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What is PU Leather? Pros & Cons of Polyurethane Leather

An avid hobby crafter who loves working with their hands to build handmade stuff!

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As you no doubt know already, leather is an excellent all round material that gets used in upholstery, clothes and much more. It offers a great aesthetic, is tough, easy to clean and is enduring. However, real 'pure' leather can get costly.

Hence, there are some alternatives to real leather out there. Specifically, what we are going to talk about today is Faux leather and in even more detail PU leather (also referred to as Polyutherane leather). These are the alternatives, and in this post, we are going to break down what the pros and cons are of each and how they all compare to each other.

What is PU Leather?

PU (polyurethane) leather is a type of faux leather and is as it sounds, man-made leather. It is primarily made from plastics to create a ‘look-alike’ leather and without the use of animals. This type of leather has become increasingly popular with millennials as many people have made the lifestyle choice to become vegan, moving away from the use of animal-related products.

PU leather is 100% artificial and is made of a thermoplastic polymer. More commonly is it being known as vegan leather.

PU leather has been creeping up more and more in the fashion world, with manufacturers perfecting the process to make it as close a match to the look of leather as ever before. PU leather is a much newer material than traditional leather, but as I say with the ever-growing population of vegans PU leather will only start hitting the highstreets more and more each year.

Producing PU leather is a much cheaper way to produce a leather look-alike, so from a retailers point of view, the profit margins will look a lot healthier using PU leather, rather than real leather.

PU leather is a type of plastic through, which isn’t the most environmentally friendly to be made and doesn’t biodegrade well. Therefore over the years, more environmentally friendly alternative leather look-alike may flood the market, with leathers made from mushrooms and other more sustainable content already creeping on the scene.

How Does PU Leather Differ to Faux Leather?

The main difference between a PU leather and faux leather is that some faux leathers contain some animal content. These are called bi-cast leather, which uses the fibrous part of the cowhide after making genuine leather which is then coated in a layer of polyurethane which gives it a slightly more shiny and synthetic look to each other. This is a type of faux leather.

Some faux leathers can be 100% artificial, just not the bi-cast option. They are primarily made from petroleum, which is a type of plastic.

PU leather and faux leather have very similar qualities with them being cheaper alternatives to genuine leather.

A lot of faux leather has a polyester backing and is the main visual difference between faux leather and genuine leather. This made faux leather a little more durable and versatile.

How Does it Compare to Real Leather?

Real leather is made using animal skin and most commonly cows skin, although goats skin and less commonly snakeskin can be used to make leather. This is almost always a by-product of the meat industry, where the cow is used primarily for its meat and then the skin is used to make leather goods.

They try and use every part of the animal to ensure there is as little waste as possible. The leather from the cow interestingly makes up just 5% of the value of the animal, as meat prices are so high.

Leather has been used as a material for hundreds if not thousands of years to make all kinds of goods. The earliest form of leather was used for protection against the elements, but more commonly it is used for shoes, bags and leather jackets.

Leather is a very strong, flexible and durable material, which is why is it still very popular nowadays and used for so many everyday items and clothing.

Once the leather is removed it is then required to go through a tanning and drying process to ensure the leather lasts. This is done using a mixture of chemicals, which during this process it can be dyed to create different leather colours. Nowadays you can get leather in any colour as the industry is so vast and a method with is used all over the world.

Leather is extremely tough and durable, whilst being supple; making it a technique that hasn’t changed much over time. Unlike with a lot of other materials, where manmade substitutes have taken the lead. Fabrics like polyester and materials like plastic have become very cheap and easy to manufacture.

Despite the rapid growth in technology and time, leather still remains at the forefront when it comes to choosing materials for areas like shoemaking. The majority of all shoes around the world are made using leather.

Intended Uses of PU Leather

Both genuine leather and synthetic leathers have their uses, which one can be better than the other for a specific job.

For example, genuine leather is usually a better option for a leather sofa, as it is more hard-wearing and doesn’t crack over time. PU leather has a tendency to reveal small cracks along the leather where it has been repeatedly used and moved around, which then makes it very obvious that it is not real leather.

When it comes to sofas they can be in use daily for over 10+ years, so traditional leather is usually much better for this reason to be used for items that require longevity.

PU leather is cheaper than leather, so if you want the look of leather, but don’t need it to last for years and years then PU leather would be a great option. PU leather would be a great option for a table cover, for example.

It can easily be wiped after use and will be durable for a few years. PU leather is strong too, much like leather, so it would be fine being used on a daily basis.

PU does easily scratch like a lot of leathers, so this would still be a great option for some upholstery projects, such as seat covers and cushion covers for chairs.

It is also much easier to sew, so a lot of individuals wanting to make their own pieces will be able to do this. For leather, you will most likely have to use an industrial sewing machine, whereas PU leather can be sewn using a domestic one in most cases.

A lot of fashionable clothing or known as fast fashion is being made in faux leather, as it is cheap, easier to sew and fashion is changing so rapidly is doesn't need to last for years and years.

Some people are opting for more of a sustainable wardrobe, which is where the leather will be a better clothing option. For example, purchasing a quality leather jacket can be used for years and years.

It is a more expensive initial option, but in the long run, you will be promoting sustainable fashion and have invested in a key piece that will stand the test of time. Should you decide you no longer want the leather jacket, you’ve got a much better chance of selling it or it gets upcycled, than a PU alternative. Furthermore promoting the modern attitudes of sustainable fashion, reducing waste.

Summary

Both genuine leather & fake leather have their place and purpose and we hope we have shown you the difference between the two so you can make some judgements for yourself.

Leather in both forms is a great material to work with, with some new leather alternatives making themselves aware. In a world where we are moving away from plastics and creating more sustainable options, who knows what our world of ‘leather’ will look like in 10 years time.

Should you have any questions about any of the topics we have covered in this blog get in touch, as we’d love to hear your thoughts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Carlyn Hayes

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