Synthetic vegan leather is here to stay and it’s changing the fashion industry in a really big way.

With the latest trend on our plates leaning toward cruelty-free options that also happen to be better for our health, the environment, and of course, the animals, that ethos is also very much alive in the fashion industry, with vegan leather earning praise and accolades as a guilt-free alternative to animal hides. Just like faux fur now boasts well-deserved cred among the fashion elite, vegan leather is quickly becoming the most relevant textile in the conscious fashion industry.

A stylish, low-impact alternative to animal leather products, and despite being labeled as “synthetic”, vegan leathers can be much better for the environment than traditional animal leather products. Think of it like the growing vegan cheese movement relying on nut and seed milks instead of cow or goat milk to taste and perform just like “traditional” cheeses. In the case of vegan leather, some products can be created from upcycled plastic bottles, polyurethane, recycled nylons, cork and rubber, but perform so similar to the animal version, it’s close to impossible to tell the difference. Even the synthetic ingredients, like polyurethane, are gentler on the environment than raising livestock animals and the toxic tanning processes involved in turning animal skins into leather.

“Vegan is a new phrase that has now become a catchword for entrepreneurs to start new businesses,” Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s so acceptable, even in fashion magazines.”

Once considered a cheap leather knock-off, and unduly named “pleather” (for “plastic leather”), vegan leather is now the darling of the runways. “Luxe brands such as Stella McCartney and Joseph Altuzarra have sent vegan leather jackets and bags with sky-high prices down the runway. Major department stores are increasing their offerings,” reports the Times. “And in Southern California, where animal lovers in West Hollywood helped spur one of the first citywide bans on fur sales, independent designers cater to shoppers who want guilt-free fashions.” A vegan leather start-up, Modern Meadow, raised $10 million last year.

According to the Times, manufacturers and retailers “have tried to piggyback off the image of well-heeled shoppers who browse farmers markets,” with the term “vegan leather” invoking a cleaner, more ethical fashion alternative. A well-deserved one, at that.  So, wear it with pride and with style, but whatever you do, though, please don’t call vegan leather “pleather.”

Lead image source: fervent-adepte-de-la-mode