Faux leather is a term that’s used interchangeably with vegan leather. But what’s the difference between faux leather and plant-based leathers?
Most articles cover faux leather vs. real leather or faux leather vs. bonded leather. However, we’re taking this idea a few steps further and providing an all-around better guide covering every aspect of this topic.
Specifically, we’d like to cover how faux leather material compares to ‘plant hide’ (leathers made from plants). We’re going to analyze all information about fake leather creation and its use.
While faux leather and plant-based leathers can create cruelty-free products, it’s important to note that the materials differ. Let’s cover the basics first.
What is Faux Leather Made Out Of?
If you find yourself wondering, “What is faux leather made out of,” your curiosity is justifiable. While some traditional leather craftsmen will say ‘all faux leather is the same,’ this couldn’t be more wrong.
Traditional leather sellers might lead you to believe all faux leather involves polyester as a base. But this is just the case for some faux leathers. While this type of fake leather offers an imitation leather finish and texture, this doesn’t account for all fake leather.
Faux leather can be made out of various materials. For instance, we create our faux leather material from sustainably gathered teak leaves and coffee beans (soon, we’ll have garlic leather available too!). But other faux leathers exist.
The main point here is that faux leather is designed to look and feel like traditional leather. But the main difference is the lack of cruelty involved in the creation process.
Traditional animal skin leather product manufacturers like to say faux leather feels cold and unnaturally even. They claim the surface isn’t comparable to traditional leather. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, some faux leathers are low-quality. But some of these materials are very similar to traditional leather – without the cruelty.
Alternatives to leather can offer the same high-quality, luxurious feel that some animal skin products offer. But the key here is that these faux leathers don’t use animals to create the fashion products we love.
Is Faux Leather Better Than Real Leather?
Is faux leather better than real leather? Honestly, this is a matter of opinion.
If you ask a traditional leather smith whether they think faux leather is better than genuine leather, the answer is obvious. The same goes for if you ask a vegan leather product designer.
But let’s look at the facts.
Faux Leather vs. Traditional Leather
Sure, traditional leather is durable, waterproof, and flexible. However, faux leather can offer all of these characteristics too.
And the kicker? Faux leather is cruelty-free and can be environmentally friendly.
Traditional Leather Supports the Meat Industry
The leather industry depends on the meat industry, meaning traditional leather is the byproduct of slaughterhouses. While essential in the past, there’s no longer any reason to use the skins of sentient creatures in the fashion industry.
Traditional Leather Uses Harsh Chemicals
Traditional leather is also terrible for the planet. It takes a lot to process leather, including tanning, dyeing, finished, and more. But the harsh chemicals used in this process are environmentally damaging.
The leather-making process includes polymers, dyes, resins, and more. Even as some leather makers claim their products are ‘eco-friendly,’ there’s a lot of energy expenditure and damaging chemicals required for the process. These craftsmen use mineral salts, oils, coal-tar derivatives, formaldehyde, and more to create the finished traditional leather material.
Faux Leather is Less Expensive
Faux leather is typically more affordable than real leather. This material also lasts a long time and is exceptionally durable. It’s capable of withstanding scrapes and scratches that would damage real leather too.
Faux Leather Requires Less Maintenance
Also, real leather tends to crack, peel, and dry out, demanding the owner administer an oil to its surface to prevent this from happening. This maintenance isn’t required for faux leather care.
All in all, genuine leather is pricey to buy and maintain. And while it ultimately depends on the type of faux leather you choose (PU Leather, PVC Leather, Teak Leaf Leather, Coffee Bean Leather, etc.), anyone concerned about the ethical and environmental downfalls of authentic leather chooses an alternative.
Here are some explanations of the different kinds of faux leathers available to give you a better idea of what to expect with each:
Faux Leather Types
Polyurethane (PU) Leather
PU leather is a soft, flexible, breathable faux leather that is preferred for high wear products. If you’ve ever owned faux leather clothing or upholstery, it was probably made from PU leather. PU leather jackets are also relatively common.
Polyurethane leather is one of the most realistic faux leathers available. It’s very similar to genuine leather, breaking down and wrinkling like traditional leather products. However, this material will not crack or peel.
Even after years, PU leather will stay supple and soft. Plus, unlike other faux leather materials, it doesn’t create dioxins. This is why it’s such a preferred material in the vegan community.
So how is PU leather made? This material involves coating a backing fiber, such as cotton, polyester, or shredded leather, with a flexible polymer. Then, it’s treated to make it aesthetically similar to animal hide.
Since PU resins are composed of a softer polymer, its creation does not involve additional plasticizers. This also adds to PU leather’s cost-effectiveness, making it a relatively affordable option for the budget-conscious vegan.
Vinyl leather is an equally popular faux leather material. It’s easy to keep clean and maintain, making it perfect for products that demand cleanliness.
Since this material doesn’t demand any special care or cleaning, it works for long-term use. However, if it’s left in the sun, it can become extremely hot.
Over time, vinyl leather breaks down, cracking and losing its elasticity. It’s also not as breathable as PU leather.
Vinyl leather works for a variety of products. But most of the time, it’s used in things that need to repel moisture. You’ll most commonly see vinyl leather used in book bindings and cases for electronic devices, but some clothing might use it too.
Vinyl leather is made using two separate synthetic materials. The fibers are commonly made from strong polyester fibers. These fibers are then coated with vinyl that’s made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plasticizers.
Once the vinyl is melted onto the surface of these fibers, they become sealed. This creates a waterproof surface that maintains its flexibility and durability. While some people prefer vinyl leathers, better faux leather options exist.
Teak Leaf Leather
Teak leaf leather is crafted from sustainability-gathered teak leaves in Thailand. This means no trees are harmed in the process.
The leaves are then hand-dyed, allowing for a plethora of color options for the finished material. Once the leaves are hand-dyed and dried, we apply a non-toxic biofilm.
Non-toxic biofilm preserves Mother Nature’s design. But it also adds to the material’s durability and provides waterproofing qualities perfect for vegan leather products.
This faux leather is durable, waterproof, and aesthetically pleasing. Many believe it looks and feels better than traditional leather. But what’s also impressive is the smell of this faux leather.
There’s no offensive odor with this faux leather. Instead, it smells like most other high-quality wallets and handbags. The smell is luxurious and inviting, making it a sincere pleasure to open the eco-friendly paper packaging upon initial inspection.
Coffee bean leather is very similar.
Coffee Bean Leather
Coffee bean leather is also crafted sustainably, utilizing coffee beans ground into a fabulous speckled pattern. This pattern is aesthetically similar to cork. However, the feel is more akin to leather.
The material is then crafted into leather and coated with the same non-toxic biofilm we use for teak leaf leather. Thus, the material exhibits the same durability and waterproofing as our teak leaf leather.
Some would think coffee bean leather would smell of coffee grounds. But this couldn’t be further from the truth!
Coffee bean leather has the same luxurious scent you’d find in a boutique handbag designer shop. Rather than the chemically smell you might encounter with other faux leathers, this material brings all the benefits of traditional leather with a unique aesthetic–and without cruelty!).
Is Faux Leather Waterproof?
Faux leather is one of the most water-resistant materials on the planet. Since it’s usually made using synthetic materials, it can generally bypass water damage with ease.
Speaking on behalf of teak leaf and coffee bean leather, the non-toxic biofilm waterproofs this faux leather. So if you find yourself in the middle of a rainstorm, there’s not much you have to worry about.
If your faux leather gets wet, it won’t absorb water. So once your material is no longer being soaked, you can simply wipe it off, and it should be fine.
Is Faux Leather Bad for Your Health?
Some people will warn against purchasing faux leather. But is faux leather really bad for your health?
That, of course, depends on the faux leather.
PVC Potential Health Issues
According to Greenpeace, PVC is “the single most environmentally damaging type of plastic.” While some faux leather is made from PVC and can be problematic, others aren’t an issue. For example, teak leaf and coffee bean leathers aren’t environmentally damaging.
The main risk with fake leathers is when they’re made with synthetic materials and chemicals.
Disposing of faux leather products in landfills can result in toxic chemical leakage. If they’re burned in an incinerator, you could find yourself dealing with the emittance of toxic gases. But so long as you’re careful with how you dispose of your fake leather products, it shouldn’t be an issue.
As these faux leathers are produced, they can also release dioxins and chlorine into the atmosphere. These chemicals are endocrine disruptors, posing some severe health risks as they can disrupt the endocrine system. This is how the body manages your hormones, and hormonal imbalance can lead to period problems and infertility.
Dioxins can also cause damage to the nervous and immune systems. They’ve also been known to irritate the skin and damage the liver as they increase people’s risk of getting cancer.
These days, PVC isn’t used often. However, some faux leather will use it. But this was more of a risk pre-2013.
Polyurethane Faux Leather Dangers
Polyurethane (PU) faux leather isn’t dangerous. Since it isn’t as toxic as PVC, it’s more commonly used these days. However, the danger of PU leather could rise depending on which country produced it.
Some countries lack strict regulations. Sometimes, the inhabitants don’t listen to the safety regulations in place. With this in mind, this can result in dangers associated with manufacturing PU leather.
PU faux leather also uses fossil fuels in its production. Thus, it’s not a sustainable, environmentally production process. Fortunately, teak leaf and coffee bean leathers don’t negatively impact the environment.
Teak Leaf & Coffee Bean Faux Leathers
Teak leaf and coffee bean ‘fake’ leathers are probably the best vegan leathers available. These are cruelty-free, natural, and sustainable, sourced from teak trees and coffee bean plants.
Both of these faux leathers are waterproof and tear-resistant, as well as aesthetically gorgeous and incredibly durable.
These fake leathers are also surprisingly easy to clean and maintain. Also, as stated earlier, there’s no offensive odor associated with these materials.
Overall, teak leaf and coffee bean faux leathers have a lot to offer to the fashion industry. Between the way Mother Nature’s designs are preserved to the similarity to traditional leather without the cruelty, these fake leathers are impressive.