, turning them into textiles reduces waste when harvesting grapes to almost zero.

A little over 13 billion pounds of grape material is leftover and thrown out after the winemaking process every year.

They hope to reduce waste and, by doing so, also decrease the need for live animals to be needed for leather.

Pineapple leather

Another company that uses discarded fruit to make faux leather is Pinatex.

They take unused pineapple leaves that are left after a harvest to produce a sustainable and durable form of leather.

Today, Pinatex has become very successful and is used by over 1000 brands in in the fashion industry and for upholsteries.

Pros and Cons of Cruelty-Free Leather

While we all want to make leather that is more environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, there are some properties about real leather that can’t be copied or manufactured from other products.

Most people would agree that these factors are not enough to make a case for harming animals; you still have quite a contrast between faux and real leather.



  • Inexpensive compared to real leather
  • Can be made into any color
  • Waterproof
  • Much easier to manipulate and sew
  • More texture options
  • Not as durable as real leather
  • Can sometimes feel like a plastic material
  • Is usually made by environmentally unfriendly processes
  • Dyes can fade or transfer

Cruelty-Free Leather Market

The different textures, qualities, and products you have access to through the cruelty-free leather market are vast.

Innovators haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to what we can do with leather products that don’t involve harming animals.

And the demand is there – some companies are entirely focused on making sure their products are made cruelty-free and use it as a huge advertising point.

The market for those wanting products made without any animal harm or products is growing rapidly, and companies with the same goal stand to make quite a revenue in the next few years.

The great thing about these companies is that they all seem to have different angles about what they are making or how they are making things.

Most of the time, you won’t find two companies that make the same products in the same way or with the same ingredients.

Final Thoughts

A variety of cruelty-free leather

While beautiful and durable, leather is a terrible fashion choice given the idea that an animal had to be killed for your purse or shoes.

Thankfully, there are ways that leather can be made cruelty free.

While it is not genuine leather, most people won’t notice a difference.

The idea that leather can be made with substances from the earth, or human-made, allows for a vast environmental shift in animal and livestock numbers and quality of life.

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