What Is PU Leather And Is It Vegan? [The Ultimate Guide!]

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If you’ve ever looked into purchasing a leather product, there’s a chance you may have suffered from sticker shock…in which case it’s wise to look to a leather substitute.  Enter, PU leather.

Whether you’re looking for an affordable leather alternative, you’re curious if PU leather is vegan, or you just want to know what to look out for when purchasing a luxury leather item, these are a few things you should know about PU leather. 

what is PU leather

That said, what is PU leather made from?  Read on to find out…

What is PU Leather?

PU Leather image as label

PU stands for polyurethane, which is a key ingredient in this material. In some cases, PU leather is an artificial product using a combination of natural and synthetic ingredients (also known as Faux Leather). Manufacturers often use the fibrous part of the cowhide leftover from the genuine leather manufacturing process and coat it with a layer of polyurethane.

In appearance, it can look very similar to real leather, making it a great substitution for the real thing. In other cases, the leather is made completely out of polyurethane or by coating polyester or cotton with polyurethane.

PU Leather vs. Real Leather

So how does PU leather compare to real leather? There are a few ways to look at this. Below, we will talk about durability, appearance, and cost-effectiveness. But before we get there, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Is PU Leather Vegan?

PU leather does NOT necessarily mean that the product is vegan! Just that it could be.  As mentioned above, in many cases, manufacturers will use the remains of the cowhide left over from genuine leather production and coat it with polyurethane to create the less expensive material. In this case, the leather is decidedly not vegan.

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Vegan Leather image as label

However, purely polyurethane leather is a vegan product. To be sure about the status of a product, just check to see if the product is labeled vegan leather as opposed to PU leather. If the product is labeled “vegan leather” then it is certified to be cruelty-free. If the product is labeled “made with real leather” than it is certainly not a vegan product.

PU Leather Durability

Of course, real leather does not involve the use of polyurethane, which is the main difference in the makeup of this material. PU is also typically significantly cheaper than real leather and provides a cost-effective option for those on a budget who want the look of the real thing. In many cases, PU leather can look exactly like real leather so it’s not a bad substitute. However, there will always be a major quality difference between real leather and faux leather. Synthetic leather is more brittle and less likely to age well, while real leather lasts longer and tends to give customers a longer-term product.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between PU Leather and Real Leather?

PU Leather vs Full Grain Leather

If you’re looking for a way to tell the difference between faux leather and real leather when deciding on which product to purchase, there are a few different ways you can evaluate your options.

  1. Read the labels. Of course, the main way to identify the quality of the product your purchasing is to read the label. Anything labeled as “genuine leather” is true leather, while anything that says “made with real leather” indicates that it incorporates man-made materials. But beyond reading the labels, there is a difference between real and faux leather that warrants the cost difference.
  2. Examine the surface grain. Faux leather tends to have absolutely no surface imperfections since it’s made with completely uniform materials and processes. If you examine a genuine leather product, there should be some surface grain imperfections and unique markings.
  3. Genuine leather is more pliable. If you manipulate a genuine leather product, you should notice that it’s flexible. PU leather is stiffer and won’t bend as much as a real leather product.
  4. Real leather absorbs water. Because PU leather is coated in polyurethane, it will not absorb water. If you drop some water on a faux leather product, it will not be absorbed into the fabric. Alternatively, real leather will absorb water unless it has been pre-treated to be water-resistant.
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What are the Pros of PU Leather?

There are several ways that polyurethane leather might be a good alternative to leather, depending on your preference.

  • PU leather is more cost-effective. PU leather is a fantastic substitute for real leather if you are not ready to commit to investing in a leather product. If you’re looking for a way to incorporate the leather aesthetic into your wardrobe without making a major financial investment, faux leather is a great way to try out the style without having to drop major cash.
  • PU leather can be a vegan option. As stated above, not all leather is vegan leather. However, vegan leather is PU leather designed to be cruelty-free. This is a great option for people who prefer to use only cruelty-free products.
  • PU leather allows you to try new styles. This goes back to the cost-effective nature of PU leather. If you’re looking to incorporate a new or trendy style into your wardrobe but you aren’t sure whether you want to make an investment, purchasing a faux leather version is a great option. That way, you aren’t committing to a major financial investment in a fashion trend that might be out of style in a few months.

What are the Cons of PU Leather?

Of course, there is a reason that PU leather is less expensive than genuine leather. There are a few reasons why it might not be the best way to go.

real leather develops a patina
  • Real leather is more durable. Real leather is of higher quality and therefore ages better. PU leather is less durable. It’s more likely to crack or break over time, whereas genuine leather is more flexible and therefore less likely to crack.
  • Real leather is more breathable. Genuine leather is more breathable than faux leather, since it is porous, rather than painted over with a synthetic such as polyurethane. This makes it much more comfortable.
  • Real leather ages better. Even as real leather ages and possibly gets scratched or damaged, it remains beautiful. The styles are timeless, and the overall product is more likely to wear its age well as opposed to cracking or getting damaged.
  • Real leather lasts much longer. There’s a reason that leather (full grain, top grain, genuine) is an investment. If taken care of properly, true leather can last for years! It makes it a great addition to your wardrobe long-term.
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Examples of PU Leather Wallets, Backpacks and Purses

The reality is this… there are a lot of quality PU leather products on the market.  While it’s impossible to review all of them, we wanted to give you several examples that we like to show the range of options.  We’ll look at several across the “carry” space, including men’s and women’s wallets, backpacks and purses (or bags).  Take a look below, we hope it’s helpful.

Pearl Angeli PU Leather Clutch for Women
This is a great example of a fun, stylish wallet that utilizes PU leather in a wide variety of colors (12 when we counted!).

Capacity: 2 ID holders, 14 card slots, 6 extra pockets (1 with zipper)

Dimensions: 7.5 x 3.95 x 1.2 inches

RFID protection: Yes

ENIGMA Dapper PU Leather Bifold
  • ENIGMA WALLET - We never stopped thinking, attempting and innovating. After thousands of times modifications, ENIGMA is proud to introduce this business bifold wallet; it can easily hold all your daily needs cards in this compact wallet and those folded bills. Design to simplify the way how you use a wallet.
  • EASY TO PICK - The unique design of the ENIGMA dapper leather card holder wallet allows it to hold 8-10 cards and 4-5 bills in the case of a small appearance. Our unique innovative strap packet is designed for people who have frequent cash-using requirements. Pull-on the strap to pop up your card and bills, push the card in to restore the belt. In addition, the C-shaped card slot at the bottom of this men's minimalist slim wallet will allow you to take out the card easily.
  • BYE, BYE THIEVES - The aluminum metal frame processed by premium sandblasting crafts not only improves the touch but also has smart RFID blocking function, which can perfectly protect the security of your privacy, meanwhile keep your 125Khz access card working.
  • IDEAL GIFT - All ENIGMA smart leather wallets come with a premium gift box. They are specially designed for a gentleman who loves travel, business or tactical styles gears. If you want to surprise your father, husband, boyfriend, brother or anyone you love on the anniversary, birthday, or Christmas, ENIGMA men's wallet is definitely a wise choice.
  • PATENTED MECHANISM - ENIGMA minimalist card holder wallet uses a patented card holding mechanism on the inner side of the aluminum frame, which aims to hold your cards securely while convenient the card operating. Minimalist card holder frame design allows you to operate cards as much as you want, whether right-handed or left-handed.

Vintage-look Cross-body backpack
  • PREMIUM QUALITY LEATHER BAG: This bag is made of contemporary design with a feel Classic sling for modern people on the go. It is made with premium shining quality pu leather with waterproof ability. It is made to be durable over a long period of time. The material comes with ergonomic design to relieving back pressure
  • PERFECT SIZE FOR YOUR GADGETS: Our leather sling bag is spacious and it is design to perfectly hold can hold a lot of items. . It is designed to take different gadget at a time. Be it laptop, Ipad, tablet, phone, books, credit cards, jotter and many more.
  • WELL ORGANIZED COMPARTMENTS: Our bag is well compartmentalized. It has multiple pockets inside and outside with a zip around main compartment with a fully lined interior, one slip pocket, and one zippered pocket for organization. An exterior accessory pocket on the front offers added storage for items that you need to access quickly
  • USB CHARGE AND EARPHONE JACK: This sling bag comes with a charging port you can connect your phone to and easily charge during outdoors and travel. Place your power bank inside the bag and connect your phone to the outer port. You can as well listen to your favorite music by connecting the headphone directly to your backpack
  • EXTRA QUALITY AND COLOURFUL DESIGN: It is made in a way that mixes creativity with fashion. It is a pu leather bag with adequate durability. The sling is thick and cannot cut or break easily. The inner is well lined with soft material and breathable soft cushion belt

Tote Shoulder Bag / Matching Clutch
  • HIGH QUALITY INTERIOR - The interior of the bag is lined with complimenting colors and high-quality 100% Metal closures and zippers.
  • MATCHING CLUTCH HANDBAG - The clutch attaches to the inside of the bag and is removable. Inside the tote bag, you will also find a zipper pocket on the back wall and 2 slit pockets on the front wall. Stylish and Functional!
  • VEGAN LEATHER - Tote - 12.8” L x 11.5” H x 6.8” D, Handle Drop: 8.6” (22cm) Inner pouch dimensions: 8" L x 5" H (20cm L x 12.5cm H)
  • FUNCTIONAL DESIGN - On the sides of the bag there are Pull strings that can cinch the bag and change the shape of the bag to make it tighter.
  • TOTE SHOULDER BAG FOR DAILY USE OR WORK - It will hold a tablet or a small laptop and is spacious enough to hold everything you need for daily use. The inner pockets are large enough to hold money, cards, and smartphones.

Faux Leather | The Verdict

Regardless of your budget or lifestyle preferences, both leather and PU leather are viable options for your carry products. There are pros and cons to both options that can meet different needs depending on the person.

On one hand, a person who favors a classic style and likes making long term investments in their wardrobe might favor full grain leather that will age well. On the other hand, people often look for less expensive ways to incorporate the leather look into their wardrobe.  In this case, they might feel more comfortable trying out a PU leather option before taking the leap and purchasing a leather product. And of course, some PU leathers are cruelty-free options for those who live a vegan lifestyle.

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Last update on 2024-05-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API