Faux Leather – Any Good?


Vegan Leather

Faux leather. Vegan leather. Leatherette. Koskin. These terms all describe the same thing. It is a way of finishing a material to make it look like leather. We’ll tell you what it’s made from, what it’s used for, some advantages and disadvantages of using faux leather, and how you can tell the difference between it and real leather.

How is Faux Leather Made?

There are various types of faux leather. Polyurethane (PU) faux leather is made by laminating cotton, nylon, polyester, or rayon with a polyurethane topcoat. The surface is embossed with a fake leather texture, similar to adding leather textures to top-grain or genuine leather. PVC, or vinyl, faux leather combines different chemicals into the topcoat and melts it onto the underlying fabrics to make it firm but still soft and flexible.

What is Faux Leather Used In?

Faux leather is used in furniture, car interiors, clothing, purses, and yes, wallets. It has been in popular use since the 1940’s and 50’s. Vinyl leather was used first and then PU leather when DuPont began making polyurethane products.

PU leather is the more flexible of the two. It’s also softer. It’s used most in upholstery, clothing, bags, and wallets. Vinyl leather is more water-resistant and so is used for book covers and protective coverings for electronics.

What are the Advantages of Faux Leather?

There are certainly some advantages to using faux leather rather than authentic leather.

1. Cost. Faux leather costs less than real leather. It is made from a natural or synthetic cloth and coated with a chemical finish. Even synthetic fabrics are less expensive than animal hides. You have to feed, house, and care for animals. Then you have to process them and preserve their skins when they’re ready to be butchered. You do need to grow or harvest the materials for some types of cloth, but this can be accomplished more economically with renewable resources, such as planting a dense cotton field year after year.

2. Cleaning. Faux leather is often easier to clean. You can use strong, harsh chemicals on faux leather without worrying about cleansers staining or discoloring the material. You have to be more careful cleaning a leather wallet. Even household cleansers can discolor real leather.

3. Water-resistant. Faux leather is waterproof for as long as the topcoat holds. You can also coat a leather wallet to be water-resistant, but doing so normally detracts from the smell and feel of the leather and so is not normally part of the tanning process.

4. Color retention. Faux leather does not fade. When authentic leather is exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period of time, its color will fade. This isn’t usually a problem when you keep your leather wallet in the pocket of your pants, but it’s worth noting. You can leave a faux leather wallet outside all day in the sun, the rain, and the sun again with no changes in color. It will dry out and crack, though, so don’t do it.

5. Animal-friendly. Faux leather shows no cruelty to animals. Animals are not involved in any stage of the process. Keep in mind, however, that the leather industry is not inherently cruel to animals. It is true that animals are mistreated in less developed nations. People in these countries are concerned about competing in the global market, not ensuring that their animals are treated in the most humane manner. In economically stable countries, however, animals are well fed and treated humanely. They are given a proper, regular diet, sheltered comfortably, allowed to graze in open fields, and then butchered as painlessly as possible.

Animal cruelty will not be solved by purchasing faux leather. It will be solved by continuing global development and enforcing established policies.

We recognize that vegans do not believe animals should be used in any manner and therefore support their choice to use synthetic materials. For others, we encourage you to find out as much as you can about a leather manufacturer’s supply line to determine if they are sourcing their leather from countries that enforce animal humane animal treatment or not.

Are there Any Disadvantages to Faux Leather?

1. Durability. Faux leather is not as durable as real leather. The hide material of leather, especially full-grain and top-grain leather is stronger and more resilient than the fabrics used in faux leather. Even with the special topcoats of faux leather, real leather is longer lasting. The topcoats themselves crack after a couple of years of use, exposing the fabric beneath.

2. Puncture-resistance. Faux leather is susceptible to punctures and tearing. Real leather turns away sharp objects. Faux leather has a slick surface but is not naturally resilient to piercing. A pen or a key can puncture a faux leather seat or wallet without more pressure than the weight of your body sitting on it.

3. Stretching. Faux leather also stretches out more than real leather, especially full and top-grain leather. The fibers of a preserved hide are tighter than cloth materials. When the topcoat wears down, the fabrics stretch, creating tears in the material. Polyurethane leather is particularly susceptible to stretching due to its flexible nature.

4. Aging. Faux leather does not age. Many people enjoy the patina that develops on natural leather. It shows character and is a mark of longevity. Faux leather, on the other hand, will wear without aging gracefully. It will develop cracks, tears, stretch marks, and stains instead of an attractive patina. It will simply look worn, not distinguished.

5. Maintenance. Faux leather requires regular maintenance to preserve the finish. You have to wipe the surface with a faux leather conditioner to keep the topcoat from drying out and cracking. Real leather does not need any care or conditioning unless it is exposed to harsh chemicals. Normal air exposure will not dry out real leather.

How to Tell Faux Leather from Real

You can determine if a wallet is made from faux or authentic leather by a few tell-tale signs.

1. Read the product information. If it says full-grain, top-grain, genuine, or bonded leather, it’s leather. (Don’t buy it if it’s genuine or bonded. Such types of leather are extremely low-grade.) If it says it is made from faux leather, koskin, or any type of synthetic material, such as “Durablend,” it’s not real leather in any way.

2. Smell it. Leather has a distinct, clean, earthy scent. A full-grain or top-grain leather should have that smell to it. Suede and nubuck will also carry a similar smell. A low-grade leather, such as genuine or bonded leather, or any type of faux leather will carry the scent of its processing. Rather than the leather, you’ll smell chemicals and the odor of plastic. If the material was made well and then deodorized, you might not smell anything at all. Leather will always smell like leather, even after years of use. Synthetic materials cannot copy the scent of real leather.

3. Feel it. Most high-quality leather products are smooth but have a texture to them. It might be a stippled grain texture or a clean surface with the slightest bit of coarseness to it. Both preserve the feel of real leather in full or top-grain form. It might also be tufted in the case of suede or nubuck. If, however, the surface of the product is slick or shiny, it’s probably low-grade leather or faux leather. Both are highly coated to make them look like leather, but the texture is not the same.

4. Inspect the edges. You might not be able to tell authentic from faux leather just by looking at the surface. You need to examine the edges. If you’re checking out a wallet, close it and look at the profile of the opening. If you see some roughness on the edge, it’s leather. Some high-quality wallets finish the edges for better appearance and durability, but you’ll still be able to tell that they did so. If the edges look too perfect or uniform, it’s probably faux leather.

5. Examine the pores. One way that you can visually tell if a leather product is authentic or faux is by examining the pores. In a faux leather product, the pores on the surface of the product will be completely uniform. In an authentic leather product, the pore pattern will vary. It’s the difference between organic and inorganic materials. Even in a top-grain piece of leather that has removed the grain, the pores remain, and so are a sure indicator of high-quality of leather.


Is faux leather any good?

It has its uses. We like that it’s waterproof and easier to clean than real leather. If you have a couch that’s susceptible to staining from your kids spilling food on it or a truck seat that’s liable to get dirty from your work clothes, faux leather makes sense. If you’re a vegan but enjoy the look of leather, faux leather is the alternative option for you.

But keep in mind that faux leather will not last nearly as long as real leather. It won’t have the same smell, and it won’t have the same feel. Real, high-quality leather costs more but will pay for itself in durability.

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