2018 Bentley Continental GT craftsmanship

Espousing the Values of Traditional Leather in Vehicle Interiors

The leather industry is experiencing a challenging time. One of the biggest challenges we currently face is to ensure that consumers and designers choose materials for vehicles based on facts and understanding. 

Vehicle manufacturers are eager to transform and increasingly focus on marketing the interior of the car. We have seen a trend for replacing leather, an organic material, with oil-based plastics and synthetics, somehow conflating ‘vegan’ with ‘sustainable’, which when the stated objective is sustainability, is a misrepresentation of science.

Man-made materials in vehicles aren’t necessarily a new phenomenon. They have been around for a long time – and can make sense for certain parts of the car where leather might not be the first choice. Most leather alternatives though are made of plastic-based polyurethane chloride (PVC) and polyurethane, both pose serious environmental threats given that they are usually manufactured from fossil fuels and are not biodegradable.

2018 Bentley Continental GT front seat quilting
Leather-covered, embossed and perforated front seats of the Bentley Continental GT

For years the industry has collectively forgotten about the importance of education and promotion. It is only this year that several initiatives have been starting to educate consumers, brands, designers and others about leather by answering simple questions. Where does leather come from? How is it made? When can leather be called leather? Why is leather a cool material?

Modern Leather Production Supports a Circular Economy

Hides and skins are a by-product of the meat industry. It would be an ecological disaster to send them all to landfill instead of taking responsibility and making use of them and thus enable a circular economy. Properly made and sourced leather ticks all the boxes of a truly sustainable material.

Modern leather manufacturing is highly regulated and a clean, non-polluting industry and responsible car manufacturer brands use leather from reputable, audited sources. Leather is also easy to care for, ages well and is very durable. It will most likely survive much longer than alternative synthetic and inauthentic materials.

As said, just recently several initiatives originating from the industry have started to communicate to consumers and trend influencers, such as the activities by one-4-leather and Leather Naturally, to name but a few. National initiatives from the US and Italy are also developing campaigns playing to consumers’ emotional values and promoting the ‘beauty’ of leather. 

I believe that promotion starts with education. And I strongly believe that the best and most passionate ‘teachers’ that could educate users and customers on the benefits of leather are working in the leather industry. They work in tanneries, in chemical companies and so on.

But how often do you see these ‘passionate teachers’ standing up when something wrong is written about leather in a magazine, a newspaper, on TV, at a party with your friends or when talking to a salesperson in a shoe shop who is claiming that ‘vegan leather’ is better?

Demanding Transparency from Car Manufacturers

The labeling of synthetic alternative materials for car interiors often incorporates the term ‘leather’ in an attempt to associate with the positive benefits of leather, without being transparent about the true origin of the synthetic material used.

Range Rover Velar interior
Range Rover Velar offers an interior made from Kvadrat textiles as an alternative to leather.

However, the term leather is strictly defined by British, European and International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards and refers to only material originating from the skins or hides of animals. As Dr. Kerry Senior, director at the UK’s leather trade federation, Leather UK pointed out in an article published in The Independent: “There is no such thing as vegan leather.”

Thankfully the industry is now producing all kinds of educational material about leather via earlier mentioned channels. And global promotion of leather has started through Metcha, the initiative that was set up by Leather Naturally and its donors. 

Pride or hide? 

It is time to show your pride in leather and share all the good things about leather available through initiatives like choose-real-leather, one-4-leather, Leather Naturally and Metcha. Share its existence with your networks, with your friends, your family, and when you are confronted in the shop with people spreading inaccuracies about leather. Don’t hide, show your pride!


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