Living in the 21st century, humans have the ability to choose where to purchase their bags, and what these bags are made out of. Crocodile skin has been used as a status of class and economic success, with a price point that only the top 1% can afford. However, what we rarely hear about is just how cruel and inhumane the process of making a crocodile skin bag really is. It is only through the abuse of animal, human and environmental rights that crocodile skin can be used as a material. So what can we choose to avoid the crocodile skin industry?

Materials

Not only is practically every other material used to make bags cheaper, but there are many that don’t involve killing innocent beings for fashion.

Eco-PU Leather

Shein – ‘Croc Embossed Baguette Bag’

It’s easy to find bags made from PU leather, as it’s quite a common material nowadays. It’s as simple as a Google search, calling to ask a shop what options they have, or searching through your favourite brands to see what’s available!

To the right, we’ve showcased Sans Beast, a brand that is passionate about animal rights and actively works to ensure their products do not exploit animals in any way.

The material that appears to replicate crocodile skin the most is polyurethane (PU) leather. This material is typically made through coating a base fibre with polyurethane, then adding colour through another layer., with a final texture further added.

PU leather is known for its durability, flexibility and long-lasting nature. Another positive for PU leather is that it is more sustainable and eco-friendly than animal leather, as production uses less resources. Not to mention, it ticks ethical boxes in the sense that it doesn’t use animal products in any part of its production!

Sans Beast – ‘MAHOGANY READER SATCHEL’

Piñatex

Although it’s not replicating the scales found on crocodile skin handbags, this incredible leather is made from pineapples. The unique texture helps to stand out to consumers who may have chosen something like croc in the past.

The natural textile Piñatex is made by Ananas Anam, from waste pineapple leaf fibre.

Environmentally, this is an excellent choice. Pineapple leaves are not only a natural product, but the byproduct of pineapple farming. Essentially, these finished products are made using an agricultural ‘waste’ product.

Cactus Leather

Desserto – List of customised materials

Although it may not provide the scaly appearance of a crocodile skin bag, cactus leather is an up-and-coming material that is rivalling bags made of animal products. It has a unique array of textures that give consumers the ability to stand out from others.

Cactus leather is a highly sustainable choice. The process of making cactus leather includes cutting maturing leaves, drying them out, mixing them with non-toxic chemicals, and then shaping them into the desired texture and colour. Not to mention, at Desserto, cactus leaves are harvested to regenerate every 6-8 months, so plants can be re-used.

The finished product is organic, durable, partially biodegradable, and even has the specifications required by industries such as automotive and fashion. It can last as long as 10 years.

To the right is a bag from Sans Beast that is made from cactus leather sourced from Desserto in Mexico (the inside lining being polyester faux suede – also vegan). The elegance and soft finish of this bag highlights the incredible versatility that cacti have – as a plant, or as a ethical and environmentally-sound fashion piece.

Corn Leather

When compared to animal skin, corn leather comes out stronger in areas such as resistance, durability and toughness. It is a natural fibre combined with PU (with a constantly varying ratio of corn waste to PU). This partially biodegradable material does not use any animal products.

Corn production does have negative impacts on the earth, as it depletes nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil. However, animal agriculture is far more destructive, with toxic waste products generated directly from farming, as well as huge amounts of corn being produced to feed stock.

The bag to the right from Alexandra K shows off the beautiful finish of corn leather used in fashion for aesthetics. For this specific bag, the inside (not shown) has been made of eco-PU leather (vegan material discussed above).

Grape / Wine Leather

Developed by Italian technology company Vegea, grape leather was founded through converting leftover waste products from wine production into high-quality vegan leather. Their goal was to create a 100% recyclable, vegan leather alternative to use in the international fashion industry.

To make this type of leather, the skin and stalk of the grape marc (residue of wine production) is dried. Bio-oil is then taken from the seeds and polymerised. Its fibres, manufacturing processes and non-toxic chemical substances create the leather. These is also little water usage.

The material that is derived from the wine leather-making process is smooth, soft, 100% sustainable and can be recycled. As this leather uses another industry’s waste product, this is a very environmentally friendly option.

PVB (Polyvinyl Butyral) 

We came across this specific product and thought it was something really neat to share with you – the outer ‘leather’ of this purse has been derived from recycled resin from windshield glass. Just to make things even cooler, the inner lining is made from recycled plastic bottles. 

Just to showcase this brand – Matt & Nat – a touch more, they even only use linings made out of 100% recycled plastic bottles, using around 21 per bag. Other brands, including Barcelona-based brand L’Autre Sac, have also been utilising PVB to create cruelty-free fashion pieces.

The PVB finish assists in creating a water and scratch resistant product (it’s best to check to ensure this is the case for each PVB product if not labeled). Also, when existing materials are up-cycled, there is less carbon emission through production and less water usage.

Recycled PVB appears to be a great alternative to crocodile skin!

Cork Leather

The process of creating cork leather includes harvesting cork from the tree, allowing it to dry for 6 months, boiling it to become malleable so it can be flattened into sheets. These sheets are then attached to a fabric backing for use.

While it takes 25 years for a cork tree to be ready for harvest, and then, another 9 years until it can be harvested again, the harvest itself stimulates bark regeneration actually extending the cork tree’s life. The typical lifespan of a cork tree is 200-500 years, therefore each tree can have an estimated 52 harvests.

Cork leather is environmentally friendly, flexible, soft and strong. There is no waste produced from extraction or processing, or air or water pollution. Cork is 100% biodegradable and compostable, making it an excellent choice of material for your next leather bag.

Conclusion

Tea, mushrooms, soy, mulberry tree leaves, apples and bananas are some of the other natural products that have been turned into leather materials. And while this conversation could still continue regarding all the current options, we would like to point out that these are only the materials available now; imagine what’s to come. The future holds some pretty incredible opportunities to up-cycle and use waste products in areas like fashion to help support the environment.

What kind of leather would you like to see next? Are you the next producer to facilitate another non-exploitative material? We sure hope so!

Author:
Kindness Project

Kindness Project is an animal rights organisation that has been born out of the belief that in order to dismantle the animal industrial complex (AIC) it is imperative that our advocacy is inclusive of all those who are harmed by it.

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