It’s no doubt that leather is one of the most popular fabrics used as a luxury material. Sadly, its production comes at the expense of poor animals that literally have to be skinned for the leather. I know that’s obvious, but let that sink in for a minute.
Thank goodness for alternatives.
The most common you’ll find these days are made of a mixture of materials. Mostly, they’re from plastic and rubber materials like polyurethane. But is PU leather vegan? What is polyurethane anyway?
Well, not all of them are, and that’s because there are several types of PU leather.
What Is Polyurethane?
An impressive hybrid of plastic and rubber, polyurethane is a synthetic polymer made by inducing a chemical reaction within monomers. Its source? Petroleum. PU can come in many different finishes, texture, and appearance, and has a seemingly infinite amount of uses and applications.
It’s flexibility similar to rubber and durability akin to plastics make it a very useful and versatile industrial material. In fabrics, it’s one of the cheapest and most common alternatives for leather. PU can be easily made to replicate the appearance and texture of real leather.
However, PU leather is only one of the many types of faux or artificial leather.
Types Of PU Leather
There are two most common types of leather made from polyurethane:
- Coated PU – this is leather made from other materials (usually real leather) coated with a layer of polyurethane. Most leathers with PU coating are not vegan because they commonly contain real leather (animal skin). Always look for more details if this is what the label says.
- Pure PU – faux leather that’s made from 100% polyurethane is vegan. PU is a synthetic material from petroleum and without additives that may contain animal products, it is vegan.
Is Vegan Leather The Same As PU Leather?
Not exactly. This is because not all PU leathers are vegan. There are PU leather materials that contain varying amounts of real leather. This is usually done to make a cheaper alternative that still has some amount of real leather or animal skin.
For example, PU-coated leather may not be vegan because this is usually real leather with just a coating made of PU.
Only 100% synthetic PU leather is vegan.
Vegan leather, specifically, may be made with any of the following:
- Cotton (with wax or glaze)
Is PU leather toxic?
Being a chemical product, concerns about the safety of polyurethane have often been raised by consumers. This safety concern mostly had to with isocyanates, the solvent manufacturers use to produce polyurethane.
Isocyanates are most harmful in the form of fumes. In previous studies, it is known to cause the following:
- Irritation of the lungs
- Asthma attacks
- Skin irritation
Isocyanate is also a toxic waste for the environment. However, non-toxic solvents are already available to produce a safer and somehow eco-friendly polyurethane. The problem is, there are still more manufacturers that use toxic solvents.
Advantages And Disadvantages Of PU Leather
- Not environmentally friendly
- Not breathable
- Not as durable as leather
- May contain toxic chemicals from solvents
- Does not fade
The Most Eco-friendly Vegan Leathers
There are now so many vegan alternatives for leather that will help you say goodbye to PU! These ones are eco-friendly, sustainable, and have their own uniqueness. Most of them are also products of recycling or upcycling. Doesn’t that sound promising? Well I think so because even the giant luxury brands are on it!
Let’s check out each one of them!
If you look this one up, you’ll probably find it surprising how so many brands are using this already. Apple leather is an eco-friendly fabric made from apple waste! That includes the peel, seeds, pit, and all other byproducts of the apple juice and apple cider industry.
With coffee being one of the most massive industries in the world, can you imagine how much waste it produces? And by waste I mean byproducts, which usually include pulp and coffee grounds. Although these byproducts have popular uses, did you know they can also be made into leather?
Coffee leather is usually made into shoes, but actually has infinite uses as it’s also useful in making bags and wallets. It’s also becoming a popular material in furniture production!
Leather from stones? Sounds impossible doesn’t it? Wait until you get your hands on a coolstone leather! This unusual alternative comes from sewable slate stone, and can be made to look like old leather. When it ages, the material will soften and form tiny scratches, which gives it a cool, vintage appeal.
Cork leather is one of the better known vegan alternatives for animal leather. It’s waterproof, stain-resistant, scratch-proof, and 100% natural. Commonly made from oak trees, cork is sustainable and biodegradable.
This eco-friendly alternative is also recyclable and durable. Perhaps that’s the reason why it has become the choice of luxury brands Chanel and Louboutin when it comes to leather alternatives.
The hana or agave plant’s thick leaves can be woven into a material that resembles leather. It can be made into bags, accessories, wallets, and other leather-like materials. Products made from hana leaves are also usually colored with natural dyes. Doesn’t vegan and all-natural sound perfect?
Short for mushroom skin, Muskin is an innovation in both the fabric and the mushroom industries. To do this, giant mushrooms are grown to specific sizes and shapes to make them suitable for fabric-making.
MuSkin is stable and flexible, although it requires treatment for it to be waterproof. But the best part is mushroom skin is completely biodegradable and eco-friendly!
Although it doesn’t seem durable enough on the surface, paper can actually be made strong and durable. Not to mention stylish. Don’t believe it? Take a look at Bottega Veneta’s Carta Giapponese bag!
Made from pineapple bush waste, piñatex or pinatex is another eco-friendly vegan leather. It’s similar to cowhide, which makes it an excellent alternative, plus it’s also watertight and quite durable.
Tires (or tyres) are one of the most recyclable materials you’ll see in landfills. Fortunately, someone, or should I say more brands, have finally came up with a bright idea. Turning tires into leathers! I mean, this is something that should have been done a long time ago, don’t you think?
Leather fabrics from tire resemble a fine grain matte leather. They are also more durable and easy to maintain, so you can be sure they will last a long time!
A lot of vegan leather from leaves are made from teak leaves. To do this, the leaves are layered and mended with fabric then sealed and preserved. This creates a water-resistant and durable leather that’s also lightweight.
Also known as “green leather”, leather from teak leaves are usually handmade. Since it retains the leaf patterns, every piece will always be unique. Teak leaf leather can last for years!
Barks are better known as tanning agents when it comes to leather production. But do you know they can actually be made into leather? Tree bark leather is made from sustainable timber and has a texture similar to cork.
The unique patterns in wood barks also give bark leathers a pattern that won’t be the same as another. Bark leather is actually the choice of alternative for luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana in one of their collections last year.
A blend plant and polyester, Ultrasuede is a patented innovation in fabric. Although it’s made to resemble suede, the fabric can also be used to create materials with a leather look. Ultrasuede is a Japanese brand that’s also environmentally-friendly and totally vegan.
Ultrasuede BX, specifically, believe it or not, is made from plant-based polyurethane! With 30% plant material, it’s considered as the highest percentage of plant material in a fabric.
A great substitute for patent leather, this alternative is pliable, waterproof, and easily washable. Cotton leather is usually made from recycled cotton but requires high-skill crafting. Luxury brand Marc Jacobs, in fact, have been using cotton leather in some of their designer bags.
Another product of byproducts, wine leather is made from grape peels and seeds from winemaking. Wine leather is usually only made of colors that resembles wine, usually in deep, dark purple or burgundy hues. It’s very soft, and most of all, it’s sustainable, renewable, and 100% animal-free!
1. Does PU leather have real leather in it?
Some does. If it’s PU-coated leather, chances are it also contains animal leather. To make sure it’s animal-free, go for 100% PU instead.
2. Is PU leather made from animal skin?
No. PU or polyurethane is a synthetic material derived from petroleum. However, although this synthetic leather alternative is vegan, leather manufacturers may combine animal skin with it. Only 100% PU is vegan.
3. Is PU leather eco-friendly?
Unfortunately, it is not. The production of polyurethane usually involves the use of solvents that are toxic to the environment. PU is also almost non-biodegradable, although more modern industrial processes can make it less toxic and more biodegradable.
4. Is PU leather recyclable?
Yes it is! Since PU leather is almost non-biodegradable but durable enough, recycling is always a recommendation.
5. Is vegan leather durable?
It really depends on the materials and the quality of the production process. However, most vegan leathers are made meticulously with quality in mind. That said, a lot of vegan leathers are quite durable, and can even be more durable than real leather.
6. What is vegan PU leather?
PU leather is only vegan when it’s 100% synthetic and made without adding real leather.
BONUS: To learn what vegan leather is made of, check out the video below!
Although PU leather is vegan-friendly, it is far from being environmentally-friendly. Its production usually requires toxic chemicals that are harmful not just for the environment but also for humans.
But yet again, the plant world saves the day! And the environment! Eco-friendly, renewable and sustainable vegan leather can be made from different plant materials. Durable and high-quality vegan leather is made possible by using leaves, woods, rubbers, and other byproducts and wastes from plants.
What eco-friendly vegan leather have you had the chance of owning? Do you have a particular favorite for some reason? Let me know in the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform.