Leather, artificial leather and Vegan leather – What’s the Difference?

The fashion crowd has always kept non-leather ones somewhat at arm’s length when it pertains to handbags. When Guccio Gucci devised the Bamboo manage due to post-WWII leather shortages, it took a while for the world to adapt to its novelty. and when Miuccia Prada released a utilitarian nylon backpack with a luxury price identify in 1984, it sent fashionistas into a veritable shock!

In hindsight, though, the fact that these were so different from what was the norm, what was traditional, is what made them mostly so appealing to the trendsetters of their generation. and hence, we saw the Gucci Bamboo swiftly become a favorite of the likes of Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, and a lot more recently, lady Gaga and Harry Styles; while the Prada Nylon (also known as the Vela) earned its position as one of the very first It-bags in modern fashion, remaining popular enough to warrant revivals and spinoffs to the present day.

Today, the non-leather revolution still shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, if anything, it has gained a lot more traction than ever. As a result, two crucial contenders have emerged in the market besides the ever-present canvas, nylon, and other fabric options – artificial leather and vegan leather.

Now, with the ongoing search for a suitable alternative to animal hide, the discussion surrounding whether or not to go artificial has been going on for a while, with both sides having their proponents. Vegan leather, however, has been a much a lot more recent development and one that is mired in a lot of confusion. Is it the same as artificial leather? What makes it “vegan”? are there designer options available? Is it really sustainable if it’s made from the same synthetic materials as artificial leather? Or is genuine leather the best in the long run?

JW Pei Gabbi Bag
via Amazon


Therefore, the many questions surrounding artificial and vegan leather make it considerably tough for sustainably-minded consumers to make the ideal choice. Plus, there’s a mall market within the field of vegan leather itself that is still under development. well established and young brands alike are experimenting with various materials to recreate the feel of genuine leather as closely as possible. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t any options available for buyers; on the contrary, there are quite a few, from industry heavyweights like Stella McCartney to pop-culture hits like the JW Pei Gabbi and the Telfar tote. At the same time, there have been vegan offerings from a lot more mainstream luxury brands like Givenchy and Saint Laurent as well.

Most importantly, though, we need to distinguish between faux, vegan, and genuine leather – and debunk the various misconceptions surrounding them if we are to make a definitive choice as to which we would like to purchase. and to draw a fair comparison, we need to judge them by some conventional parameters, like their respective histories, aesthetics (or in this case, texture), durability, and value. So, without additionally ado, let’s get into it!


The first artificial leather was developed in a Connecticut rubber plant in the 1920s. because it was composed of polyurethane or PU for short, it became known as plastic leather, alternatively, pleather. low-cost to produce and easy to mold into various styles, artificial leather became a popular alternative to real leather. However, with the ease and economy of production came a cost to the environment – not only is PU not biodegradable, but it also, until recently, contained elements like PVC that are toxic to the environment. modern production methods of PU have thankfully moved towards using less harmful products, but the fact that they’re inorganic remains a major roadblock in the path towards sustainability.

Vegan leather is, oftentimes, very much the same as artificial leather. In its simplest definition, a material can be called vegan as long as it’s made without animal products. For example, the Telfar Tote, which is touted as being made from vegan leather but is produced using PU as well. However, there is also a new and developing market of the vegan leather market, one that seems to should have its name. It is produced from various materials, but with one major difference – all of them are naturally degradable. So, while the Italian piñatex leather makes use of recycled pineapple plants, contemporary brand Fossil has adopted cactus leather from the Mexico-based company Desserto®. Pangaia, whose ads are currently infiltrating all of my feeds, source the leather for their sneakers from grape residues that are a waste product of the Italian white wine industry. In contrast, Hermès’ recent news of producing the Victoria bag with mycelium (mushroom-based) leather and Salvatore Ferragamo’s earth bag that features a suede-like texture made of cork, all should have mention.

Salvatore Ferragamo earth top Handlevia MATCHESFASHION


And what about genuine leather? Well, having actively been in use considering that prehistoric times, leather really needs no introduction. but it is worth mentioning that Loewe’s the Surplus project and Mulberry and Jill Milan’s sustainably-sourced leathers are all breaking grounds in defining leather’s identity as well.

Loewe Surplus small Woven-Leather Bag
via Loewe


Aesthetics & Texture

Now, this is typically an issue of preference – whether we choose pebbled or smooth or patent leather or suede is a culmination of our tastes, functional requirements, and lifestyles. However, our focus here is how closely artificial leather and vegan leather have replicated the look and feel of genuine leather.

At this point, I would normally go off on a tangent and whine about the fact that oily-textured PU purses with metal zipper ends must stop existing. but limiting artificial leather to only one of its variations (albeit the most despicable one) wouldn’t do it justice. There are plenty of nicer-looking smooth and pebbled options out there. In contrast, artificial Saffiano and patent leather can be nearly indistinguishable from genuine leather ones, although they tend to be slightly stiffer. There are also exaggerated pebbled ones from Matt & Nat, the smooth Telfar, as well as the very chic-looking Stella McCartney Frayme. So, you know, options for everybody.

Stella McCartney Frayme Bag
via MyTheresa



This is where we get to see the most differences. here at PurseBlog, we’ve typically discussed the justifications for purchasing a genuine leather luxury purse, and lots of arguments for them are centered around their durability. Indeed, leather is one of the few materials that seem to look better with age, whether Balenciaga’s distressed Chèvre, Louis Vuitton’s Vachetta with a stunning patina, or the buttery calfskin of the Chloé Marcie. Plus, storing leather tends to be pretty easy too – just put them in the dust bag and take them out for a spin at regular intervals!

But this is also where artificial and vegan leathers lose the most points. When subjected to a certain amount of use (and might I add abuse?), or even if just stored somewhere with an irregular climate, it can start peeling. and living in a country where a lot of people are using the most sub-par version of PU imaginable, as well as plenty of fakes, peeling artificial leather seems to have reached the level of an epidemic anywhere around me! I’ve also tried storing them in aerated dust bags, airtight containers, or just leaving them out in the open – but simply nothing seems to halt the peeling! This faces us with another sad truth about PU – if you’re as picky about peeling as I am, they’d unavoidably end up in landfills, where they’d remain for millions of years.

Now, what about this new market of vegan leather? Are they durable? a lot of of the newer editions haven’t faced the “years of abuse” that we tend to subject to our leather carryalls, so the jury is still out on that. but lovers of Stella McCartney, whose newest bags are made from Mylo, a mushroom leather, have attested that their purses have stood the test of time and still look chic.

Price + Value

The other side of the equation of sturdiness is the price tag, and as we have recently discussed, the cost-per-wear. genuine leather is an excellent scorer here, as commenter Anna’s experience with her two YSL Niki’s have shown! So, luxury brands have the leeway of charging a pretty high margin for genuine leather in exchange for the guarantee of getting ample use (for the most part). and this also tells us why artificial leather nearly exclusively remains among the lower price points of brands. and while non-leather materials like nylon and canvas too can last a pretty long time with proper care, PU is bound to end up aging poorly.

On the other hand, Vegan leather is still hovering in uncertain territory. Of course, Stella McCartney has been able to justify paying the premium for the look as well as the quality, but with the others, only time will tell.

So, as we see, vegetable leathers are mainly uncharted territory for the world – they hold promise, but whether they end up having the same attributes of genuine leather we are so accustomed to is yet to be seen. maybe we’ll soon have a vegan version that’s essentially indistinguishable from the real deal. Or maybe those who’d claimed so boldly that vegan and artificial leather are one and the same might end up remaining right.

For now, though, we have the assurance that some brands are out there trying to make a difference, and others are trying to recycle genuine leather and supply us with the best of both worlds. and it is with these many attempts that we’ll eventually reach something mutually useful (and not to mention chic) for both humans and the environment.

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