3 Key Differences Between Authentic Leather and Vegan Leather

A collection of our authentic leather bags sit on the shelf in our leather shop in the heart of Tennessee.

We get lots of questions about the leather we use.

Where does your leather come from?
Do you use ALL of your leather hides so none goes to waste?
Will you ever make bags from vegan leather?
Isn’t vegan leather better for the environment?

We love that you ask questions about leather — it means that you care deeply about the products you buy and where they come from. Let’s take a quick look at the three fundamental differences between the ethically sourced, authentic leather that we use and vegan leather materials.

1. Where is the leather sourced from?

AUTHENTIC LEATHER

Our leather is a byproduct of the food industry, which means that we simply utilize this resource from going to waste by using what would otherwise be thrown away. Our leather is then tanned by local tanneries where its full grain is retained for optimal durability, meaning the process of creating the leather that you carry is kept to a minimum.

VEGAN LEATHER

Vegan leather sounds natural and environmentally friendly, but at its source, it’s quite the opposite. Vegan leather has been created artificially from various man-made or vegetarian sources, to look like leather. The process of making a vegan leather bag is not better for the environment than the leather tanning process, nor is it typically biodegradable over a long period of time like natural leather is. In the long run, you have to ask yourself which one is the most environmentally conscious.

The fundamental difference between the two [types of leather] is that genuine leather is made from animal hides, such as cattle, buffalo or oxen. Faux leather is made from a plastic base and then is treated with wax, dye or polyurethane to create the colour and texture. (Source)

2. How is the leather made?

AUTHENTIC LEATHER

There are several different processes used to tan leather, but the oldest, slowest, and most intricate process is what we call “vegetable tanning.” Vegetable tanning is a traditional method of tanning leather that has been developed and practiced for thousands of years.

All of our leather has been vegetable-tanned.

The process of vegetable tanning involves the use of organic materials to cure the hides, such as tannins and other ingredients found in different vegetable matter, such as tree bark prepared in bark mills, wood, leaves, fruits, and roots. The finished leather is supple with variations in its coloring, with the exact shade depending on the mix of organically based treatments and the color of the hide itself. (Source)

“Real leathers have been used by man for millennia, and when sourced from sustainable ranches and tanned and dyed naturally, these have the potential to be less damaging to the environment than most ‘vegan’ leathers, save those rare ones created from natural materials like cotton or cork.” (Source)

How We Make Use of Our Entire Leather Hides

We use as much of our hides as we possibly can. We use the smaller parts of the hide for our bracelets and wallets. We make leather business cards from the small pieces that are leftover and give these away at our live events! Our leather business cards and bracelets make great essential oil diffusers or air fresheners.

Some local jewelers get small leather pieces from us to make beautiful leather earrings and leather pendants for necklaces. Other small scraps from the hide are put in a “free scrap bin” at our leather shop. If you come by our shop, you can collect leather scraps for your own projects!

A pile of our leather scraps, which are used in various ways.

We put scrap leather in a bin to be recycled.

VEGAN LEATHER

There are several different types of vegan leather production methods. Some cause harm to people and the environment.

“There have been concerns over the last few years about PVC because of production challenges and because they release dioxins, potentially hazardous chemicals, if burnt.” —Andrew Dent, Vice President of Library and Research Materials at Material ConneXion

“Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can be harmful to health because it contains chlorine that also is bad for the planet as it causes pollution. Besides for chlorine, PVC also contains toxic additives such as lead.” (Source)

With the advancement of resources and technology, the process to make vegan leather is getting better and better. However, unless you are getting a canvas or hemp made bag, an authentic leather bag is typically going to be better for the environment than a vegan leather one.

3. What is the expected durability/life of the leather?

AUTHENTIC LEATHER

The authentic leather that we use looks and feels better with age and wear. If conditioned properly over time, it can last for generations because of the strength in the authentic hide.

VEGAN LEATHER

This will depend on the materials used to create the type of vegan leather that a bag is made from, but we certainly haven’t found a vegan leather yet that can last a lifetime.

The choice is up to you.

Authentic leather isn’t for everyone and thank goodness for that — we can’t all love the same thing! However, we hope this answers your questions about the leather we use and why we have chosen to make our bags from it.

What is your WHY?

Ultimately, we believe it’s the inflation of consumerism that is harming our environment and draining our resources. Whether you carry an authentic leather bag or a vegan leather bag or a canvas bag, we simply encourage you to consider WHY you are choosing it.

Are you buying a bag because it’s trending and you want to have the latest fashion statement this season or are you looking for a bag that will last and take you through many years?

Ask yourself, “How was it made? How long will it last and when will I need to replace it? Will it compliment my style through multiple seasons? How will I use it? When I get rid of it, what will happen to it?”

When you ask yourselves these questions, you’ll find out what is most important to you and make the best decision about which type of purchase is best for you.

House of Aqua carries her authentic leather market tote.

This is the full size Market Tote and it comes in handy on the daily! If you are environmentally conscious or live in a state that has banned plastic bags you don’t want to be caught without a shopping bag! It’s a real pain when you make an impromptu stop at Target or the grocery store and find yourself without a bag. When I’m carrying the Market Tote, I never have to worry about that because I can fit most of the goods inside. Please note that if you get this bag, you will absolutely receive a lot of inquires and compliments! People recognize the quality of full grain leather each bag is made from. For sizing reference, I am 5’2″. —Kelly, House of Aqua

 

Britt enjoys a warm cup of coffee in a coffee shop with her authentic leather bag, the Mini Market Tote by Urban Southern.

Our girl Britt enjoys a moment in a coffee shop with her Mini Market Tote.

Leave a Comment