According to a report by management consultant Grand View Research (lnk GVR), the global market for leather alternatives will grow to $85 billion over the next decade. Lower manufacturing costs for artificial leather and growing consumer awareness of the conditions in the leather industry are important growth factors. In addition, the technological and qualitative progress of imitation leather is accelerating growth, as is the availability of new plant-derived materials.
The footwear sector is the largest consumer of leather alternatives, and accounts for about one third of total sales. In recent years, however, it has been observed that leather alternatives have also been increasingly used in other areas such as the furniture, automotive, clothing and bag industries. In addition, the fashion trend of “athleisure” – wearing sports shoes in everyday life – is likely to further boost demand for leather-free shoes made of practical materials.
The authors expect emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam in particular to play an important role in growing demand, and to benefit from low-cost production.
Synthetic leather made of polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are the most widely used alternatives. PU is highly valued for its properties, high elasticity, comfort, and long life. Although PVC is cheaper to manufacture, it is expected to grow less due to its lower durability and slightly sticky surface. However, leather alternatives made of PU and PVC are not the best choice in terms of environmental impact.
Manufacturers are therefore looking for a more environmentally-friendly alternative to classic synthetic leather. The natural material Piñatex, which is made from pineapple fibres, is one of the most successful examples in the commercial application of sustainable and animal-free materials. Numerous new materials are being researched and processed in both the university and commercial sectors. These include leather alternatives made from apple residues, teak leaves and mushrooms. The global leather industry is therefore expected to experience a radical upheaval.
This article was contributed by Mirjam Walser, co-founder of Faloa, the online shop for vegan, fair and sustainable fashion.