The Very Real Problem of Vegan and Cereal Leathers

The global obsession with sustainability leads product manufacturers to do some interesting things. Take the issue of leather. Today, you can buy products ranging from shoes to handbags that look like genuine leather but are, in fact, made of vegan or cereal leather. Such products are often marketed as being superior because they are allegedly more sustainable.

People are free to believe what they want to about sustainability, climate change, and even the ethical treatment of animals. Yet personal opinions do not address a very real problem associated with vegan and cereal leathers. It is a problem that manufacturers try extremely hard to avoid.

What is the problem? Vegan and cereal leathers are not leathers at all. And because they are not leathers, they do not look or perform like the real thing. They don’t wear as well as the real thing. They are an inferior substitute referred to as leathers to get consumers to buy under the misconception that they are getting something of equal quality.

Vegan Leather Is Plastic

Vegan leather is so named because it doesn’t contain any animal products. In that narrow sense, applying the vegan qualification is possible. But here is the truth about vegan leather: it’s plastic. Nearly all vegan leathers are synthetic materials made from polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride – both of which are plastics.

To the trained eye, this presents a real dichotomy for sustainability. Plastic is a petroleum-derived product. And according to conventional thinking, petroleum is one of the biggest enemies to sustainability. Perhaps that’s why manufacturers refer to their product as vegan leather. If they called it what it really is – a plastic substitute – sustainable brands wouldn’t get away with selling it as a legitimate alternative to genuine leather.

Cereal Leather Is a Natural Fiber

Of the two options, cereal leather is the more sustainable alternative. It is made from fibers derived from cereals and grains. Cereal leather works well enough for products like handbags and wallets. A small number of shoe manufacturers are now using it to make their products as well.

Even though manufacturers want their cereal leather products to compete with genuine leather, they must admit that their leather alternative doesn’t perform as well. Some manufacturers try to hide the fact by combining cereal leather with genuine leather in order to increase strength and improve performance. But no matter how you cut it, cereal leather just isn’t as durable as the real thing.

Leather Shoes for a Reason

The best way to understand the problem with vegan and cereal leathers is to talk about shoes. Shoes have been made from genuine leather for centuries. And by the way, that’s no accident. Very few materials work as well for shoes, at least when it comes to producing tough, rugged products people can continue wearing year after year.

The founders of Salt Lake City-based GC Tech say that a good pair of leather shoes can last a decade or more. GC Tech makes a state-of-the-art galoshes and men’s shoe covers for that very reason. Their products extend the life of a good pair of leather shoes even longer.

Go back as far as you want in human history. You will find people making shoes from animal hides. The fact is that genuine leather withstands an awful lot of punishment that would cause most other fabrics to fail. You can call alternative products leathers, but that does not make them so. Vegan and cereal leathers are not leather at all. They are substitute materials promoted as leathers to sell products to people who might feel guilty about buying animal hides.

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