Are Your Boots Vegan? How to Tell the Difference

Going vegan is a big trend these days, and that doesn’t just extend to someone’s eating habits. Some people also want to ensure that the things they wear and use are cruelty-free. This includes all kinds of things, such as personal hygiene products, makeup, and yes – boots. Companies like Bearpaw carry vegan boots that look like genuine leather, but aren’t made with animal products. Some vegan boots are made to replicate the look of suede leather, while others imitate smoothly finished leather. Either way, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference once you know what you’re looking for.

What is vegan leather made of?

Everyone knows what regular leather is made of, but what about vegan leather? In most cases, it starts out with base materials like cotton, polyester, and nylon. Then it’s coated with polyvinyl chloride plus additive treatments, or polyurethane. If a specific color or texture is desired (like with suede), extra processes will be applied.

Some vegan leathers are made from renewable materials like cork or plant fibers, which adds an environmentally friendly aspect to the shoes. However, they still use various plastic materials for binding (such as polyurethane), so they share a similar look and feel to other vegan leathers.

What are the main differences between real and vegan leather?

Some people insist that real leather is the only way to go, while others say that vegan leather is a better option because it focuses on ethics over aesthetics or longevity. This is ultimately a personal choice – but it isn’t necessarily a choice that comes down to a single factor. If you want to be able to spot the difference between leather and vegan boots, just keep reading.

Vegan leather is less likely to stretch

Have you ever seen a well-worn pair of leather boots? They generally adapt to not only the shape of the wearer’s feet, but also to the movement of their stride. Sometimes this can result in comically misshapen boots, while at other times it can simply make them look like a well-loved pair of shoes. This is because of the presence of elastin, which is found in the skin of all mammals. It allows leather to stretch without breaking, and even shrink back into shape.

Vegan leather doesn’t have the ability to stretch or shrink, so it stays pretty much the same shape over time. It may still adapt to the shape of the feet, but to a lesser extent compared to leather. If you’re searching for boots that won’t look as “broken in”, vegan leather could be a better option.

Vegan leather is less breathable

Even though there are a few advantages to choosing vegan boots, there are some disadvantages as well. For example, those in hotter climates could find themselves dealing with overheated or sweaty feet when wearing vegan shoes. While genuine leather has pores and is naturally breathable, vegan leather doesn’t have the same capability. This makes it better for cold or wet climates, but not so much for warm ones.

The overall lack of breathability also means that the material of vegan boots could hold onto that “new shoe” smell for a bit longer. Fortunately, since nobody is likely to be smelling your shoes while you’re out and about, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Vegan leather is easier to clean

If you’ve ever read the care instructions for a pair of leather boots, you’ll know how much of a bonus this can be. It’s technically possible to add water-resistant coatings to leather, but this doesn’t mean you can take some soap and water to a soiled boot without ruining its appearance. For work boots, this isn’t an issue – getting dirty is part of the job. However, some people spend hundreds of dollars on leather boots that are meant to stay in pristine condition. A single accidental spill or dribble can ruin a fine pair of shoes, simply because they’re so hard to clean.

Vegan boots, on the other hand, can generally be wiped down with a damp washcloth and your soap of choice. The base materials can handle detergents just fine, and the plastic coating means that nothing will penetrate beyond the outer layer anyway. Whether you’ve gotten mud, grease, or almost anything else on your vegan boots, you should be able to clean it off without any problems. Highly pigmented substances (like paints) could stain light-colored vegan leathers, but that applies to just about any material.

Vegan leather ages better – sort of

Part of the charm of real leather is that, with the proper care, it can age beautifully. It gradually develops a patina over the long term, which looks great on well-maintained leather. However, it’s also a little too adaptable in terms of shape and stretch. Perfectly tailored leather boots could lose their shape, and they’ll definitely show all the little marks from drips and spills over the years. Even so, they can keep getting the job done for years, even if they don’t look brand-new the whole time.

It’s extremely rare for vegan leather boots to have the same longevity as their authentic counterparts, but while they do last, they look better. There won’t be any stretching, and stains will be easier to remove. On the downside, though, once you start noticing cosmetic problems, that’s the beginning of the end. Vegan leather is prone to cracking and tearing, mainly because it lacks the stretching capabilities of real leather. So, even though your vegan boots will look nicer over the short term, they won’t last as long as regular leather boots.

Vegan leather has a more uniform texture

Authentic leather will often have small imperfections, like pores or other textures. For some people, this adds to the charm of the product. Others prefer the smooth, even texture of vegan leather. Even if techniques have been applied to give a “leathery” look, it will be uniform from one shoe to the next. If you’re just glancing at a boot to determine whether or not it’s vegan, this will probably be the biggest giveaway.