Choosing between Real and Fake Leather

The demand for leather is always high. A wide versatility of it makes them greatly requested for different applications in life. The high demand, however, makes the leather price high and unaffordable. People then started to crave for a solution that can follow their financial power. Fortunately, with the birth of synthetic leather, this wish has moved from just a wishful thinking into an applicable real life solution. Today the synthetic leather has been accepted as a cheaper alternative compared to real leather. It has become more and more common for people to buy and actually use this man-made leather.
Synthetic leather is a material that is made by combining different chemicals to get new material with similar properties like leather. It was not until in the 1960s before it became popular and its manufacturing process improved. There are a lot of ways to produce this so-called “fake” leather but the most commonly used are using polyurethane (PU) and polyvinylchloride (PVC).

Figure 1. Polyurethane

PU was first created by Otto Bayer and his co-worker at Leverkusen Germany in 1937. The new polymer had only limited usage with its early application as aircraft coating during World War II. Polyisocyanate became commercially available 15 years later and 2 years later flexible polyurethane started its production. Polyurethane is basically a polymer made from the reaction of polyisocyanate and apolyol. Isocyanate is a functional group with formula: R–N=C=O. It is considered to be a reactive substance but very useful in producing polymer while Polyol is basically an alcohol with multiple hydroxyl groups. PU is made by coating a fabric (usually polyester) with a flexible polymer and then treat it to get a leather-like appearance.
Figure 2. PVC Polymerization

PVC is the third most commonly used synthetic plastic polymer. Using polymerization reaction, it
combines thousands of vinyl chloride monomer to create PVC and then reacted it with plasticizers to create synthetic leather. PVC can also be made rigid, therefore opening up new possibilities of its applications. Rigid PVC can be used for construction materials like water-pipe. It is also plausible to use rigid PVC for creating various items like water bottle, plastic and non-food packaging.
Both PVC and PU can be utilized to make clothing, upholstery and product covers. However, some has a better application compared to other. PU for example is softer and more flexible. It is also more breathable and best to be used for wearable products such as clothing and upholstery. PVC on the other hand is less breathable than PU, hence it is more suitable to be used for anti-moisture product such as book bindings or cases for electronic devices.
Now that we have known more about synthetic leather, it is time to know which one is better, real or fake leather. The answers can be seen from the differences listed below:

  • Comfort
    Real leather has the ability to breathe. It creates comfort for its user as air can easily flow in and out. It is very flexible and can follow the natural movement of your body. Fake leather on the other hand does not have the breathing and the flexibility of real leather. Users of fake leather tend to sweat easily due to the fact that air is unable to go through in and out. Users may experience blisters and rash on their skin due to in contact friction with the material.
  • Durability
    Although both are considered durable and tough materials, real leather usually lives longer. If it’s maintained properly it can actually be used for years. They do not crack or tear and can maintain its colour long enough. Although fake leather is less durable than real leather, it is able to withstand scratches and scrapes that might spoil genuine leather. Moreover, fake leather is not only prone to crack and peel but it is also stain resistant and have the ability to endure under UV light.
  • Appearance
    Real and Fake Leather
    Figure 3. Display for Real and Fake Leather

    In the long term basis, real leather is able to hold its appearance if properly treated. Its appearance also improves as it gets more refined look as it ages. Fake leather has the advantage to be chemically modified to get finished product which follows your specification. Various patterns and textures can be added to beautify its appearance. Because fake leather is synthetic it is possible to add colour and give dye, this gives more freedom for fashion designers to embellish its creation.
  • Price
    Fake leather is typically cheaper than real leather. However, because of its growing popularity, fashion designers start to increase the price of fake leather goods.
  • Environment
    Real leather uses animal skin as their raw material. It is less animal-friendly compared to fake leather as it needs to slaughter the animal and cut its skin out. Fake leather however uses certain toxic chemical that is hazardous if let loose to the environment.

Real and Fake leather has their own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing which one support your need is a prudent step to buy the right product. Tradeasia is your trusted source for leather chemicals. In the meantime, feel free to drop by our company website to browse our catalogue for chemicals relevant to the leather industry or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
By: Vincent

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