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Insight: Vegan fashion accessories- A conscious choice

After adapting to the vegan lifestyle in my kitchen, the urge of finding non-leather, vegan fashion accessories grew on me very quickly. A year passed with lots of going back and forth with many brands, and the search led me to find out three aspects:

  • Vegan fashion accessories are generally made of Polyurethane, a material that’s not environmental friendly.
  • The alternatives to polyurethane were usually not the designs my eyes drew me to – instead of style and design notes, these pieces mostly focused on functionality.
  • Many brands decided to sweep ethical manufacturing processes under the carpet, regardless of their promotion of inclusivity.
Sounds all too familiar, right? People looking for cruelty-free, yet fashion forward accessories often end up in the exact same spot as I did. And to break the cycle of this frustration, these aspects all lead me to create GnL accessories.

Browsing through the site, you might have been wondering why we work with cork and teak leaf leather instead of animal leather. To help you navigate through these materials, we gathered all the important details that made us fall in love with these fabrics, and why we consciously shift away from animal leather.

Saying Goodbye To Leather & Harmful Chemicals

The process of animal leather manufacturing is divided into three sub-processes: preparatory stages, tanning and crusting. While all these sub-processes are chemical intensive, the process of tanning has the greatest impact on us and our environment. When chromium enters the bloodstream, it damages blood cells by causing oxidation reactions, leading to hemolysis alongside kidney and liver failure. The transformation process can also cause air pollution due to the use of hydrogen sulphide during de-hairing and ammonia during de-liming, which issues are mostly present in India, where environmental laws are lax.

As per estimates, 1 tonne of hide or skin generally leads to the production of 20 to 80 m3 of turbid and foul-smelling wastewater, including chromium levels of 100–400 mg/L, sulphide levels of 200–800 mg/L and high levels of fat and other solid wastes, as well as notable pathogen contamination. Pesticides are also often added for hide conservation during transport. With solid wastes representing up to 70% of the wet weight of the original hides, the tanning process comes at a considerable strain on water treatment installations.

Unfortunately, Polyurethane doesn’t offer a better solution either. Made It is made from oil, which itself is a finite resource, Polyurethane contains isocyanates, a compound that can potentially harm your lungs.

New materials & their environmental impact

As two the alternatives, we chose cork and teak leaf leather to provide similar quality, at no cost to the environment. Cork fabric is made from cork oak trees which are over 25 years old and are ready to be ‘harvested’.  After being left for over 6 months to dry out, this precise process continues with steaming and boiling the material for extra elasticity.

It takes the tree 9 years to rebuild the bark, and harvesting can prolong the lifespan of the trees by up to 300 years, so harvesting never destroys the tree itself. Because of the process of recovery, harvested cork oak absorbs 3-5 times more carbon dioxide than the unharvested one. So by using cork leather, you are actually helping to decrease the air pollution.

On the other hand,  Teak-leaf fabric made from the Tong Tung leaves which ancient people of Northern of Thailand call “Lanna”.  Due to its durability, the leaf was used for roofing and food packing in olden times, and now, it’s used to make a leather-like fabric used for making bags and fashion accessories. Fallen leaves or older leaves are dried in the sun and then attached to a fabric support backing. Since the fabric is made from actual leaves the veins of the leaf create a unique pattern to ensure that no two pieces will ever be identical.  Similar to cork, the trees are not destroyed during the process.

The Sustainable Measures

So, how does all of this add up? To give an easier perspective on, this table compares various aspects for these materials. Based on factors such as functionality, ethics, style and environmental impact, cork and teak fabric are easily the most conscious fashion choices of the mix.

  Animal Leather Polyurethane Cork Leather Teak Leaf Leather
Water-resistant No. Water can generally damage leather Yes Yes Yes
Tear Resistant Depends on the finishing It is tear resistant but susceptible to UV damage Yes Yes
Sustainable No- the animal needs to be killed Polyurethane is made from oil which itself is a finite resource Yes- The bark re-builds itself Yes- The tree re-grows the leaves

While these are important decisions, I truly believe that the truth lies not only in reducing leather consumption but also in re-evaluating our consumption patterns at large. To consume less and opt for products that are sustainable, with minimal harm done to the environment. As a consumer group, we have tremendous power. We need to pick a side and make a choice to use this power wisely.

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