As people have become more environmentally aware, the term eco-leather has sprung up to add yet more confusion to the leather industry. So what does eco leather mean? The idea is of course that eco leather is a more environmentally friendly leather than non-eco leather. However it can make it hard to know exactly what you’re getting. We’ll look into a few of the main “definitions” of eco leather below:

“Vegan” Leather/Faux Leather/PU Leather/ Pleather/ Etc

Eco leather is sometimes used as just another rebranding of faux leather. It is often associated with vegan leather, since those terms are targeted towards similar audiences from a marketing perspective. Now, I’m not shy about my distaste for fake leather, mostly just because of the lack of transparency. It isn’t leather, and it doesn’t even imitate leather well. It is plastic/polyurethane.

Recycled & Byproduct Leather

Another way that leather can be considered “eco” is if it’s a byproduct from the meat/hunting industry. The idea here is that nothing is going to waste. So if you are making leather from the same cows that are being made into burger, you are just being efficient. Use every part of the animal and make sure it all goes to good use. I completely support this type of eco leather. It can be just as high quality as any other leather, while also being good for the environment, animals, and business processes.

In a similar vein, leather that has been used before can be used again. For example, if you have a leather sofa that has a broken frame, the leather could be stripped off and turned into a wallet or something. That sounds really nice, but it isn’t that easy in practice. Most of the time when people refer to “recycled leather” they are talking about bonded leather, which is really low quality, and not what we want to be encouraging. If people are reusing leather in a way that retains the integrity of the material, I’m all for it, but grinding it up into pieces and calling it “eco” doesn’t help anyone.

Leather Tanned With Environmentally Friendly Chemicals

The last definition of eco leather refers to leather that is tanned without harsh chemicals. With that in mind, I would think that brain tanning would probably be the most eco-leather out there, but it isn’t a particularly popular method nowadays. This is another reason why the term eco-leather is so meaningless. Some people may consider veg-tanned leather eco-friendly, but not chrome tanned. Some may call chrome tanning eco-friendly as long as they don’t use restricted chemicals.

So Is Eco-Leather Good Or Not?

The takeaway is that eco-leather as a term doesn’t mean a whole lot. If you’re looking at buying an eco-leather product, you should contact the maker and ask them exactly what makes it eco-leather. Is it vegan leather (aka: not actually leather at all)? Is it recycled leather? Or is it just leather that was tanned in a more sustainable fashion. That should tell you a lot about the quality of the product. Just be careful, and always ask, because I wouldn’t put it past some companies to slap the “eco-leather” label on a faux leather product, increase the price by 200% and try to cash in on the buzzword.