A consumer study in China has indicated that there could be a seismic move away from animal leather, with 90% of customers stating they preferred leather alternatives.
The Material Innovation Initiative (MII) study, done in collaboration with North Mountain Consulting Group, shows that there could be wide acceptance of next-gen leather in urban Chinese markets once at scale, as almost all of those surveyed were open to purchasing leather alternatives.
More than 70% of respondents explained that they sought out alternatives due to concerns about the environment, while 62% were concerned about animal welfare. Other factors that impacted people’s shift away from conventional leather were personal expression and a higher performance to cost ratio.
Nicole Rawling, co-founder and CEO of MII, said: “Consumers want to buy products that are in alignment with their values, and they are becoming increasingly aware that animal leather is not. Leather production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, harmful chemical pollution, and negative health impacts for workers and surrounding communities.
“On top of this, leather production relies on the skins of approximately 1.4 billion animals every year, a fact that many consumers find unsettling. Creating next-gen leather alternatives that outperform leather both functionally and ethically could lead to a total transformation of the leather market away from animal options.”
The findings highlight opportunities and challenges for material scientists, startups, and brands working to develop next-gen replacements for animal-derived leather.
The alternative leather market is booming with an estimated market value of $89.6 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, revenue in China’s fashion industry is expected to be $383 billion in 2021 – equating to 44% of the global total.
In response to the study, Allen Zelden, president of digital eco-conscious forum FUTUREVVORLD and founder of Intrinity Global, said this data is a great example of interest in alternative products emerging in various forms.
Zelden, who last month hit back at a scathing statement from the global leather industry about alternative products purportedly “appropriating the image of leather and denigrating the genuine article”, said: “Clearly the pandemic has exposed the public health and sustainability risks of our reliance on industrial animal agriculture, and alternative leather represents a window of opportunity for all those industries looking to de-risk their supply chains to enable continuity, whilst embracing more environmentally and ethically friendlier options.
“With leather hide prices very recently at record lows, and with many global fashion and automotive industries increasingly seeking alternatives despite these historically low prices, it’s likely we’ll see even more necessary disruption to the materials economy via greater mainstream awareness and increased investment into alternative leathers, particularly given its nascent status.
“Whilst the sample size behind this data was relatively small (only 501 participants) when compared to the immense size, diverse cultures and ideologies of the Chinese population, it is a strong sign that the reduced demand for leather may eventually lead to a less economically sustainable meat industry, of which leather is an important by-product.”
In June, The Material Innovation Initiative published a first-of-its-kind paper named State of the Industry Report: Next-Gen Materials, revealing that $1.29 billion has been invested in the category between 2015 and 2021. The report also revealed that there are 74 Next Gen companies in operation, with 49 in the category of vegan leather.