• Adrian Gluckman

What is PU leather?



PU leather, faux leather or pleather are just a few of the names you might hear in product descriptions for a range of goods varying from clothes, shoes and bags all the way to car interiors, and home furniture. PU leather is synthetic leather produced from man-made compounds, which are naturally cheaper to produce. The desire for the leather look with an affordable price tag has led to PU's huge rise in popularity. Its widespread availability makes it difficult for the average buyer to really understand what it is they're buying, and where sometimes it's better to invest in genuine leather. Read on to find out more about PU leather.


The Different Names for PU Leather


PU leather goes by various different names. It’s worth keeping these in mind so that you know exactly what you are buying when purchasing a product.

  • Faux Leather

  • Synthetic Leather

  • Artificial Leather

  • Vegan Leather

  • Imitation Leather

  • Pleather

A selection of PU leather fabrics
A selection of PU leather fabrics, with a cotton fabric backing

How is it Made?


PU or polyurethane is made of thermoplastic polymer and has become more popular in recent years. Generally, a fabric such as cotton is coated with oil in the form of plastic (polyurethane) and bonded to the fabric to form the surface of the material. After this the desired colour is applied and finally a leather pattern is pressed or embossed onto the surface to create the leather effect. Although pleather features a distinctive leather pattern to it, when comparing it to genuine leather, the higher the grade of leather the smoother the texture of the hide is.

Various shades of PU leather
Various shades of brown PU leather - with an embossed wrinkle pattern

The Ethical Debate


While PU leather does not use animal products, it does not decompose either at the end of its life cycle, which results in adding to the landfill issue. Genuine leather is and always will be a by-product of the meat industry, as the main value in livestock is the meat, the hide being a fraction of that value. The majority of leather in the world is produced from Bovine, otherwise known as cows. So as long as people continue to eat beef, cowhide leather will be produced so that nothing is wasted when producing beef products.


Today, many brands are focused on sustainability, and if buying genuine leather is important to you, it's worth finding out if the leather used in those products was produced in an environmentally responsible way. Many companies are moving towards supply chain traceability in order to illustrate that all animals were reared in an ethical way and that the tanneries operate within strict environmental impact levels.


Genuine leather being finished at a tannery
Durable genuine leather being finished at a tannery

Why Pick a Leather Alternative?


Fashionable items today can be brought to market within a few weeks, you no longer need to wait an entire season to see new items out on shelves. There is also an increased amount of competition in all industries, whether fashion or furniture, homeware or automotive. The huge shift to more products at more regular intervals has fueled the rise in leather alternatives, mainly so manufacturers, companies and brands can still offer leather-looking goods while cutting costs and staying competitive.


PU leather has mostly replaced leather car interiors unless purchasing the most high-end brands. Sofas, chairs, barstools and headboards in private homes and hotels are frequently upholstered in pleather which can withstand stronger cleaning agents, making it ideal for these industries.


When it comes to shoes, bags and clothes, there is a huge amount of choice, both offering pleather and genuine leather items. Some people might make a purchasing decisions based on a number of things:

  • Price point: genuine leather costs more than synthetic alternatives

  • Ethical reasons or veganism: however synthetic leather is not 100% eco-friendly so it would be advised to avoid replica leathers and just stick with alternatives like canvas, cotton or linen

  • Not realising how to tell the difference between genuine and fake leather: there are some products out there which look very similar. However the difference really lies in it's quality, durability and lifespan.


Rolls of genuine leather
Genuine leather is stronger than PU, making it more durable

How to Tell if it's Real or PU Leather


Under normal circumstances, you would always be able to see the attached tag which would explain the materials used in making the product. However, if this is not apparent or you are still skeptical, a good sign would be based on the price, as mentioned PU leather is a much cheaper material to use in manufacturing. The difference in smell will also be quite noticeable, PU leather will have a plastic or chemical smell while genuine leather will have a distinct natural aroma. Most good-quality leather products will have small imperfections while PU leather will have a perfectly consistent pattern.


Even once you're in the realm of genuine leather it can be tricky to tell the good from the bad. Read our blog What is Full Grain Leather, to find out more on selecting the highest grade.


Why genuine leather is best
High-use PU leather items can crack and peel easily

Why PU Leather Can’t Beat Genuine Leather


Yes, you might be able to afford more items made in pleather, but how long will they really last. Here's why genuine leather is worth the price tag.

  • Breathability: genuine leather being a natural product is breathable, whereas synthetics can cause perspiration and become uncomfortable to wear.

  • Cracks and peels: over time the surface of PU leather may develop cracks and peels, exposing the fabric backing underneath. Genuine leather on the other hand, ages beautifully, with older leather items getting a vintage patina look.

  • Tears and punters: PU can tear or puncher easily compared to genuine leather, making the item look cheap and bad quality.


With the lifespan of leather being years, genuine leather items really do survive over seasons and trends, making the initial price tag worth it. Why not take a look at our handcrafted durable leather bags and shoes.


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