vegan leather

What is Vegan Leather? The Complete Guide

vegan leather

As consumers, we’re always looking for ways to be more sustainable without sacrificing quality. If you’re looking for an alternative to real leather goods, we’ve got you covered with The Real Leather Company’s comprehensive guide to vegan leather.

This guide includes answers to the questions:

  • What’s in vegan leather?
  • What's it used for?
  • Do its downfalls make vegan leather worthwhile for products?

What is Vegan Leather?

Vegan leathers (or faux leathers) are leather alternatives that do not use animal products. Faux leathers will usually be made using plastics or natural material, and are used mostly for fashion and furniture, particularly items like bags and chairs.

What is Vegan Leather made out of?

There are a few different types of vegan leather. Each of them is able to be moulded into a similar texture we’re used to seeing in animal leather, with the creases and detailing to give it that leather effect.

The two most common are PU leather and PVC leather, but there are some alternative options made from cork or even fruits like apple skin and pineapple leaves, although these options aren’t as mainstream.

PU Leather (or pleather)

100% Polyurethane (PU) leather is mostly considered to be vegan. This leather is made with a thermoplastic polymer and is used for things like furniture, bags and shoes. There is a popular and  “less pure” variant of PU that uses parts of cowhide, so it’s important to check the labels if you’re looking for completely vegan products.

PU leather is typically easy to clean but will wear down much more quickly than real leather. Due to its coating and artificial nature, PU leather also isn’t biodegradable, so if you’re looking for environmentally friendly options, you’d likely be better with long-lasting real leather than this synthetic leather alternative.

PVC Leather (Polyvinyl chloride)

PVC leather is typically made in the same way as polyurethane leather, with a plastic coating on the fabric that is then textured for a leather effect. PVC is a popular plastic and this means that PVC vegan leather is often very affordable. You may sacrifice product quality due to its shiny, sometimes plastic-like appearance, but it’s definitely an affordable option.

Is Vegan Leather Real Leather?

vegan leather bag vs real leather duffel bag

Real Leather Duffel Bag, The Denali

Real leather is not vegan. It is a durable and flexible material often created by an air drying tanning process or the chemical treatment of animal hide. Synthetic leather alternatives are made mostly from plastic or alternative resources and therefore are not real leather and are often not designed to be long lasting in the same way that real leather is.

How to Clean Vegan Leather

Most vegan leather, due to its high plastic content, is fairly easy to clean. Unfortunately, it is often more prone to damage, so it’s important that you clean and maintain it properly.

To remove stains, dirt, or dust, you should be able to wipe down vegan leather with a soft damp cloth. If dirt is dried, warm water should help you to clean vegan leather goods  without damaging them.

If your vegan leather is more textured, a soft brush should help to clean grooves and details whilst preserving the product.

For tough stains, try adding some soap to your warm water, or a tiny amount of natural oil in moderation.

Vegan leather is much more fragile than real leather. We advise against using abrasive materials like hard or metal brushes. Strong cleaning solutions will also likely damage your vegan leather product. 

The Pros & Cons of Vegan Leather

The Pros of Vegan Leather

For those motivated by animal ethics rather than environmental impact and product quality, vegan leather does have its perks.

For many, the lack of animal hide is the biggest selling point for vegan leather. It’s an increasingly realistic alternative to traditional leather products that doesn’t rely on animal hide. One thing to be aware of is that not all faux leathers are vegan, and multiple types of fake leather can still include parts of animal hide.

Vegan leather is typically a cheap option. As it’s mostly made from cheap-to-produce plastics, it can be made for use with furniture, clothing and products like bags fairly easily. Of course, it will need to be replaced far more often than real leather, but it’s price point might make that possible, with the down side of increased waste.

The Cons of Vegan Leather

Vegan leathers generally are not as high quality. Although they are textured to mimic genuine leather, most people are able to easily spot genuine products. For products like chairs and bags, faux leathers are recognizable from their plastic-like appearance and shine. This can mean they’re more susceptible to damage and can be much quicker to suffer from wear than real leather. They might also look cheap.

The actual properties of vegan leather can also be an issue. Some faux leathers have an unpleasant plastic or can even contain a toxic chemical smell that takes time to fade. The material itself is non-breathable which can make it more susceptible to cracking and damage.

There are also important questions about just how sustainable vegan leathers are. Not only are most plastic-based leathers non-biodegradeable, but they also encourage a cycle of repeat purchase as the (often) lack of quality results in quick wear.

A real leather material product will much more likely stand the tests of time and day-to-day damage, and if properly maintained, not require replacement.

How Does Vegan Leather Compare To Real Leather?

It might not come as a surprise that we’re big fans of real leather. Yes, real leather results in a high-quality final product, but there are many other features that make it hard to ignore the appeal of real leather.

Real leather is a unique material in that age doesn’t deteriorate it at anywhere near the same rate as most other fabrics. Real leather products, when well cared for, can last for decades. Our real leather bags are designed to last for years, and provide you reassurance that your belongings are protected whilst also looking stylish. Most real leather products will even look better (and become more comfortable) with age, which can’t be said for vegan and faux  leathers.

The strong and durable qualities of real leather make it desirable for those looking for quality products. Remember, leathers have historically been used for things like armour and boots - that’s how durable these products can be!

Why We Recommend Full Grain and Top Grain Leather for Bags

Whilst we understand the appeal of vegan leathers, we always recommend full grain leather bags and top grain leather bags. This comes down to two things, quality and durability.

A bag has to have more substance than purely fashion. Real leather bags are able to withstand much more day-to-day use than their vegan leather alternatives. Not only will your full grain leather bag look great, but its longevity will also make it a much more sustainable purchase than a cheaper, vegan leather alternative that will need to be regularly replaced.

vegan leather bag or real leather backpack?

Real leather backpack, The Kobuk.

Our Favorite Real Leather Goods

Now, armed with all of the pros and cons, you can decide for yourself whether vegan leather is for you.

If real leather sounds like it might be a worthwhile investment, here are our top 3 real leather products that you should be looking at.

1. The Jones


the jones


One of our best sellers, The Jones, is a timeless leather briefcase that combines practicality and style. 

With its genuine leather smell and high-quality finish, it’s no wonder it’s a customer favourite.

2. The Fanny Pack


the fanny pack


Convenient, comfortable and created for the adventurers among us, The Fanny Pack will hold everything you need. Whether you’re looking for convenience close to home or further afield. The premium leather makes it durable and smart (and its many pockets make it functional too.)

 3. The Brief

the brief

This stylish briefcase is a must for any professional. It’s classic design and functional size make it perfect for your 9-5. You might even find yourself using it at the weekends, such is the allure of this vintage staple.

You can shop our full, real leather collection here.

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