Is LEATHER the latest fashion faux pas? How major brands AND A-listers from Gucci to Kylie Jenner are ditching animal hide in favor of ‘vegan’ alternatives… but not everyone is happy with the ‘tacky’ move

  • The synthetic leather market was valued at a staggering $35.4 billion in 2022
  • Celebrities are teaming up with fashion houses to launch vegan leather products
  • But some people on social media take issue with stars embracing the trend 

Back in the day, the only faux-leather items available were difficult to find and far from fashionable – but now, trendy synthetic leather outfits are seemingly inescapable. 

The synthetic leather market size was valued at $35.4 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach a whopping $74.4 billion by 2032, according to a new DataHorizzon Research study – called Synthetic Leather Market Size, Growth, Share, Statistics Report.

DataHorizzon credits the rise of synthetic leather to ‘rising awareness about animal cruelty and the economical prices of artificially made leather,’ which ‘is contributing to the growing demand for synthetic leather and its products.’ 

Now, faux leather can be created from recycled rubber, pineapple, mushroom, and more – and is often sustainable and recyclable. 

Gen Z stars like Kylie Jenner, 26, and Billie Eilish, 21, are hopping on the trend, collaborating with luxury design houses and creating their own faux leather focused-brands. Below, FEMAIL looked into why faux leather is exploding and the controversy it brings.

Billie Eilish teamed up with Gucci’s new creative director Sabato De Sarno to introduce the luxury fashion house’s classic Horsebit 1955 bag made using Demetra, which is a vegan alternative to leather developed in-house 

Paul McCartney’s daughter Stella was one of the first designers to focus on making innovative, cruelty-free faux leather fabrics by teaming up with a biotechnology company

Lose your leather! Takeaways from the  synthetic leather study 

  • Polyurethane (plastic) leather is on the rise because it’s affordable and causes less pollution
  • Faux-leather footwear is especially popular because it can be made in many different colors and is lightweight   
  • The synthetic leather market is dominated by Asia Pacific
  • Vegan leathers are made using recycled rubber, pineapple, and often result in sustainable, degradable, and recyclable products

Ever since Stella McCartney, now 52, launched her eponymous line in 2001 highlighting innovative ways to create faux-leather fabrics, fashionistas started proudly ditching their leather goods for luxurious, cruelty-free fabrics instead.

The lifelong vegetarian was a pioneer for her refusal to use leather, explaining on her website, ‘As well as being cruel, leather’s environmental impact is incredibly high,’ adding that the brand instead seeks out ‘innovative animal- and cruelty-free alternatives that look and feel luxurious and have an environmental impact that is up to twenty-four times lower than animal leathers.’

The London-based brand worked with the now-defunct biotechnology company Bolt Threads to create fabrics from natural ingredients including mycelium, or mushroom roots, which looks and feels like leather but is vegan.

But Stella’s not the only one making waves in the vegan leather world. It helps that young celebrities are also promoting faux-leather advances. 

Billie previously launched a recycled synthetic leather Nike collaboration with a pineapple insole. 

Now, the vegan pop star has teamed up with Gucci’s new creative director Sabato De Sarno to introduce the luxury fashion house’s classic Horsebit 1955 bag made using Demetra, which is a vegan alternative to leather developed in-house. 

The faux leather is almost entirely plant-based and made with viscose, wood pulp and corn-based plastic. 

The rest of the bag is made with synthetics, but Gucci is currently planning ways to decrease those materials.

The indie popstar previously worked with Nike to create a vegan sneaker before joining forces with Gucci 

Some fashion fans took to Reddit to complain about the newly-announced vegan Gucci bags

Gucci released two trendy new asymmetrical bags with the inventive material, including a classic black handbag and a monogrammed version, which is also made with hemp and recycled nylon.

While most vegans rejoiced, since traditional leather has a large carbon footprint and the innovative fabrics are a step in the right direction for the famed brand, not everyone praised the stylish innovations. 

On a Reddit page devoted to fashion, a user observed, ‘”Vegan leather” is the biggest marketing con I’ve ever seen,’ explaining, ‘It used to be called pleather and was known for being cheap, tacky, and fake.’

‘I’m stunned at how people are calling it vegan leather and expecting people to pay full price for it,’ they continued, aghast. 

‘I’m of the generation where “vegan leather” automatically means tacky pleather,’ another Redditor agreed. 

‘There are a lot of environmental implications to manufacturing “animal free” products, so I totally agree – it’s all marketing and buzz words,’ another critic remarked. 

When Kylie Jenner announced her faux-leather line with prices in the hundreds, some fans bought up her designs while others complained that it wasn’t sustainable 

The Keeping Up With the Kardashians alum previously launched her successful makeup line Kylie Cosmetics and a short-lived swimwear collection 

Reactions were even more dramatic in regards to Kylie’s foray into faux leather with khy. 

On Reddit, one person quipped, ‘whoever rebranded plastic as “vegan leather” is a marketing genius, and is also going to hell.’ 

‘Even if it wasn’t an environmental crime, this aesthetic doesn’t even seem that hot anymore. It’s like she’s still catering to the insta baddies from a few years ago,’ one Kardashian hater remarked.

‘If you’re gonna make clothes, why faux leather? Why use the most scrutinized fabric – in terms of how piss poor it is compared to real leather and how unsustainable it is??’ was a popular sentiment. 

‘Polyester is not biodegradable,’ a Reddit user lectured. ‘It can also contaminate water. Every time it is washed micro plastic fibers get into our water system.’

‘Would these dresses be considered single use plastics?’ a commenter joked. 

Commenters took to Reddit to speak out against the faux leather line, Khy

‘She could have taken this as an opportunity to use an innovative new vegan fabric – cactus, mushroom, kelp, etc. nope, all fossil fuels,’ another detractor suggested. 

Despite the mixed reactions to Kylie’s brand, khy made more than a million dollars in sales within the first hour of launch, with items like the $198 faux-leather trench selling out immediately. 

While faux leather might not be completely sustainable and environmental-friendly quite yet, it’s still cruelty-free with innovations being made constantly. 

Gen Z shoppers and celebrities are sure to keep the trend going strong, eschewing traditional leather looks for more advanced fabrics. 

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