What is Eco Leather? (A Proven sustainable Material)

For many years, I’ve dedicated my hands and heart to leather crafting. From the smell of fresh leather to the satisfying feel of the finished product, there’s something magical about the entire process. Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz around the term ‘eco-leather.’ As someone who has both worked with and worn it, let me share my first-hand experiences.

Eco-leather is understood in two ways. Generally, it’s the term given to faux leather. This faux leather can be made from vinyl or plant-based materials, or a combination of the two. More specifically, this term is used to identify classic animal leather that is processed using only eco-friendly tanning and dye processes.

Understanding the difference between them and how to understand what you’re buying is essential.

What Exactly is Eco-Leather?

Contrary to what many might think, eco-leather is not just a fancy name. It stands as a testament to the evolving world of leatherwork. There are generally two ways to understand this term:

  1. Faux Leather: Often, eco-leather refers to faux or artificial leather made from vinyl or plant-based materials.
  2. Eco-friendly Animal Leather: This refers to the traditional animal leather processed using environment-friendly tanning and dye methods.
Pro Tip: Always delve deeper into product descriptions to know which of the two you're looking at.

Is Eco-Leather Genuine Leather?

Eco-leather can indeed be authentic. When we talk about real eco-leather, it’s sourced from animals like the classic leather, but what sets it apart is its sustainable production process. The entire crafting method is eco-friendly, from sourcing to tanning, ensuring minimal impact on our planet.

The Eco-Leather & Vegan Leather Conundrum

Here’s where many get puzzled. While the terms eco-leather and vegan leather might pop up together online, they’re different. Eco-leather is sourced from real animals, making it non-vegan. However, its environmentally friendly processing gives it its name. So, for those prioritizing animal rights, vegan leather, like the fascinating cactus leather, might be your pick. But if eco-consciousness drives your choices, eco-leather stands tall.

Quality and Longevity of Eco-Leather

Crafting eco-leather is a meticulous process. The absence of chemicals ensures a more natural and high-quality finish. Remember the vintage leather jacket passed down in your family? Eco-leather promises that longevity. From personal experience, there’s an unparalleled joy in seeing an eco-leather piece age gracefully, gathering stories over the years.

The Composition of Eco-Leather

While the primary source remains animal hides, mainly cow skin, the eco-conscious approach alters the sourcing. Many leatherworkers, myself included, focus on reducing wastage and promoting sustainability. This leads to:

  • Recycled Leather: Repurposing old leather pieces.
  • Humanely Harvested Leather: Sourcing from animals that died naturally, ensuring no harm.
  • Byproduct Leather: An innovative approach, combining waste products from various industries, ensuring no wastage.

Is Eco-Leather Toxic?

A question I get often! No, eco-leather isn’t toxic. It steers clear of harmful chemicals, making it a safer alternative, especially for those with sensitivities.

Eco-Leather vs. Faux Leather: Which is Better?

From a craftsman’s perspective, genuine eco-leather holds an edge. The real challenge, however, is distinguishing between faux leather and eco-leather during purchase. Always trust reputable suppliers.

Making Eco-Leather: A Glimpse into the Process

Eco-leather crafting is a beautiful blend of tradition and eco-consciousness. Here’s a condensed journey from hide to finished product:

  1. Strip the hide.
  2. Preserve it in a salt bath.
  3. Use natural products for hair removal.
  4. Tan the leather without chemicals.
  5. Dry and finish naturally.
Fun Fact: Crafting eco-leather provides a safer work environment, free from harmful chemicals.

Weighing the Pros and Cons


  • Chemical-free.
  • Natural, genuine leather feel.
  • Durable and long-lasting.
  • Biodegradable.


  • Might be pricier.
  • Maintenance requires a tad more effort.
  • Sourcing needs a keen eye.

Eco-leather stands as a testament to the balance between tradition and evolution in leather crafting. It’s a response to the growing eco-consciousness without compromising on the authenticity of leather.

Andre from leatherninja.com

Andre is a passionate leatherworker who spends his spare time working with leather. He loves the smell and feel of leather, and he takes great care in selecting the right pieces of leather for his projects. Read more here.