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July 11, 2021 6 min read
When shopping for leather, there seems to be a few sticking points for some people that determine what kind of leather they go with. The first and most obvious is price. There are a variety of leather types that can fit in almost every price budget. No matter what your spending goal is, there is almost definitely a leather out there for you.
The next is style. If a customer wants a more rugged look, they might look for more handmade leather from somewhere vaguely in the American west. If they want sleek modern leather, they might look to Italian leather makers. Another point of interest is production methods. For some, it is important that the leather is made and sourced ethically. Different businesses have different business practices, and each is worth a quick search.
While looking through the different considerations, the types of leather will always vary. Various leathers made with a variety of processes will attract different crowds that fall along those three (and admittedly many more) spectrums.
Because of this, you might have some questions as to what type of leather satisfies all of the categories you care about. Alternatively, maybe you just want clarification as to what some types of leather really are. In this article, we will break down one of the more mysterious types of leather: PU leather.
We will talk about how it's made, its pros and cons while also comparing it to our leather of choice: full grain leather.
First, let’s understand a few things about PU leather itself. PU stands for polyurethane, which is the chemical bond that the leather is composed of. Most importantly, it is helpful to understand that PU leather is completely artificial and vegan.
This means that there is no true cowhide used in 100% PU leather (though there are variants that use cowhide that we will discuss below). Because of this, it will have a few helpful uses, but it also comes with some drawbacks.
PU leather can also be identified by a few different names. The most common other names are:
All of these generally refer to vegan, artificial leather in general, though there are more specifics within each name. Bonded leather actually uses byproducts of cowhide used in traditional leather-making processes. It generally will use less than 20% real cowhide to achieve its look and feel. Because of this, bonded leather is actually quite sustainable and green.
However, for all of these leathers, the process of making them is not so sustainable. Reconstituted leather is also a very green process of using more byproducts of specifically genuine leather and putting a layer of the chemical polyurethane over it to rebond the leather.
Despite our commitment to full grain leather, we at Andar realize that there is a time and place for all types of leather, including PU leather. So, below we have compiled a list of pros and cons to help you decide if PU leather is something that would benefit you in your leather search.
Though this list is far from exhaustive, hopefully, it is telling enough to understand the best times to use PU and times where other leather might be more practical.
One of the biggest draws to PU leather is the fact that it is cost-efficient for both the manufacturer (as the materials to make PU leather are much more inexpensive) and the consumer. While this is certainly an attractive aspect, it can be overshadowed by some of this leather’s more negative traits.
Cleaning PU leather is pretty easy. However, real leather is becoming easier and easier to clean with the help of Andar’s Leather Cream. However, this does not take away from the fact that PU leather is some of the easiest leather to care for, clean, and maintain day-to-day, which is why it is a staple for family furniture, especially with young children.
Because PU leather is an artificial leather, the leather makers actually have a little bit more control over how it ends up looking and feeling. Because of this, green, red, yellow, and many otherwise impossible shades for leather are available. Some people absolutely love the color choices they have with PU leather.
While not all versions of what is known as PU leather is completely vegan, the true and most common type is definitely vegan, meaning it does not at all use any animal products. This is truly the biggest selling point for many customers who look to make their life absent of animal byproducts.
There are some great qualities that PU leather brings to the table, but we would be remiss not to give you all the facts on this artificial leather type.
Since PU leather is made primarily with plastic, it has the tendency to look and feel like plastic. While higher-end PU leather does a good job of masking this, the cost of more realistic-looking PU leather rises exponentially with the improved appearance.
Since one of the main reasons people buy PU leather is its cost efficiency, you could be caught in a catch-22. So, before truly exploring this as a viable alternative, know that the feel of low-end PU leather is generally not close to that of real leather.
Because it is made of plastic and not the durability of cowhide, PU leather tends to wear down more easily. It does not have the elasticity of real leather, so it tears quite easily and can be punctured much more often than real leather. Not only this, the friction of frequent use will wear out PU leather as opposed to the wearing and breaking-in effect that it has on real leather.
Not only this but also the “pro” of its variety also tends to dim with age. The color that can be achieved by some types of PU leather tends to fade extremely quickly and can lose the appeal that drew you to it in the first place. Like we stated above, higher quality PU leather will try to compensate for this and defend against inevitable wear and tear, but there is only so much to be done.
PU leather must be made by combining plastics and other chemicals to create a unified product. However, because of this, it is not breathable, meaning the airflow in and out of the item is incredibly restricted.
This can wreak havoc if things get inside of it (like sweat). PU leather can also create a sticky skin-to-product relationship that nobody likes to deal with, especially in clothing like pants. Because of this, full grain leather presents a better, more breathable option.
While a big section of PU leather’s marketing is that it is vegan, that label can be misleading people to think that it is eco-friendly. However, since it is made up primarily of plastics, this makes it so difficult to truly decompose. That means that the plastics and mainly chemicals the product is made out of are stuck sitting in our landfills far longer than full grain leather.
Therefore, the long-term look at PU leather actually puts this as a “con,” not a “pro.” Full grain leather, while not a vegan product, is actually kinder to our planet. The long-term ecological look at the two puts this category at a draw, with full grain leather slightly edging ahead by a nose.
While PU leather does provide a cheaper option that can be (sometimes) vegan, full grain leather wins in almost every other category. It is longer-lasting, more enjoyable, higher-quality, and comparable with its long-term impact on the environment. While there definitely are circumstances that PU leather wins out, when it comes to wallets, cases, and everyday carry sort of items, full grain offers the best option for most consumers.
We at Andar believe in full grain leather as a true way of making sure that our products last a long time and also stay enjoyable throughout their lifetime. Quality leather is always in style.
Synthetic Leather's Green Revival | C & EN
What is Polyurethane? | American Chemistry Council
Is vegan leather worse for the environment than real leather? | Harper's Bazaar