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What is Faux Leather and Should You Buy It?

February 25, 2021

What is Faux Leather and Should You Buy It?

by Moniq Youzwa

Monique has been a full-time freelance writer for over 5 years, plus has a few fiction credits under her belt and is currently working on a novel. When not writing, she spends her time reading, playing video games, hiking, and camping with her husband and daughter.


Faux leather has become a popular alternative to leather over the years for several reasons. This material is used for clothing, furniture, and a variety of other products, which may have you believing that it’s a good choice over real leather.

Unfortunately, these two materials have more differences than most people realize. They have a completely different makeup and manufacturing process, plus they vary in colors, cost, durability, and numerous other factors. This may have you wondering what is faux leather and should you buy it instead of spending your money on a real leather piece. If this question is on your mind, check out our detailed information on the differences between faux and real leather.

What is Faux Leather?

Though faux leather is considered to be a leather substitute, these two materials aren’t really comparable when you consider the specifics. This is because faux leather isn’t leather at all. Instead, it’s made of synthetic materials to give it the look of leather. There are two main types to choose from.

Polyurethane Fabric

Polyurethane, or PU, fabric is created using a base material of cotton, polyester, nylon, or rayon that is coated with a 100% polyurethane finish. To give it a leather appearance, a roller is used to apply artificial grain patterns to the finished material’s surface.

PVC Fabric

PVC leather fabric is similar to PU fabric since it uses the same materials for the base layers. The difference is that it replaces the polyurethane with a combination of polyvinylchloride (PVC), stabilizers for protection, lubricants for flexibility, and plasticizers for softness. This creates a comfortable jacket that looks similar to leather, though not identical by any means.

Faux leather jacket

What is Genuine Leather?

Genuine leather is easy to spot, even if you’ve never owned a leather jacket. They just have a look, feel, and smell that sets them apart from faux leather pieces. Real leather is commonly thought to come only from cows but the hides of goat and sheep can also be used for a different look and feel.

Genuine leather is the highest quality, made up of the top layer of the animal’s hide. This layer is made up of tightly packed collagen fibers that make up the signature grain leather is known for. When a leather jacket or other piece of clothing is made, this material is buffed carefully to create as uniform a grain as possible, free of blemishes.

Some manufacturers forgo this step, leaving the full grain as is. This increases the leather’s lifespan and accents its beauty, which is why these pieces are pricier than the buffed down versions.

There is also a bi-cast and bonded leather options. Though they still use actual leather to make up these pieces, the quality isn’t the best.

Bi-Cast Leather

Bi-cast leather is made of the second layer of the hide, which is beneath the top grain layer. This is called the split layer since it is split from the top layer and doesn’t feature the same texture or grain.

During production, a polymer coating is applied to the split leather layer, which is then embossed to manufacture the grain leather appearance. Though it is still technically leather, bi-cast isn’t the same quality as genuine leather.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is the lowest grade material when it comes to leather. It’s created using the scraps of leather left over from other projects. These scraps are shredded until they create something similar to a pulp, then mixed with synthetic filler materials and coated with polyurethane. Embossing creates a grainy texture for the leather look.

When you wear a bonded leather piece, the exposed material is the leather part, so technically this material still maintains its leather classification, even though it includes a synthetic fiber backing. This also makes it the cheapest option when it comes to a real leather jacket.

Faux Leather vs Real Leather

As you can see from what these two products are made of and how they’re created, they are not even close to identical. Aside from the make, there are a few other factors that set them apart.

Look/Feel/Smell

If you’ve never been near a piece of real leather, you may be missing out. Since this material comes from an animal, every piece has a unique grain that gives it a one-of-a-kind look. Leather has a soft, flexible feel that gets even more supple and luxurious as you wear it. Genuine leather also has a distinctive smell that is captivating at first but will slowly fade over time to a more subtle scent.

Though faux leather tries hard to replicate these features, the feel of it is more like running your hand over a piece of rigid, textured plastic. This goes for the smell as well since faux leather is made of natural or synthetic fibers combined with chemical coatings. You’ll never look at a faux leather jacket and mistake it for a real leather piece.

Durability

Genuine leather is one of the most durable materials there is, which is why so many people wear the jackets their parents or even grandparents have worn. They don’t tear easily unless you’re extremely rough with them. Even bi-cast or bonded leather has a decent lifespan, though these pieces will eventually begin to lose their laminate coating and peel over time.

Faux leather isn’t made for longevity. No matter what the base layer is made of, eventually, the PU finish will begin to crack and peel. The more you wear it, the faster this deterioration will occur, though even leaving it in a closet to brush against your other clothing will slowly wear away the coating.

How to take care of leather jackets

Maintenance

To keep a real leather jacket looking its best, proper maintenance and care is a must. Leather isn’t waterproof, so it needs to be kept dry. This means that as well as not wearing it in the rain, you can’t use water to clean it. Luckily, if any spills happen, it is easy to wipe them away. Real leather should also be kept out of the sun to avoid discoloration from UV exposure.

Faux leather can be cleaned with simple soap and water, or even diluted bleach for tough stains. It can handle rain and sunlight without deterioration. It may need to be buffed now and then with polish and a dry rag but otherwise, this material is maintenance-free.

Should You Choose Faux Leather?

Now that you know the differences between faux leather and real leather, you may not be sure if it is worth buying one over the other. As well as the makeup, appearance, durability, and maintenance, there are a few factors that may have you leaning towards one over the other.

Cost

One of the common reasons people choose faux leather over real leather is due to the price. A genuine leather jacket from Independence Brothers costs a minimum of $325.00 on sale. Not everyone can afford such a pricey piece, so for the budget-conscious, a faux leather jacket may be a better option.

You should consider durability when looking at the cost, though. A leather jacket will last for decades while a faux leather jacket has a much shorter lifespan, depending on the frequency of use and how well it is cared for. This may end up costing you more in replacement costs, so a good option may be to save your money to buy a real leather item.

Ethical Concerns

Faux leather doesn’t use any animal hides during manufacturing, so it is a vegan-friendly alternative for those who avoid using or ingesting animal products or by-products of any kind. Real leather can’t compete with this, which is one of the few scenarios where faux leather is a better choice.

Many manufacturers do choose to use leather that is raised for use in the beef or dairy industry. Since these animals are already going to be used as a food source, the leather would be wasted otherwise. This may alleviate some of the ethical concerns, though many people still prefer to stick with faux leather.

Health Concerns

Though there are minimal health concerns with PU faux leather, PVC materials could potentially be a health hazard. This is because the main components of the material could seep out into the air during manufacturing. Breathing this in isn’t healthy, so faux leather could be a health risk.

Real leather has no such health concerns since it is made from natural animal hides and contains no chemicals or harmful materials. That enticing smell from leather is completely harmless.

PHYSICAL - The Admiral Moto

PHYSICAL - The Suede Double Rider

PHYSICAL - The Technical Bomber


Environmental Concerns

As well as being a health concern, there are some environmental concerns with faux leather. PVC materials will not biodegrade, so if it is thrown away, it will remain in a landfill permanently.

Some faux leather jackets can be recycled, at which point the Plastic #3 could be melted and used again but not everyone chooses this option, tossing their worn, peeling faux leather pieces into the garbage. Burning PVC releases toxic compounds into the air, so this is yet another concern for our planet.

PU materials will eventually decompose after about 500 years and are safer to burn due to the lower Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) they contain, but they still aren’t the most environmentally-friendly option.

Real leather is an organic material, so it decomposes completely in about 50 years, plus it contains no harmful chemicals that leach into the ground or disperse into the air, making it a safer choice for our planet.

Colors

Some people want their coats, bags, pants, or furniture in a variety of colors, which is one other area where faux leather excels. Both the PU and PVC faux leather materials are mass-produced, with rollers adding a variety of grain patterns. This also allows these materials to be dyed any color of the rainbow, so if you want a piece colored red, blue, silver, purple, or black, you’ll likely be able to find one that you like.

Leather comes from animals, so it retains the natural color of that animal’s hide. That’s why real leather comes in a few shades of brown or black, limiting the color options that you can choose from. This doesn’t make them a lesser choice since the pieces are still stylish and appealing, you just shouldn’t expect to find any brightly colored leather items.

Leather jacket features

Final Thoughts

Like most of the products you buy, faux leather has its benefits and flaws. This material has a low cost, comes in a variety of colors, is vegan-friendly, and can handle all types of weather without deterioration.

The downside of faux leather is that it isn’t the most environmentally-friendly option, especially when you consider the short lifespan it has when compared to a genuine leather piece. Though faux leather has its place, it may not be the right choice for those who want an item that is going to last longer than they are.

Leather is a durable material that is stylish, unique, and long-lasting. You can choose any type of piece that you like when it comes to leather clothing, plus brands like Independence Brothers allow you to customize your pieces as you see fit. This ensures you get a one-of-a-kind piece that matches your taste and style perfectly.

Thanks so much for reading our article on faux leather and how it compares to real leather. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment. Don’t forget to share this article with anyone you think may want to weigh in on the faux leather vs real leather debate.

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