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Environment: Leather vs Vegan Leather

Thursday, 17 October 2019  |  Admin

Kirkhouse has always aimed to provide sustainable solutions, within the commercial viability of our customer base.  Our 40+ year history is rooted in Scandinavian design and manufacture, which continues to exhibit the most sustainable furniture designs available.

We've never used much leather - two leather upholstery jobs a year would be peak for us.  We don't promote cheap 'leather' sofas and we don't boast about 'Real Leather' office chairs; in our view this is 'prestige' at a greater cost.  However we do supply a wide range of upholstery fabrics through our website, and as such we have seen an increasing number of customers requesting 'Vegan Leather'.

The term 'Vegan Leather' seems perfectly worthy, however for those of us wishing to improve our environmental credentials, it's not quite so simple.  Vegan Leather historically has been known as 'Faux Leather' or 'Imitation Leather' and is properly termed "PVC Vinyl".  Vegan Leather is therefore nothing new; it's a marketing opportunity and it's certainly not squeaky clean in terms of it's environmental impact, as PVC is a bi-product of the Oil Industry.

PVC upholstery fabrics have been around for a long time and in many ways they are arguably better than Leather.  PVC is almost always better than cheap 'split-leather', which comprises a very thin layer of leather adhered to a cloth backing (you will recognise split leather because it splits after a short while).  If you need a truly wipe clean material (healthcare is a prime example), then PVC Vinyl upholstery is fantastic.  However if you're trying to be more environmentally conscious, you've still got all your work ahead of you.

We've received Vegan Leather enquiries for handbags, shoes, various belt fittings and even sporran attachments.  Vinyl wouldn't do the job 40 years ago, Faux Leather wouldn't do the job 30 years ago and Vegan Leather won't do the job today - certainly not in terms of upholstery fabrics anyway.

We hope we've saved you some time and spread some light on this not-so-clear environmental issue.  It seems that industries will need to adopt alternative materials from more sustainable sources.  In the meantime, please don't let the Vegan Leather term fool you - it's either cow hide or petrochemicals (tough choice).

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