What is vegan leather seen on some smartphones?

Vegan Leather is a synthetic fabric that can look like leather. This ‘faux’ leather has widespread use in upholstery, clothing, footwear, handbags, and recently on the back of smartphones.

Before we delve into this, let’s make it clear that we are not suggesting it is not fit for purpose. There are many types and grades ranging from cheap stuff to Alcantara used in luxury vehicles from Mercedes and others.

What is vegan? It is a plant-based diet bereft of all animal and animal-derived products (dairy, eggs, honey).

What is leather? Leather comes from the tanned skins of cattle, sheep, pigs, kangaroo, seals, and crocodiles/alligators – to name a few. Tanning mainly uses chromium 3 salt (non-toxic) and vegetable tanning agents. It is generally split – the high quality, full grain, upper dermis, and the bottom half for more inexpensive use in shoes, handbags, etc. Leather is breathable, durable, and develops a desirable patina. It will last a lifetime if properly cared for.

Clearly, the term vegan leather is trendy – it is like calling oat, almond, or soy ‘milk’ – that is deceptive too! 

How is it made?

It is primarily made from a ‘soup’ of fossil fuels – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) from chloride and carbon that comes from oil/gas/petrol, which are not renewable resources. Chemical additives (phthalate to make it flexible) are harmful to humans and the environment. This is marketed as pLeather.

Some use Polyurethane, a synthetic resin applied to a backing sheet of woven fabric (nylon, cotton, or PVC) to make puLeather.

The key issue is that faux leather is cheap to make.


  • Use a lot of energy to make and uses non-renewable resources from oil/gas/petrol.
  • Not biodegradable and eventually break down into microplastics.
  • Can release toxic gases (dioxins and formaldehyde).
  • Tears, scuffs, and soils more easily.
  • Less durable than leather – depending on quality, ranges from 1-5 years.

Is there any good vegan leather?

As mentioned earlier, Alcantara was developed to be fire retardant, hard-wearing, and have a longer life. But it is expensive and developed for specific industrial use.

There is work with using agricultural waste products from cork, cactus, kombucha, mushroom, pineapple, yeast, and bacterial cellulose. Unfortunately, very few of these are economical to make in commercial quantities.

CyberShack’s view – Vegan leather is an oxymoron

Environmentalists are now calling out vegan leather as ‘green washing’. So, stop calling this Petro/Chemical ‘soup’ vegan leather. Call it anything else and offer some insight into what it is made of and its durability.

It is simply a convenient and deceptive marketing term. At least Mercedes et al. had the sense to invent a name for it – Alcantara and give full disclosure.

For phones, Huawei started this trend, and we all know how that brand ended in tears. OPPO used it in the Find X2 Pro (not since as it deteriorates faster than expected). Motorola is using it in some 2023 models, promoting it as a desirable alternative. And phone case makers are using it instead of the terms PVC, pLeather, or puLeather as it is a trendy, desirable term. We are not saying it is not fit for purpose – just the term needs to change.

No animals were harmed in the writing of this article; however, valuable non-renewable plant-based oil/coal was used in making vegan leather.