9 May 2022
Author: Kerry Senior, Director of Leather UK
In 2021, Leather UK commissioned a survey of 2,000 UK adults to examine consumer attitudes to leather, their understanding of leather and the alternatives, and changes in their shopping habits including where they buy, their attitudes to repairing and reusing products and the importance of sustainability in their purchasing decisions. The results of the survey were eye-opening, and the full report can be found here, Leather Survey.
The issue of sustainability was key for many consumers. The survey found that half (47%) of adults think about the potential impact on the planet when it comes to buying clothes and a third (35%) buy clothing and accessories less frequently now than they did five years ago. However, the study also found that half (50%) of those who buy with sustainability in mind admit that shopping in a way that has the least impact on the planet is confusing and it is hard to know what the right choice is. Just over a quarter (28%) said they read labels carefully and do a lot of research to buy items they think have the least impact on the planet.
As an example of confusion that exists, only a quarter (24%) of respondents were aware that hides or skins used to make leather are a by-product of the food industry that would otherwise go to waste - with half (50%) falsely thinking that cattle were bred specifically for leather. But once they were told the facts, 29% said this information would make them more likely to buy leather in the future. More than half (54%) admitted that they had no idea what ‘vegan leather’ is made of - a catch-all term for material that is often marketed as a sustainable alternative to real leather but can be 100% plastic.
Asked which materials were animal, plant or synthetic in origin, many shoppers also are unaware where leather, leather alternatives and other well-known textiles come from:
- 11% say they don’t know what real leather is made from
- 21% and 47% didn’t know what is used to make PVC and polyurethane respectively
- 13% thought the plant-based fabric linen was synthetic in origin
- 23% thought silk (from silkworms) was plant-based
- 13% even said they didn’t know the origins of wool, and 10% thought it comes from plants!
A quarter (25%) said they would feel ripped off, 14% would be really upset and 13% would want their money back if they bought something that was marketed as “vegan leather” – and which they had therefore assumed to be all-natural – turned out to be completely or partly synthetic.
Three-quarters (74%) agreed that it should be easy to see what they are buying, and that labelling should not be misleading when it comes to leather and imitation leather. Buying leather or imitation leather goods sustainably can be difficult and confusing, especially when shoppers are increasingly presented with everything from a range of plastic/plant combinations such as apple, cactus, or pineapple ‘leather,’ ‘mushroom leather’ to the meaningless catch-all terms ‘vegan leather’ and ‘plant-based leather.’
The findings suggest that shoppers need better information on the products they are buying, regarding their origin, material content and sustainability. A significant step forward would be to follow Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and others, where consumer protection laws mean that the word leather can only be used for the original animal product. However, there is a lot of work to be done to ensure that consumers understand leather and why they should buy it.