Leather Alternatives

Portugal Bans ‘Vegan Leather’, Industry Insiders Speak Out

A ban on the term ‘vegan leather’ and other plant-based prefixes has been announced in Portugal. Alt leather companies now using prefixes such as ‘vegan’, ‘plant-based’, or ‘pineapple’ or even “synthetic” along with the word “leather” in their product marketing may face fines and criminal proceedings. 

Portugal has a thriving fashion and textiles industry, with companies like B_Boheme producing sustainable shoes from vegan leather in the country. Founder Alicia Lai told vegconomist; “We have all heard the terms ‘vegan sausage’, ‘vegan chocolate’ and ‘vegan leather’. These terms are not aiming to mislead consumers but to show that there are no animal ingredients in the product, and these terms are very much accepted”.

B-Boheme vegan shoes
©B-Boheme

The new laws claim that terms such as ‘vegan leather’ are technically incorrect and misleading to consumers, though it appears the Portuguese government is under pressure to protect the traditional leather industry from the unstoppable growth of sustainable leather alternatives. The bio-based leather market is predicted to grow with a CAGR of 47.5% over the next five years, with the vegan leather market expected to hit almost $90 billion by 2025.

Growing consumer enlightenment

“I don’t think a single person seeing the words ‘vegan leather’ thinks the material is made from animal skin, so I simply don’t believe this is about protecting the consumer from misinformation”, Annick Ireland, Founder of ImmaculateVegan.com – a leading vegan fashion and lifestyle platform – told vegconomist. 

“The simple truth is that this is nothing to do with consumer transparency and protection, and instead just one more desperate attempt by old, flailing industries to continue their cruel and climactically disastrous practices, in the face of growing consumer enlightenment and change,” added Ireland. 

Beyond Leather Leap
©Beyond Leather

The new “Leather Decree” defines how the word leather can be used in commercial enterprises. As well as its animal origin, conventional leather has come under heavy criticism for the environmental impact of the tanning process. Many plant-based alternatives now hitting the market offer vast improvements in sustainability terms, with some producing 80% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional leather. 

Supporters of Portugal’s new Leather Decree have also cited the high plastic content of some leading alternative leather materials, such as cactus-based DESSERTO and pineapple-based Piñatex, both of whom are experiencing exponential success and widespread use across fashion, sports and automotive industries.

Stifle demand

“Just as cow and calf leathers are different from kangaroo leather, which differs again from exotic leathers, consumers have long sought non-animal-derived materials that emulate these skin textures,” Allen Zelden – President of the FUTUREVVORLD sustainable fashion platform – told vegconomist. 

DESSERTO Adidas
©Adidas X DESSERTO

“For language to be effective, it needs to evoke benefits and values, and banning the term ‘vegan leather’ from the increasing number of next-gen materials that emulate their animal-oriented equivalents can only translate to lost opportunities for the growing number of consumers actively seeking these alternatives.

“Given the explosive growth trajectory for the plant-based food category, the leather industry is undoubtedly motivated to stifle the demand in these alternatives so as to protect their commercial interests before that of the consumer,” Zelden added.

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