Real Leather vs Faux Leather: Differences, Which Is Better, & Which Is More Ethical?

Real Leather vs Faux Leather: Differences, Which Is Better, & Which Is More Ethical?

It’s important to know the differences between real leather and faux leather.

We’ve put together a Real Leather vs Faux Leather Comparison Guide where we outline those differences, and outline which might be better for the buyer (based on features and qualities), as well as more ethical.


Summary – Real Leather vs Faux Leather: Differences, Which Is Better, & Which Is More Ethical?

If you are against animals being used for products altogether – fake leather would be a better option for you.

However, you should also know that fake leather is a chemical based product, and has negative environmental effects attached to it’s production, as well as concerns for how it breaks down when it is decomposed (although there are some sustainable farms, and natural tanning refineries)

So, neither are completely ethical. They both have their upsides and downsides.

Some may choose to stay away from leather altogether.

It’s interesting to note that even some sustainability and eco friendly advocates choose real leather because the hides/skins are a by product that would go to waste if not used, and they are against the environmental impact of producing and disposing of faux leather.

In terms of qualities and features – real leather is usually more expensive, requires more maintenance and can crack if not cared for properly. It also can’t be modified or customised in production like artificial leather. But it does tend to have a high quality appearance and be quite strong.

Faux leather can be more affordable, and can be produced to have a wider range of features and appearances. PVC faux leather usually doesn’t breathe very well so isn’t good for contact with skin which can sweat, and polyurethane plastic can be made to be a bit more breathable, lighter, flexible, and softer. Cheap faux leather can break down very quickly and not be very durable compared to real leather.

New developments and technology with faux leather towards bio based and eco friendly/sustainable based faux leathers could be a good thing in the future.


Real Leather

  • Made from animal (mainly bovine/cows) hides and skin as a by product of livestock raised for their meat and milk (so the animals aren’t raised specifically for leather)
  • Animal agriculture has it’s own set of animal welfare and environmental issues like deforestation, fertilizer and pesticide use, animal greenhouse gas emissions etc.
  • Uses leather tanneries – which can be responsible for a lot of chemical pollution (one of the most polluting industries in the world)
  • Can be very high quality and last a long time as a product (good for sustainability)
  • Can be recycled
  • Animal skin and hides biodegrade in nature much quicker than synthetic leather
  • Can be expensive for high quality leather
  • Not able to be designed from scratch or modified for different appearances and features like faux leather can be
  • Can be produced by sustainable farms/ranches and natural chemical tanneries – but these are more rare
  • Can be produced from animals that have to be culled as part of conservation, pest control, and species control – which could be considered an ethical approach


Faux Leather

  • Does not come from an animal by product, but instead made from chemicals (like petrochemicals)
  • Main types are PVC faux leather, and the most common – polyurethane/plastic faux leather. Both are adhered to a fabric backing, such as polyester. Synthetic based chemicals and materials are obviously not as sustainable or renewable
  • Other types can include cork, barkcloth, glazed cotton, waxed cotton, and paper – but these are uncommon
  • Has it’s own environmental concerns – such as the use of solvents, coatings, phthalates and so on – which can leach into or be dumped into the environment
  • Is far more customisable and modifiable than real leather with it’s appearance, design, features and qualities. So, the range of faux leathers available is very wide because of this, and can be used for a wide range of products and uses
  • Usually a more inexpensive leather option to real leather
  • Can be lighter than real leather
  • The PVC version does not breathe (it’s not porous) and can be very hard to clean – it’s not often used for surfaces that come in contact with the skin.  
  • The polyurethane version is usually machine washable and can be dry cleaned. It’s also slightly breathable, softer, and more flexible. Can have a shiny appearance
  • Doesn’t decompose/biodegrade as quickly as real leather in the environment, and plastic based leather can break down into micro plastics
  • New technology and developments are exploring new types of faux leather like bio based materials


Read More About Real & Faux Leather






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