These days it’s common to see some regular words with an “eco” added to the front of them, signaling a more environmentally friendly alternative.
One such word that received the eco-friendly treatment, to many people’s surprise, was leather, as it now comes in a much greener alternative as well.
Eco leather is often confused with other types of synthetic leather, but it’s not usually what people think at first glance. There are many benefits to switching to this type of leather, but some downfalls as well, but most importantly is differentiating it from other similar products.
So, what is eco leather and how does it differ from other types of leather?
Eco leather refers to a type of leather that has been tanned using a vegetal process, which means it has less of a negative impact on the environment. What it is not is a synthetic type of leather that’s free from animal products, which is where much of the confusion comes in.
This guide will walk you through the ins and outs of eco leather, what it is and what it isn’t, so you can be well versed in this greener alternative. With our help, you’ll be able to shop for the type of leather you choose, whether it’s synthetic or eco, and do your part for the planet in any way you can.
What is Eco Leather?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding the name eco leather, with many people believing it to mean a synthetic type of leather that wasn’t extracted from an animal.
However, eco leather refers to genuine leather that comes from an animal original by-product, with a different tanning process from others.
What makes it hard to find products that are genuinely eco leather is that there’s no specific composition, and unlike other tanning and manufacturing processes, there’s no real regulation.
The key difference isn’t just one part of the process, but rather all of them, with an aim to create true leather products that have been made with minimal impact on the environment.
There are other benefits of eco leather besides its reduced environmental product. It’s considered a premium type of leather because of the longer process used to create it, and although it costs more than others, it’s been designed to last forever, provided you give it the right level of care.
Eco leather has been used in all kinds of products as a way to reduce the strain that this material usually has on consumers, workers, and the environment.
There are eco leather handbags, wallets, clothing, car interiors, and more, and although it’s usually an expensive option due to the long process, it’s well worth it for everyone involved.
How Is Leather Made?
To understand how eco leather differs from regular leather, it’s good to look at the process that this material goes through before it ends up on our shelves or covering our car seats.
Leather is most commonly the by-product of a cow but it can be any animal including pigs, crocodiles, and sheep that provide the raw materials needed to make it, with the process being relatively similar each time:
- The skin is removed from a deceased animal and the flesh is removed from the skin to give a clean hide to work with.
- The hide is placed in a salt brine so that it doesn’t decompose, and this needs to be done almost instantly.
- If there is hair left on the hide it is treated with chemicals like calcium oxide which removes it and then softens the hide.
- Once the hide is soft, it can be cut into two parts which create two different types of leather. The upper layer is full-grain leather and is more expensive and durable but softer, whereas the cheaper leather is sourced from the bottom and used for things like handbags and shoes.
- From here, the leather is tanned which prevents it from further decomposition. To do this, the hides are loaded into a special drum and mixed with a solution that is made from harsh chemicals and tanning agents. Then, fats are added to the mixture to keep the leather strong but give it a soft feel.
- The hides are put through a roller which removes excess moisture and dries them out.
- All treated hides are inspected for quality and given certain grades that determine their worth and what purposes they might be used for.
- The leather is then re-tanned and dyed, then finished off and ready for manufacturers.
During this process, it’s normal for a lot of chemicals to be used, as well as processes that are harsh on the workers doing the job, the consumer who enjoys the leather afterward, and the environment surrounding them.
Eco leather follows a similar process but with vegetal compounds and natural tanning agents, removing a lot of this strain and negative impact.
Eco Leather vs Synthetic Leather
Another popular leather product that often gets confused for eco leather is synthetic leather. The main difference between these two is that synthetic leather doesn’t come from an animal by-product at all, and is a good choice for people who want to steer clear of animal products altogether.
Synthetic leather is sometimes referred to as PU, imitation, vegan, or faux leather, and can consist of many different types of materials.
These materials are made to look and feel like genuine leather which has been sourced from an animal, however, it’s not known to be as durable or soft.
When it comes to their sustainability and impact on the environment, there is no noticeable difference, other than the fact that synthetic leather doesn’t require the farming or killing of any animals to be made.
The process to create this leather can still have negative impacts and is not known to be environmentally friendly.
Compared to eco leather, synthetic leather also doesn’t break down as easily because it’s not made from organic materials and the manufacturing process is still quite a burden.
The PVC and other synthetic materials used to make it aren’t biodegradable and it can sit in landfills for many years, doing a lot of harm to the environment as it attempts to break down or takes up space.
The Pros and Cons of Eco Leather
Eco leather has changed the way we develop this popular material but it’s not right for everyone. To get an understanding of whether eco leather is the right choice for your next purchase, we’ve assembled a list of its best and worst points.
- Is durable and a reliable choice as a material for things like furniture, shoes, and handbags.
- Eco leather has a softer feel due to the longer and gentler processes, giving off the appearance of more expensive materials.
- Can still be dyed, tanned, and finished like other leathers with no noticeable difference.
- All aspects of its creation, treating, manufacturing, and transportation, are done with a reduced impact on the environment in mind, giving the consumer a more eco-friendly option.
- Creating eco leather still relies on animal by-products and may be considered inhumane.
- This special leather needs ongoing maintenance and care to keep in a good condition.
- Is usually a more expensive option than other types of leather due to the lengthier manufacturing process.
Eco leather is just one way that we’re looking at old methods and processes of doing things and trying to change them for the better.
If you’re not ready to give up leather or synthetic leather products just yet, but still want to make a difference, they can be a good start. We’ve answered some FAQs on eco leather and related products to give you a better understanding of how they work.
How Do You Take Care of Eco Leather?
All genuine leather products are designed to be durable and soft, but they do require a special level of care to keep them in good condition, especially items like furniture that are used regularly.
To care for them, keep them free from moisture and dust, and wipe them down now and then with a soft cloth to ensure they are kept free from marks.
Does Eco Leather Peel?
A common problem consumers have with genuine leather products is that they can dry out and start to peel after some time. Eco leather is unfortunately no different and requires a high level of care to keep it in good order.
To prevent the leather from peeling, you can condition it with dedicated leather products and ensure it’s kept out of direct sunlight.