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12 Alternatives to Leather!

Updated: Feb 5

Highland cattle with hair in eyes laying in long grass.
Highland Cattle

Currently, there are many products that use leather as its core material but it is also found within many more. This includes belts, shoes, wallets, bag sand jackets, just to name a few, so as I am sure you are aware there is a lot of leather out there. This largely comes down to the ‘high end’ ‘quality’ look and feel the majority of people believe it achieves. However, for ethical and environmental reasons leather is certainly not good at all. A common misconception with leather is the belief that leather is a by-product of the meat industry but this is simply not true. Most leathers come from animals that are killed primarily for their skin and not as a by-product, even as a by-product it is still not ethical. Additionally to this, the process to tanning leather uses a lot of toxic chemicals, which has further impacts on the environment. This is why I have been looking for an eco-friendly, ethical alternative that is sustainable, as a replacement for leather. To do this I have looked at the ‘Cradle-to-cradle’ approach, which looks at the life cycle of the product from its source, through its manufacture to its end of life and if this can be recycled, renew or reused in some way. For these reasons I have omitted faux leather, which is often made from PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) a plastic made to look like leather, as its production is a carbon-intensive process and isn’t biodegradable. Anyway, here are 12 sustainable, cruelty free alternatives to leather:


This is probably my favourite alternative and possibly the fastest growing in popularity in recent years. It is a great sustainable material made from the bark of a cork oak tree. The bark is harvested in a way that does not affect the tree allowing the bark to regrow, making it sustainable. There are many different ways the cork is pressed to form the material, which give slightly different looks with both a light and dark finish. To me it gives an earthy elegant look, which is a lot better than leather. Cork is naturally weatherproof, durable and recyclable at the end of its life, further making it a great choice. I have seen it made into wallets, briefcases, belts, bags and even umbrellas. This natural material is probably one of the most eco-friendly materials on this list making it my first choice.

Corkor dark brown cork briefcase
Corkor Cork Briefcase

Tree Bark Leather:

This is much like cork and comes from fast growing, sustainable timber and renewable forests or woods. This creates a durable and strong wood leather material, which is often created into a fabric like material called bark cloth or bark fleece. This may not always be waterproof but this feature can be achieved with non-toxic chemical on some items. If you want a more flexible material this may be a great option. I have seen this been made into jackets, coats and other clothing items.

Tree Bark Leather Jacket on model.
Tree Bark Leather Jacket


This is another one that has increased in popularity and although initially surprising it can achieve strength to that of leather. Additionally, as most of you know paper can be recyclable and made from recycled material, well this is no different for the paper products that can replace leather. The leather like paper itself often uses canvas to strengthen the material and natural oils to soften it and make it flexible. This gives it, its unique look and as it is paper a variety of colours, patterns and designs can be applied to it. I have seen bags, purses and wallets all use this material. The most well-known is the Mighty Wallet, which is known for its extreme durability and strength.