Is PU Leather Vegan? Here’s Everything You Need to Know!

Is PU Leather Vegan? Pairs of shoes.

You may have noticed us talking about PU leather in many of our vegan fashion guides, especially when it comes to vegan shoes and vegan wallets.

However, it still seems like many vegans are unsure of what PU leather is and especially whether or not if PU leather is vegan.

Therefore, we thought we'd break it down from how PU leather is made, what it's used for, and the environmental concerns surrounding the material.

But first things first, is PU leather vegan?

The short answer is yes, PU leather is vegan. But, unfortunately, there can be times when it is not so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

What is PU Leather?

Girl wearing vegan PU leather handbag

PU leather, or polyurethane, is a vegan leather alternative that can be used interchangeably with animal-based leather.

For example, it can be used to produce cruelty-free and vegan items such as jackets, shoes, bags, and wallets, furniture, etc.

Since the leather industry is one of the cruelest and most polluting industries out there, using vegan leather alternatives is a non-negotiable for vegans.

Fortunately, there are many vegan alternatives on the market and polyurethane leather is one of them.

Because of its considerably lower production cost, PU leather was originally created to offer a cheaper version of animal leather in the shoe industry. And thanks to its glossy look and long lasting properties, it didn't take long before polyurethane exploded in popularity.

Today, PU leather is still used in the shoe industry, and other brands and companies have started using it as an alternative to leather.

Naturally, it has also become a popular material for vegan clothing brands working to create cruelty-free fashion.

Thanks to its synthetic nature, the use of PU leather helps reduce the suffering of animals on this planet.

Additionally, some recent developments have been made regarding the biodegradability of polyurethane leather in hopes of making it a more sustainable material.

But before we get into more about that, we'll take a closer look at what PU leather is made from.

How is PU Leather Made?

Man working in PU leather

PU leather is made from high-quality polyurethane which is why it’s much cheaper than leather made from animals.

PU is used by coating fabrics such as cotton or polyester. By doing so, the foundation material gets a protective coating which improves the quality and lifetime of the fabric while also making it sturdier.

Furthermore, it adds a glossy and leather-like feature to the fabric that almost perfectly mimics animal based leather.

In other words, not only can you create a vegan-friendly and stylish looking material using polyurethane leather, but you can also help protect fabrics and improve materials that are known for wear and tear.

Better yet, thanks to its leather like properties, PU is getting a lot of attention from big producers all over Europe and it is constantly being updated and optimized.

But is PU Leather Vegan?

A family of cows

While we did mention that PU leather is vegan, there are some exceptions.

Be aware that there are instances where bicast leather products are coated with polyurethane to improve the appearance.

You see, thanks to the protective properties of polyurethane leather, the leather industry has started using it to make their non-vegan products better.

By coating, sub-par leather products with plastic-based polyurethane, one can create an updated and longer lasting product.

This means that vegans have to be careful so they don’t end up buying a PU leather product thinking it’s vegan when it’s actually not.

But don't worry.

There is regulation stating that companies have to be clear about the use of animal based leather and checking the label is usually enough.

PU leather itself is 100% synthetic and thus a vegan-friendly material.

Environmental Concerns Regarding PU

Ocean and waves

Now, some of you might be wondering: isn’t polyurethane made from plastic? And yes, that is true.

However, the industry is experiencing a lot of innovation.

The full truth is that there are new versions of PU leather made from vegetable-based plastic.

Let us explain.

While it’s true that PU is a plastic by-product of petroleum, there has been a lot done to limit the environment impact of the material.

Several new types of PU leather have been created and introduced in the vegan leather industry and it has been a game changer.

Instead of being made from fossil fuels like regular plastic, vegan companies are using a process that allows them to use PU leather that is made from plant oils grown in Europe.

Firstly, this means that the manufacturing process has become much less harmful to the environment. But more importantly, it has made PU more biodegradable.

With that being said, the production of PU leather varies greatly depending on the regulations of the country it was produced in. So this means not all PU products are manufactured to the same standard.

This is just another reason to avoid fast fashion which is typically made in the developing world with little regards to animals, the environment, and the workers themselves.

PU vs PVC - What's the Difference?

Destructive industries

Besides PU leather, there is another vegan leather alternative that has been popular for a long time. This type is called PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, and it is a plastic based material.

PVC has been used since the 60s, and in many ways, it served as the inspiration for PU.

Although, compared to PU leather, PVC is much worse for our planet. And for vegans buying vegan leather goods, PU is superior to PVC in a number of ways.

The process used to manufacture PVC releases lots of harmful dioxins and uses highly toxic chlorine that is devastating to our ecosystem.

In fact, PVC is so bad for the environment that Greenpeace considers it the single worst type of plastic available today.

PU, on the other hand, is not as harmful to create and the industry - especially in Europe - is tightly regulated to limit all forms of emissions as well as the amount of toxic chemicals used.

Vegan companies like Will’s Vegan Shoes and Veerah use Italian-made, cotton-backed, microfiber polyurethane coated in vegetable oil instead of petroleum. In turn, this greatly reduces a lot of the environmental impact.

To top it off, certain companies have recently started experimenting with recycled PU leather.

With that said, many of the fast fashion companies out there still use harmful PU and PVC which is why we always recommend slow ethical fashion and supporting all-vegan brands.

Luckily, the usage of PVC has been on a steady decline for the last few decades. It’s also set to fall even more in the near future due to the introduction of new environmentally-friendly vegan leather options.

Other Popular Vegan Leather Alternatives

Pineapple used for vegan pineapple leather

While vegan brands are working hard to improve the sustainability of PU leather, there are other faux leathers that are more eco-friendly.

Thanks to the incredible innovation that can be found in the vegan fashion world today, you can find a number of cruelty-free materials being used instead of leather.

  • Pinatex

Pinatex is the name of a new and innovative vegan leather alternative made from eco-friendly pineapple fiber.

Obviously, pineapple leather is a superior alternative to plastic like PVC in every possible way. And in the last two years, big developments have been done to improve the quality of the material.

In fact, Pinatex holds enough of a high quality for Hugo Boss to have picked it for their collection of vegan sneakers. The material has also become increasingly more popular to use for vegan watch straps.

That being said, Pinatex is still somewhat limited in terms of use and quality, and it will most likely take a while before it can really start competing with PU leather.

It’s also still more expensive to manufacture which is an issue for the brands interested in using it.

The best way for you to support the rise of pineapple leather is to drive up demand. Naturally, this is best done by showing an interest in Pinatex and buying products made from this vegan leather.

  • Cork

Another hugely popular faux leather alternative that has actually been around for longer than most other vegan leathers is cork.

Now, cork is not really as versatile as PU leather or even Pinatex, but it is very good for certain products.

For example, nowadays cork is one of the most popular materials used to make vegan wallets. There's even a vegan brand that only makes cork products called Corkor.

Lately, cork has also become popular among vegan shoe brands who use them for soles and “leather-like” details.

For example, Ahimsa is a vegan shoe brand that has mastered cork and uses it a lot in their collection.

All things considered, cork is a great alternative to both animal-leather and PU leather depending on the product you want to create.

  • Parley Ocean Plastic

Parley for the Oceans is an organization that has helped make eco-friendly vegan Adidas shoes using a special kind of yarn featuring Parley Ocean Plastic.

By collecting and recycling plastic before it reaches our oceans, Parley has managed to create a plastic nylon fabric that is the perfect lightweight material for Adidas' world-class shoes.

Today, Adidas boasts an ever-growing collection of shoes made from Parley Ocean Plastic, and they have vowed to only use this innovative, recycled material by 2021.

  • Second hand

Lastly, there is one thing that everyone can do to even further limit one's impact on the environment, and that is to second-hand shop at thrift stores.

Many times, you can find high-quality and barely used vegan shoes and other products at popular thrift stores.

Better yet, you typically only have to pay a fraction of the original price.

Not only is second-hand shopping the most eco-friendly alternative, but it's also very affordable.

Final Thoughts

To sum it up, PU leather is indeed vegan.

Just be aware that some companies may use PU to coat bicast leather. Although, leather products have to be clearly marked according to the law.

While PU leather is not a perfect material by any means, steps are being taken to make it better.

We recommend that you stick to buying faux leather items from vegan companies that have a good reputation. Most of these companies use PU leather solely made from plant oils grown and manufactured under strict EU regulation.

It's also in their best interest to make their products as sustainable as possible since many of us vegans are environmentally conscious.

Otherwise, you can choose from an array of fashionable products made from eco-friendly pineapple leather or cork.

Either way, you will be doing your part in not supporting one of the worst industries in the world.

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