It is commonly used to make a wide range of products that leather would traditionally be used for, e.g. garments, shoes and upholstery. It is often cheaper than leather, but may not be such good quality. It is also known as leatherette, pleather and vegan leather.
Synthetic leather was created in the early 1900s, but it was stiff and did not breath and therefore was not a good choice for products likely to be in contact with the skin. In the 1960s DuPont® manufactured porous imitation leather which has been continually improved, resulting in a material that circulates air well and is comfortable to use.
There are two main types:
• Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Made by adding plasticisers and dye to PVC to make it more flexible and give it colour. It is not breathable so best used for non-clothing items.
• Polyurethane (PU): Made by coating a fabric (e.g. cotton or polyester) with a flexible polymer. It is then coloured/embossed etc to look like animal hide. More breathable than PVC, and softer, more flexible, and stronger, so it is more commonly used for making high-wear products, like luggage or clothing.
Comparison of artificial leather and real leather
Artificial leather looks, feels and smells different to real leather. Real leather usually has visible, irregular pores, uneven edges and forms a pattern of crisscrossing lines when folded. It also has a distinctive smell. Artificial leather usually has pores printed onto it in a repeated pattern, the edges are straight and it feels and smells like plastic or vinyl.
Artificial leather advantages
• Can be made into any colour or texture and is even and consistent.
• Usually more affordable than real leather.
• Easy to clean (needs an occasional wipe with a damp cloth) and is often stain/water resistant.
• Can be very durable.
• Usually fade resistant.
• Does not contain any animal products.
Artificial leather disadvantages
• Easy to tear/puncture and often has a shorter lifecycle than real leather.
• Scratches (e.g. on footwear) are not easy to cover as polish/dyes do not work well on artificial leather.
• Often does not look to be good quality.
• Does not have character as it is uniform in appearance.
• Many people do not like the artificial smell.
Care of faux leather
Faux leather usually just requires a wipe with a damp soapy cloth to keep it clean. If you have a garment made from faux leather, care instructions will be given on the garment care label.
However, stain protection is a good way of protecting faux leather from dirt.
If faux leather gets dirty, leather cleaner should remove the dirt – but ensure you do a patch test to check the cleaner is alright to use on your product. If you do clean your faux leather, apply a conditioner afterwards to stop it getting too dry.