The alt-leather market is booming. Environmental damage caused by animal agriculture, of which traditional leather is a by-product, is undeniable. From pineapple leaves to mushroom sheets, alt-leather is being touted as a cruelty-free and earth-friendly replacement for animal skins. But it’s not a straightforward material swap.
Alt-leather – or alternative leather – refers to any animal-free iteration of traditional leather. Despite the marketing frenzy around 'vegan' leather, this emerging family of materials is riddled with plastic-based fabrics, hazardous additives, and toxic coatings that should make the fashion and textiles industry stop and question whether the transition to faux leather is really progress or just another step back. Unpack the nuances of this minefield with five things you should know about alt-leather and the work that still needs to be done to make it a truly circular solution.