I've recently gone vegan. It's odd writing that, making a permanent note of it, because it's not necessarily a huge adjustment for me.
For the past 14 years, I had been vegetarian. So, life goes on — sans cheese, dairy, meat and other animal products. It was a big deal years ago when I hesitantly announced to friends and family that I was no longer eating meat. Friends were accepting. Family members were, well, skeptical. They wondered what I would eat and how I would get enough of this nutrient or that vitamin — protein, of course, was brought up.
That's not really the case anymore.
For some, the word "vegan" might bring up images of a patchouli oil-drenched, lettuce-eating yoga teacher wearing a PETA shirt and armed with a pail of red paint for the next fur protest, but in recent years it seems the word has become more neutral. It's finding a place on restaurant menus, food packages, personal care products and — as many in the plastics industry already know — vehicle interiors.
The oxymoron term "vegan leather" is not new. Plastics News Editor Don Loepp alluded to it in 2015, citing how one Tesla customer had to go through "extreme measures" to get a car without leather seats or interior trim for his vegan wife.
And earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show, automakers such as Nissan Motor Co. proudly used the term when discussing the interior design of the Nissan IMs concept car.
"We wanted to get a premium feeling, and that's usually always leather," Giovanny Arroba, program design director at Nissan, told Rhoda Miel, PN's news editor, during the January press preview. "We captured that, I think, with a synthetic version."
But like most auto execs, Arroba stuck with the fancy marketing terms and didn't specify the exact materials — re: plastics such as thermoplastic polyurethane, PVC and thermoplastic polyolefin — that they're using for some of these leather alternatives.
Rose Ryntz, president of Ryntz & Associates LLC, told me via email that leather still has a place in vehicles today since most consumers enjoy the smell and durability.
"'Vegan' seems to be a trendy word," she said.
Ryntz added: "I know that several automakers are looking at alternative leathers 'grown in the lab' as a replacement for natural leather in seats as well as coverings for [instrument panels] and doors."
Meanwhile, I'm suddenly reminded of another trendy word that was used to describe a cringeworthy style of a pants that were popular in the 1990s: pleather.