Why Do People Choose Real Leather Over Vegan Leather?
Genuine leather is considered one of the most desirable and aesthetically pleasing materials available in the global market today. However, with its ability to outlook the test of time, it is undoubtedly a luxury material meaning it typically comes with a high price tag and is sourced from-animal skin.
On the other hand, faux leather (or leatherette or vegan leather) is yet another alternative for bags, clothes and accessories used by fashion brands as a cheaper and more affordable alternative for their customer. The resources utilized to make faux leather are non-renewable, and their methods are not environmentally friendly. It is one of the root causes of why this alternative to leather gets a lot of criticism.
Real leather is in high demand for all good reasons. Genuine leather has an inviting feel, delivers exceptional durability, and eminence leather improves with age.
The debate between faux leather and genuine leather is a controversial and hot topic, with notable brands switching to sustainable and environmentally friendly processes. However, both sides are equally passionate about the benefits that each brings to anyone trying to live a sustainable lifestyle and help make responsible choices. So, it can be a tough job to know who’s “right”.
This article will specifically highlight the points where real leather beats vegan leather. Hence, it is still preferred by most people globally.
How can you Distinguish Real Leather from Artificial Leather?
Many people experience mixed feelings when they have to choose between real leather and its many imitations. In actuality, it simply comes down to a contest amongst their individual properties. To assit you better to decide which is better for you, we will compare both for you by looking at cost, comfort, visual appeal, texture, and practicality.
There are many terms for faux leather. Some of the popular ones are:
- Imitation leather
- PU (Polyurethane)
- Synthetic leather
- Fake leather
- Vegan Leather
All of these terms will be used interchangeably throughout this article.
Real Leather: Although treated, genuine leather is made from a natural material, and it generally behaves like one. Real leather is breathable, flexible and quite malleable. In addition, real leather will soften over time.
Faux-leather: It has the tendency to be quite rigid, and since it is a synthetic material, it does not have the same natural look or give that real leather can offer. Plastic-based artificial leather will not soften over time.
Synthetic leather: Since it is artificial, synthetic leather is more versatile than real leather. It can be found in a far wider range of finishes, colours, and patterns than its natural counterpart. In addition, synthetic leather generally requires far less upkeep than real leather and will retain its original visual appeal long into the future.
Real leather: Real leather ages over time, and its distinctive odour complements its overall visual effect. Further, the full-grain leather benefits from its unique, natural patterns. Natural leather that is properly maintained and lovingly cared for too can last for a very long time.
Real Leather: It’s a given, real leather items will always be more expensive than artificial leather because natural leather fashion accessories require greater skill and specialized techniques.
Vegan Leather: Synthetic leather is less expensive, but this only serves to make leather bags, coats, shoes, and other fashionable apparel more exclusive.
Synthetic Leather: Simply put, there is no way to get pleather, leatherette, or any other synthetic leather alternative to feel like natural leather. Indeed, this is a real shame because the soft and supple way genuine leather feels is something people love about it.
Real Leather: Genuine leather is occasionally treated with a protective pigment which gives it a smooth, plastic-like feel.
Real Leather: A leather bag can look, feel and smell as good as it wants, and it is strong, durable, and if properly looked after, it can easily outlast its original owner (really!).
Vegan Leather: Man-made leather, on the other hand, has its sturdy presence but, in reality, it is not as durable as real leather.
Now, let’s understand the terminologies
What’s faux leather?
Vegan leather, faux leather, or synthetic leather is an imitation product. It carries the look and feel of the actual leather. It is created as a leather alternative is typically producing leather-based products, such as handbags, jackets, purses, shoes, watches, shoes and upholstery. It is most commonly made of fabric coated with a plastic polymer (polyurethane (PU) or polyvinylchloride (PVC)).
What is real leather?
Real leather means ‘leather’ leather. It is the genuine article in which raw material is made from the hides of animals for the production of commercial goods such as:
- clothing (leather shoes and jackets),
- accessories (leather bags, watches, wallets) and
- home goods (leather chairs and sofas, and car interiors).
Typically people think of leather as cowhide, but leather products can be made from various farm animals or exotic animals, such as goats, sheep, deer, seals, moose, snakes, crocodiles and more.
Environmental impact of Vegan Leather vs Genuine Leather
Faux leather, or vegan leather, is named so because the material used is not from animal skin. Although it is highly beneficial for animal activists, synthetic leather is not good for the environment or humans because the toxins in the plastics are used to make them. The disposal and manufacture of PVC-based synthetics let out hazardous dioxins, which causes developmental and reproductive issues and can cause cancer as well. The synthetics used in vegan leathers can be broken down to a degree, but they do not fully biodegrade. Further, they can also release toxic particles and phthalates, affecting the health of animals and the environment.
So, although it takes fewer resources to produce synthetic leather when it comes to carbon emissions, you cannot escape one fact, i.e., conventional faux leather is made of plastic. Plastics are made from petroleum, coal, or natural gas, and they are a product of the fossil fuel industry. So, synthetic or faux leather heavily depends on the fossil fuel industry. Now, if sustainability is your objective, it can be hard to reconcile the use of fossil fuel-derived materials to make an eco-friendly, sustainable leather alternative.
Additionally, clothing made from plastic can pose a threat both during and after its lifespan as it could end up in landfills or water. This will take years to degrade and release toxic chemicals into the environment, which is not sustainable. There is estimation that more than 13 million tonnes of synthetic fibres enter the oceans each year.
Furthermore, since vegan leather is mostly made from plastics, it will take years to biodegrade, making it worse for the planet than the regular real one. We are all aware of the dangers of plastic-based materials once used, but their microfibres can shed and threaten human health due to amassing micro-plastics in the food chain and absorbing them.
Similarly, micro-plastic pollution is a big threat to the environment. It uses an extensive amount of energy, water, and chemicals for processing, and it is made into the material which impacts the earth.
In present times, “Zero waste” is yet another buzzword in the sustainability movement. Here, the goal is to choose products derived from materials that are either biodegrade or can be reused for different purposes. This way, it creates no waste once it has served its original purpose. In addition, it’s about finding a use for all parts when it comes to raw materials, instead of using the highest value part and later throwing away the rest. Here, the point favours genuine leather since it is a co-product of the meat industry.
The durability of vegan leather vs real leather
Both quality and durability are important factors to consider when comparing vegan and real leather. It is always better to assess sustainability credentials throughout a product’s lifecycle. On the other hand, faux leather has some real hits against it.
- Firstly, synthetic leather is not as durable as real leather. Even the best quality vegan leather is less durable compared to genuine leather. Rather than developing an attractive layer as it ages, it can tear, scuff, stiffen, break, or even become discoloured or sticky over time.
- Secondly, synthetic leather does not easily decompose in a landfill. Plastic-based leathers will degrade like other plastics. They will usually take up to 500 years to decompose, and as they do, they can break down into nefarious microplastics and release toxic chemicals into the environment.
On the other hand, real leather is going to have great durability over time. It will neither crack nor peel, and instead of wearing out, it will develop a patina on its natural surface. Unfortunately, synthetic leather is not breathable, and it can easily crack and puncture over time.
Vegan or synthetic leather is a lot thinner than real leather, and they are much more lightweight, making them less durable than real leather. Further, they also wear out very unattractively. But real leather ages over time, and they form a patina that truly adds character to the leather.
Also Read: 10 Leather Bags That Lasts For Lifetime
Chemicals used for vegan leather vs Veg tanned leather
Both real leather and the synthetic material undergoes chemical processing for the manufacture. Meaning, both materials do not biodegrade easily. But, real leather is produced from organic material, so it has a greater capacity to biodegrade at the end of product life.
Vegan leather fabric is made by applying or laminating a 100% polyurethane finish to the base material. The typical base materials generally include cotton, nylon, polyester, or rayon. A roller is commonly applied as an artificial grain pattern to the surface to imitate the real leather look.
Vegan or Faux leather is made with PVC or PU, and it has a very strange smell from the chemicals used. It can be said to be a 'fishy' smell that is very hard to get rid of. PVC can also overdo dangerous toxins that give off this nasty smell. Further, Greenpeace has labelled PVC as the “single most environmentally damaging type of plastic”.
Genuine leather is made from organic materials, mainly bovine hides. The natural collagen fibres in real leather are intricately intertwined and provide superior durability over artificial, weaved products. In addition, real leather or vegetable-tanned leather does not contain any toxic substances like nickel, azo-dyes, PCP or chrome VI, etc. It encourages a recycled closed-loop system.
So, while buying vegan leather means you avoid using animal products, its replacement can sometimes be plastic-based, which is more harmful to the environment and takes years to degrade. So, most people still opt for real leather as it is a natural product.
PVC and Toxic profiles of other vegan leather products
The most commonly used vegan, faux, or synthetic leathers are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). All of these are plastic-based materials. Therefore, another term for fake leather is “pleather”, which derives from plastic leather. Synthetic leather is made with different chemicals, and it is a different industrial process from real leather.
The most efficient way to create faux leather is by bonding a plastic coating to a fabric backing. The different types of plastic used in these coatings may vary.
PVC is used less than it was in the 1960s and ’70s, but it is still present in the composition of certain vegan leather. PVC releases dioxins, potentially dangerous, especially in confined spaces and dangerous if burnt. It uses plasticisers like phthalates to make it flexible.
They are extremely toxic depending upon the type of phthalate used. As mentioned earlier, Greenpeace described it as the “single most environmentally damaging type of plastic”.
PU is more modern and slightly less damaging plastic than its counterpart. It is being technically developed to decrease flaws like the hazardous toxins it discharges during manufacturing and the oil-based polymers made to use fossil fuels.
These are the two commonly used synthetic materials that have raised questions about the safety and dangers of vegan leather and its impact on the environment.
In conclusion, we can all argue that vegan leathers are relatively cheaper than real leather. The low price of faux leather can be enticing, but it is important to consider the long-term value of your purchase. While some synthetic leathers are pleasing to the eye and easy to clean with hard chemicals, the laminated surface often splits up after a few years of use.
On the other hand, genuine leather has been known to last for 10 to 20 years or longer. Further, real leather is most eco-friendly; hence so many of us are still rooting for it.