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Leather vs. Faux Leather: Differences, Pros & Cons

Leather vs. Faux Leather: Differences, Pros & Cons

Choosing the right materials for a sewing project can be daunting. Should you use natural or synthetic fabrics? Bright or muted tones? Prints or solids? And maybe the toughest one of all: genuine or faux leather?


I have been sewing for decades, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I started making handbags. Since then, I have experimented with all types of leather, both genuine and faux. In this blog post, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the advantages and disadvantages of both.


We will cover:

  • Leather FAQs

  • Differences between leather and faux leather

  • Pros and cons of each


Leather and Faux Leather FAQs

Before we get into all the specifics, let’s cover the basics. These are the most frequently asked questions from people who are new to crafting and sewing with leather, both real and faux.


What Is Genuine Leather?

Leather is a material that is made from the skin of an animal through the process of tanning.  The skin from mammals, reptiles, birds or fish can all be turned into leather. The most common types are cattle, sheep and goats. Birds, reptiles and fish tend to be classified as “exotic leathers.” Examples are ostrich, crocodile, python or salmon skins and are most often used for luxury goods. 



How Is Genuine Leather Made?

Tanning is the process of treating the skins of animals to produce leather. There are two main ways to tan hides.  You may have heard the terms veg tanned and chrome tanned.  Let's review the meaning of these terms.  


Vegetable tanned hides, more commonly known as veg tanned, are hides that are processed with natural materials like vegetable-based oils, waxes, and tree barks. The process can take up to two months to complete as the hides are soaked in large tubs.


Chromium tanned hides, more commonly known as chrome tanned, are hides that are processed using chromium three sulfites.  It is a much faster process, as it only takes a few days to process.  Because of this, chrome tanned hides are much more affordable than their counterparts and are much more plentiful, making up over 90% of all leather hides.


There are pros and cons to both types of hides, but we will save those facts for a later blog.


What Is Faux Leather?

Faux leather is a man-made, synthetic material that resembles leather. It goes by a lot of different names: vinyl, PU leather, PVC leather, vegan leather, pleather, synthetic leather, imitation leather, leatherette, or artificial leather. (Wow, that’s a mouthful!) No matter what it’s called, though, all faux leather is man-made.



How Is Faux Leather Made?

Most faux leather is manufactured using plastic — specifically, polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). A base fabric is coated with PU or a PVC mixture, which is dried, cured, and treated to create the finished product. During this process, the faux leather is embossed to give it that signature leather grain.


New types of faux leather have also been popping up. Over the past few years, scientists have found ways to manufacture it using a combination of plastic and plant-based materials. Believe it or not, PU-plant blend faux leather can be made out of mushrooms, pineapple leaves, cactuses, and more. These unusual varieties are still not readily available to buy, but it will be interesting to see how they develop over time!


What Is Bonded Leather?

Bonded leather is a blend of genuine and faux leather. It’s manufactured with leather scraps and other fibers, which are broken down and reconstituted into a composite material. The result is a PU-based material that’s made of about 10 to 20% leather.


What Is the Difference Between Genuine Leather and Faux Leather?

The biggest difference between leather and faux leather is that genuine leather is a natural material that comes from animal hides, while faux leather is manufactured using synthetic materials. As a result, they differ in appearance, performance, and cost.


In the video below, I explain the biggest differences between leather and faux leather. I also give examples of when to use each one. Watch the video or read on for more details.



Appearance of Real vs. Faux Leather

When it comes to appearance, the differences between genuine and faux leather are evident upon close inspection. Leather boasts a more organic and supple look, with variations in texture and color that add character to each piece. Its unique grain patterns and subtle imperfections contribute to its charm. Faux leather mimics the appearance of real leather, but it tends to have a more uniform texture and color due to its synthetic composition.


Crafting with Real vs. Faux Leather

Crafting and sewing with real leather offers a tactile experience like no other. Its supple yet sturdy texture makes it a joy to work with, allowing for intricate detailing and shaping. However, real leather can also present challenges, such as its weight and thickness, which may require specialized tools and techniques.


Faux leather, being lighter and more consistent in thickness, is often favored by beginners or those looking for a more forgiving material to experiment with. Its predictably sized rolls make it easier to plan projects and minimize waste. Faux leather also offers a wider range of colors and patterns, catering to diverse creative tastes.


Performance of Real vs. Faux Leather

When it comes to performance, real leather wins in terms of durability and longevity. With proper care, genuine leather can last for years, developing a unique patina that adds to their beauty over time. Faux leather, on the other hand, shows more signs of wear and tear, such as fading and cracking.


Both materials are relatively easy to clean and maintain. Faux leather is more water resistant, but it’s not totally waterproof. Genuine leather does require occasional conditioning to preserve its suppleness and prevent cracking.


Cost of Real vs. Faux Leather

Cost is a significant factor to consider when choosing between real and faux leather. Genuine leather typically comes with a higher price tag due to the labor-intensive tanning process and the quality of the material. Faux leather offers a budget-friendly alternative, but it is less durable and won’t last as long as the real thing.


Should You Use Leather or Faux Leather for Your Next Project?

Leather and faux leather are both great options for making beautiful, high-quality handbags. Ultimately, the material you choose will depend on your budget, the look you’re going for, and how you plan to use the finished product. Let’s look at the pros and cons of both!


Pros and Cons of Leather

Pros

  • Natural material

  • Durable, won’t fade or crack

  • Develops patina over time

  • Unique appearance

  • Natural leather scent

  • Can sew sharper seams and edges

  • Holds its shape

Cons

  • Higher cost

  • Varies in size

  • More difficult to remove stains

  • Not vegan-friendly


Pros and Cons of Faux Leather

Pros

  • Vegan-friendly

  • Lower cost

  • Wide variety of patterns and colors

  • Available as large, uniform rolls of fabric

  • Water resistant

  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • May crack over time

  • Vulnerable to punctures

  • Chemical scent

  • Seams and edges are less sharp

  • Doesn’t hold shape as well

So, which option is right for you? If you’re making a tote for your teenage granddaughter to bring on the school bus, you may want to use faux leather. If you’re creating a timeless handbag that you’ll keep for decades, then buttery Italian leather could be the best choice.


There you have it: a complete guide to the differences between leather and faux leather. Now you can feel confident selecting the best material for your next project. Happy sewing!


Shop Simply Classic Leather and Faux Leather

Here at Simply Classic, we offer a wide range of genuine Italian leather, faux leather, and other fabrics. Whether you want classic black leather, pink faux snakeskin, or something in between — we’ve got you covered. Explore the store now to get inspired.



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