🌱 Plant-Powered: The Rise of Game Changing Plant-Based Vegan Leathers

Written by: Matt



Time to read 17 min

Welcome to the green frontier of plant-based vegan leathers - a place where fashion meets eco-friendliness. Unlike their synthetic cousins, these vegan leathers get their start in the soil, not a lab, offering a unique blend of style and sustainability. In this article we will explore the different types of plant-based vegan leathers, unravelling how they come to be and why they're turning heads in the ethical fashion scene. It's about making choices that are kind to both animals and the planet. So, let's delve into the green, ethical, and exciting realm of plant-based vegan leathers, exploring what makes them a worthy contender for your next purchase.

What are Plant-Based Leathers?

Welcome to the world of plant-based vegan leathers! As we become more conscious of our impact on the environment and animal welfare, this alternative to traditional leather or synthetic leathers is gaining popularity. Unlike conventional leather, which is made from animal hides, or synthetic leathers which are generally petrochemical based, plant-based vegan leathers are derived from a variety of plant sources, making them an eco-friendly and cruelty-free alternative.

The recent emergence of plant-based vegan leather marks a significant shift in the fashion and textile industry. This innovative material offers a solution to some of the challenges posed by traditional leather production or synthetic alternatives. Before delving deeper into the different types of plant-based vegan leathers and their unique characteristics, let's take a brief look at the conventional leather industry and its environmental footprint.

The Conventional Leather Industry

Leather has been used for centuries for its durability and aesthetic appeal. However, the production process of conventional leather has considerable environmental implications. The conventional leather industry requires a significant amount of resources, such as water and land, contributing substantially to environmental degradation. Moreover, it often involves cruel practices such as dehorning and branding, causing harm to animals.

The tanning process, a crucial step in converting raw hides into finished leather, involves harmful chemicals that can pollute water bodies when discharged untreated. The conventional leather industry contributes significantly to air pollution, with high levels of methane emissions from livestock rearing.

Plant-Based Vegan Leathers: An Eco-Friendly Alternative

Against this backdrop, plant-based vegan leathers have emerged as an eco-friendly alternative that addresses many of these concerns. Plant-based vegan leathers are made from renewable resources such as pineapple leaves, apple waste, cactus, and mushrooms, avoiding the exploitation of animals and the concerns around plastic waste with synthetic leathers.

These materials do not require the same level of resources as conventional leather, making them a more sustainable choice. Moreover, the production process of plant-based vegan leathers often avoids many of the harmful chemicals used in traditional tanning methods. Instead, they use innovative techniques that are less harmful to the environment. For instance, Piñatex, a type of vegan leather, is made from pineapple leaf fibers, a byproduct of the pineapple industry. This not only reduces waste but also provides additional income to farmers.

Plant-based vegan leathers represent an exciting development in sustainable fashion, offering a viable and ethical alternative to conventional leather or synthetic alternatives. In the following sections, we will explore this fascinating world further, discussing the variety of plant-based vegan leathers, their sustainability, ethical aspects, pros and cons, and how to choose and care for them. 

The Wide Variety of Plant-Based Vegan Leathers

As we venture further into the world of plant-based vegan leathers, we're met with a plethora of diverse materials. You will see that it sometimes sounds more like a description of a meal than different types of leathers! These eco-friendly alternatives are revolutionizing the fashion industry, offering cruelty-free options that challenge traditional notions of leather. The world of plant-based vegan leathers is broad and diverse, mirroring the spectrum of sustainability and innovation they embody, however there are two distinct categories of plant-based vegan leathers:

Plant based leather collage showing leather samples cactus pineapple and apples from which it can be made


Composite Plant-Based Leathers

These leathers are a fusion of plant-based materials with other elements to attain the texture and durability akin to traditional leather. This may be a base layer made from plant fibres (e.g. Pineapple leaf) covered with a bio based substance to mimic leather, or a textile such as cotton covered with a plant based leather substitute (e.g. cactus). 


Popular examples of composite plant based leathers that are discussed in more detail include Pineapple Leaf (Piñatex), Apple, Cactus (Desserto), Bamboo, and Wine / Grape.

Workshop bench with leather samples and mushrooms growing on top


Plastic-Free Plant-Based Leathers


In striving for a purer eco-friendly profile newer innovations in plant based leathers have sought to remove any plastic or synthetic inputs. Due to the innovative nature of these materials they are often at a very high price point and are not yet widely available; however they are likely to represent the future of sustainable vegan leathers.


Popular examples of plastic free plant-based leathers that are discussed in more detail include Mirum (a unique blend of rubber, biomass charcoal, plant-based oils, and waxes), Cork, and Mushroom leathers.

🍎 Apple Leather (AppleSkin)

Features and Benefits

Apple leather is a novel form of vegan leather made from the waste generated during apple juice production. It's a sustainable choice as it utilises waste that would otherwise be discarded. Apple leather is durable, UV-resistant, and has a smooth finish.

Popular Uses

Apple leather is gaining popularity in the fashion industry due to its high quality and sustainability. It's used in the production of bags, shoes, and accessories. Its unique origin also makes it a conversation starter! Rahui London uses an Apple Leather called Apple Skin for several of its products due to its sustainability and performance characteristics.

Brown Apple Leather sample
Rahui London

🌵 Cactus Leather (Desserto)

Features and Benefits

Cactus leather, like that produced by Desserto, is a sustainable and innovative form of vegan leather. It's made from mature leaves of cactus plants without harming the plant, and does not require any harmful chemicals for processing. Cactus leather is biodegradable, breathable, and has a high tensile strength.

Popular Uses

With its elegant look and soft texture, cactus leather is increasingly being used in high-end fashion. You'll find it in products like handbags, wallets, shoes, and even car interiors. Rahui London uses Cactus leather in some of its collections.

Cactus Leather sample
Rahui London

🍍Pineapple Leather (Piñatex)

Features and Benefits

Pineapple leather, also known as Piñatex, is made from the waste fibers of pineapple leaves. It's a byproduct of the pineapple harvest, so no additional resources are needed to produce it. Pineapple leather is strong, versatile, and lightweight, and it provides a good source of income for farming communities.

Popular Uses

Pineapple leather is popular in the fashion industry and is used to create shoes, bags, wallets, and upholstery. Its unique texture gives a natural and exotic appeal to the end products. Rahui London uses Pineapple leather in some of its collections.

Pineapple Leather sample
Rahui London

🎍Bamboo Leather

Features and Benefits

Bamboo leather is a sustainable alternative to traditional leather, made from bamboo fibers which are known for their strength and durability​. It's a renewable resource as bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth​. Processing bamboo into leather is more environmentally friendly as it requires less energy and fewer chemicals compared to conventional leather production​.

Popular Uses

Bamboo leather is utilized in various fashion items including handbags, shoes, and accessories, providing a stylish yet eco-friendly choice.

Bamboo Leather sample
Rahui London

🍇Wine / Grape Leather

Features and Benefits

Derived from grape waste, specifically what is leftover when wine is made (Marc or Pomace), wine or grape leather is a sustainable and innovative material, providing a use for what would otherwise be discarded​. It's a byproduct of the wine industry, making it a circular economy solution​. Grape leather is durable, flexible, and has a unique aesthetic appeal reminiscent of traditional leather​

Popular Uses

Its elegant look makes it suitable for high-end fashion items like handbags, wallets, and upholstery.

Wine or Grape Leather sample
Rahui London


Features and Benefits

Mirum is a material made without any plastic or synthetic binders, designed to be fully biodegradable​. It's created from a blend of natural fibers, including rubber and other compostable components, which are all bound together without the use of any plastic or synthetic glues​​. It's aimed at providing a truly sustainable alternative to both animal leather and plastic-based vegan leathers.

Popular Uses

Mirum is positioned as an alternative for any application where leather might traditionally be used however due to its current high cost it not yet widely used.

Generic Vegan Leather sample
Rahui London


Features and Benefits

Although cork does not look like animal leather it is often used as a leather substitute due to its  lightweight, waterproof, and durable nature. Cork is made from the bark of cork oak trees, which naturally regrows, making cork leather a renewable resource. The production process is environmentally friendly, and cork leather is also biodegradable​

Popular Uses

Cork is a longstanding material that is utilised in a variety of products including shoes, bags, and accessories.

Cork Leather sample
Rahui London

🍄Mushroom Leather

Features and Benefits

Mushroom leather, also known as Muskin, is made from mycelium—threads from the root structure of mushrooms, which can imitate the look and feel of animal-based leather. It is biodegradable and compostable, with a sustainability profile that is further enhanced by its eco-friendly production processes. Mushroom leather is lighter and softer than animal hide, making it easier to work with for designers. It's also water-resistant and breathable, making it ideal for luxury fashion items

Popular Uses

Mushroom leather is used in a range of products including shoes, bags, and even in the development of bricks and furniture due to its robust nature. However its current high costs means it is not yet widespread.

Mushroom Leather composite image
Rahui London

Each type of plant-based vegan leather carries unique characteristics and uses. Whether it's the resilient cactus leather, the biodegradable pineapple leather, the waste-reducing apple leather, or the premium plastic free Mirum, these materials offer exciting possibilities for the future of sustainable fashion.

The Sustainability Question

As we delve further into the world of plant-based vegan leathers, it's crucial to address a significant concern: Are these genuinely sustainable alternatives to animal leather? To answer this, we need to demystify the sustainability claims of plant-based vegan leathers and compare their environmental impact with traditional leather and plastic-based faux leathers.

Unpacking the Sustainability Claims

In contrast to conventional leather, which relies heavily on animal agriculture and tanning processes known for their harmful emissions, plant-based vegan leathers are often touted as eco-friendly alternatives. Vegan leather is uniform and doesn't involve dealing with imperfections inherent in animal leather, making its production predictable and less wasteful.

However, like all products, plant-based leathers have their own environmental footprint. While some types of vegan leather are made from natural fibers like apple peels or cactus, others are contain artificial materials like PU. These materials, derived from fossil fuels, are not biodegradable and can take centuries to break down. Therefore, it's important to differentiate between different types of plant-based vegan leathers when evaluating their sustainability.

Comparing Environmental Impacts

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact, we need to consider not just the materials used, but also the entire life cycle of the product: from raw material extraction to disposal. Traditional leather, despite its natural origins, can have a significant environmental footprint due to the polluting tanning processes and the resource-intensive animal agriculture it relies on. In contrast, plant-based vegan leathers avoid these issues but may introduce new ones, especially if they rely on synthetic materials.

However, it's worth noting that when it comes to vegan leathers all plant-based vegan leathers are generally superior to their synthetic cousins. Those made from organic materials like cactus, apple peels, or mushrooms often have a lower environmental impact than their synthetic counterparts. Their production is more sustainable as it doesn't involve petroleum-based products and results in biodegradable material. Furthermore, these plant-based vegan leathers offer an added advantage of utilizing agricultural waste, thereby promoting a circular economy.

In comparison, faux leathers made from PVC or polyurethane, while avoiding the animal harm associated with traditional leather, present their own environmental challenges. As mentioned earlier, these materials take centuries to decompose and are derived exclusively from non-renewable fossil fuels. Hence, their production and disposal contribute to environmental pollution and climate change.

The sustainability of plant-based vegan leathers depends largely on the specific material and production process. While they offer significant advantages over traditional leather and some forms of faux leather, it's essential to ensure that these alternatives don't substitute one form of environmental harm for another. You can find more detail on the specific materials in their individual profiles.

Ethical Aspects of Plant-Based Vegan Leathers

As we navigate the world of plant-based vegan leathers, it's crucial that we not only consider their environmental impact but also evaluate them through an ethical lens. Understanding the ethical implications of plant-based vegan leathers can deepen our appreciation for these innovative materials and inform our consumer choices. Let's take a closer look at animal welfare, fair trade, and labor rights issues associated with these leathers.

Animal Welfare and Plant-Based Leathers

The conventional leather industry often raises serious concerns about animal welfare due to practices such as factory farming and live animal exports. These practices can cause significant suffering and stress to animals, leading some activists to argue that using animal products for fashion purposes is unnecessary. In contrast, plant-based vegan leathers present an animal-friendly alternative. By utilizing materials like cacti, pineapples, apples, and mushrooms, plant-based vegan leathers bypass the need for animal hides altogether, eliminating any direct harm to animals in their production process. However, it's critical to remember that sustainability and ethical considerations go hand-in-hand. While vegan leathers may not directly harm animals, certain types, especially those synthetic leathers derived from plastic, can still pose environmental challenges.

Fair Trade and Labor Rights in Plant-Based Leather Production

Beyond animal welfare, plant-based vegan leathers also touch on other important ethical issues, such as fair trade and labour rights. Given that these leathers are derived from various plant sources, it's essential to ensure that these crops are grown in a sustainable manner and that farmers receive fair compensation for their work. Additionally, the production process of plant-based vegan leathers should respect labour rights, providing safe working conditions and reasonable wages for all workers involved. A number of the established companies who make plant based leathers have a focus on social impact. Companies such as Ananas Anam, who make the Pineapple Leather Piñatex, support rural farming communities by working directly with farming cooperatives to create an additional stream of income to pineapple farmers.

The Appeal of Ethically-Minded Plant-Based Leathers

So, how do these ethical considerations contribute to the allure of plant-based vegan leathers? The answer lies in the growing consumer awareness and demand for more ethically-produced goods. More than ever, consumers are considering the impact of their purchases on the environment, animals, and other people. They're not just buying a product; they're investing in a set of values. In this light, plant-based vegan leathers represent more than just an eco-friendly alternative to traditional leather—they embody a commitment to ethical practices, from animal welfare to fair trade and labour rights. This is in the DNA of who Rahui is as a company, we use plant based leathers as a signal, we want to make thinking about your impact on the world the most fashionable thing you can do

That said, it's important to remember that not all plant-based vegan leathers are created equal. Some may prioritize sustainability, while others emphasize ethical labor practices. As consumers, we must remain diligent and informed, scrutinizing the claims made by brands and seeking out those that align with our values.

In the next section, we'll delve into the pros and cons of plant-based vegan leathers, exploring their benefits and potential drawbacks. But for now, let's appreciate the potential of these materials to promote more ethical consumer choices—a potential that is as exciting as it is challenging to realise.

The Pros and Cons of Plant-Based Leathers

Exploring the world of plant-based vegan leathers, it's crucial to weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks. These considerations are key in understanding why these alternatives have sparked such interest and debate among consumers, manufacturers, and environmentalists alike.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Vegan Leathers

One of the most celebrated advantages of plant-based vegan leathers is their animal-friendly nature. Unlike conventional leather, no animals are harmed in the production of these materials. This attribute aligns with a growing consumer preference for cruelty-free products, making plant-based vegan leathers a compelling option for those mindful of animal welfare.

Moreover, plant-based vegan leathers hold potential for better sustainability. Traditional leather production involves a high level of water usage, energy consumption, and chemical pollution. In contrast, plant-based leathers—when produced responsibly—can significantly reduce these environmental impacts. However, as discussed in previous sections, the reality of this potential depends heavily on the specifics of the manufacturing process. So, while the opportunity for enhanced sustainability is there, it's not a guaranteed outcome.

Potential Drawbacks of Plant-Based Vegan Leathers

Despite the promising attributes, there are also some concerns associated with plant-based vegan leathers. From a user perspective people can have concerns with durability and longevity due to the newness of these materials. Higher quality plant-based vegan leathers called out on this page have supporting durability testing that in most instances is equal or better than animal leather alternatives, however time will tell how they perform in real life settings over the long term.

From an environmental standpoint, it is critical to understand what specific vegan leather your products are made from. Unfortunately many companies use the term vegan leather to hide the fact they are using plastic based synthetic leathers rather than composite or plastic free plant-based vegan leathers. As highlighted by Harper's Bazaar, synthetic vegan leathers made from plastics which can take years to biodegrade. There is much confusion in the market, some of it deliberately caused by companies trying to hide the reality of their materials. 

In sum, while plant-based vegan leathers present a promising alternative to conventional leather, it's essential to recognize that they come with their own set of challenges. Finding a brand like Rahui London that you can trust to do the detailed research on the sustainability and quality attributes of materials is important to feel confident in your purchases.

Caring for Your Plant-Based Vegan Leather

Looking down on a pineapple leather tote bag filled with items including laptop
Rahui London - Black Sequoia Zip Tote - Pineapple Leather

Like any traditional leather product, maximising the lifespan of your plant-based vegan leather items involves proper care and maintenance. While each type of plant-based vegan leather may have specific care instructions, there are some general practices that you can follow.

Firstly, keep your items clean by wiping them with a damp cloth periodically. Avoid using harsh chemicals which could damage the material. Secondly, store your items in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent discoloration and premature aging. Consider using a protective spray or conditioner made for plant-based vegan leathers. These products can help maintain the material’s appearance and enhance its durability. Finally, remember that plant-based vegan leathers, like their conventional counterparts, will develop a patina over time. This is a natural process that adds character to your item. So, instead of fretting over minor scratches or changes in color, embrace them as part of your product's unique story!

In the end, choosing and using plant-based vegan leathers is about aligning your purchasing decisions with your values. Whether you're drawn to the sustainability of Piñatex, the innovation behind Cactus, or the waste reduction of Apple, there's a plant-based option out there that checks both the ethical and aesthetic boxes. And with mindful use and care, you can ensure that your eco-friendly choice stands the test of time.


Plant-Based Vegan Leathers: A Shift Towards Sustainability and Ethical Consciousness

To fully appreciate our journey through the realm of plant-based vegan leathers, we must first reflect on the potential these materials hold in promoting eco-friendly and ethical consumer choices. As we've learned, plant-based vegan leathers are far more than just fashion statements—they represent a shift towards sustainability and ethical consciousness in industries traditionally marked by environmental degradation and animal cruelty.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the conventional leather industry generates over 600 million tons of waste annually, including chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants harmful to both the environment and human health. Conversely, plant-based vegan leathers offer a less damaging alternative. Materials like Desserto (cactus leather), Pinatex (pineapple leather), and AppleSkin (apple leather) are all derived from renewable sources, reducing pollution and waste production.

These plant-based vegan leathers also address significant ethical concerns associated with conventional leather production, such as animal welfare and labor rights. By eliminating the need for animal hide, we spare countless lives from the harsh realities of the leather industry. Furthermore, many manufacturers of plant-based vegan leathers strive to uphold fair trade principles, prioritizing the welfare and rights of their workers—a stark contrast to the often exploitative conditions in traditional leather factories.

However, as with any innovative solution, plant-based vegan leathers are not without their challenges. Concerns about durability and longevity persist, as does the environmental impact of certain production processes. Yet, these obstacles should not deter us. They should instead serve as motivators, pushing us to continue refining these materials and their manufacturing methods until we achieve the perfect balance between functionality, sustainability, and ethics.

So, What Can We as Consumers Do?

We can start by being conscious of our purchasing decisions. The fashion industry, like any other, operates on the principles of supply and demand. By choosing plant-based vegan leathers over traditional ones, we send a strong message to manufacturers about our preferences—a clear call for more environmentally friendly and ethically produced goods. This shift in consumer behaviour can help drive further research and development in the plant-based vegan leather industry, leading to improved products and more sustainable manufacturing processes.

On a practical level, it's about understanding that each purchase we make is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. Do we want a world marked by environmental degradation and unethical practices, or one characterized by sustainability and respect for all life forms?

Ultimately, the potential of plant-based vegan leathers lies in our hands. It's up to us to embrace these innovative materials and make them a core part of our fashion choices. Together, we can harness the power of plant-based vegan leathers to create a more sustainable and ethical world—one wardrobe at a time.

In conclusion, plant-based vegan leathers are not just alternatives—they are the future. They symbolize a transition towards a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry. Let's embrace this change and opt for plant-based vegan leathers in our lives, driving a wave of positive transformation in our world.

Consider the impact of your purchases and explore plant-based leather options. Whether it's a new handbag, a pair of shoes, or a stylish jacket, there are numerous plant-based leather items available on the market. And remember, every step, no matter how small, brings us closer to a more sustainable and ethical world. So, the next time you're shopping, why not consider a plant-based leather option?

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