Is Vegan Leather Durable? (Vegan Leather vs Real Leather)

If you’re going vegan for ethical reasons, you’ll likely be making a switch from buying real leather to man-made materials. Luckily, these “fake leather” goods will often cost less. But will your “vegan leather” boots last as long as real leather?

Is vegan leather durable? Vegan leather tends to be less durable than real leather. However, the most popular kinds of vegan leather—PU and PVC—still have a lifespan of roughly two to five years. When you factor in the lower cost and the animal rights considerations, most vegans consider this durable enough.

Below, I’ll share everything you need to know about different kinds of vegan leather, how they’re made, and how long they last! I’ll also share tips on how to make your vegan leather last longer!

What Is Vegan Leather?

Vegan leather” can be made from various alternatives to animal hide, and you’d be surprised at what the options are. Everything from the plastic leather of the 90s (pleather) to coffee, bananas, cork, wood, and other materials can all function as leather alternatives.

Most vegans try not to buy new leather products because it requires the death of cows. (However, vegans disagree whether it’s okay to buy used leather or keep using leather you already have.)

An unfortunate truth is that currently, many kinds of vegan leather are still somewhat hard on the environment. But there are new options coming out all the time.

Most vegans will find it worth buying at least a few “vegan leather” products at some point, whether it’s a belt, wallet, shoes, or something else.

But there’s a common concern that vegan leather may not hold up as well as genuine leather. So let’s talk about that!

How Vegan Leather Is Made

The most common types of vegan leather are PU and PVC. Polyurethane pleather is made by pouring a liquid form of the material onto a mold designed to mimic the texture of leather. Once it cools, manufacturers peel off the mold and attach it to a fabric material layer for stability.

PVC is made in much the same way, just using different chemicals to form the “leather” layer. Once molded and cooled, a fabric layer is added to give stability. This keeps it pliable yet strong.

This video shows PVC vegan leather being made.

Other types of fake leather are made with a similar process. And most of them rely on a fabric backing to remain stable.

Because the fabric layer and the “plastic” layer are initially separate, this gives an added way for the fake leather to fall apart.

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How Long Does Fake Leather Last?

Honestly, synthetic leather is still not as durable as real leather. But in fairness, humans haven’t spent nearly the time developing fake leather as we have the real kind.

Humans have been tanning leather for thousands of years, but have only just started exploring leather alternatives in the past few generations.

Real leather, when well cared for, can potentially last for generations. You can expect faux leather goods to last for one-half to one-third the lifespan of genuine leather.

PVC and PU typically last up to five years, and other alternatives usually last around the same time.

But veganism is becoming more mainstream, and with designers like Stella McCartney and luxury car brands like Bently exploring these sustainable materials, we’re bound to see quick improvements coming in durability and style.

Vegan Leather Is Less Durable—But More Affordable

Just because vegan leather is a bit less durable than real leather, that doesn’t mean you’ll be running up a bigger bill by constantly replacing your fake leather goods.

Most vegan leather is PVC or PU, which does last a few years before showing cracks or wear and tear. For many people’s needs, this is enough durability. And then you can just replace things as needed.

Vegan leather is typically cheaper than genuine leather (unless you’re talking about Pinatex), so budget-wise, you might still come out on top with vegan leather.

Even if you end up paying an equal or greater amount on the vegan leather, you’ll spread out that cost over more years.

For example, leather shoes on Amazon cost between $50 to $100 on average with nicer brands running in the hundreds of dollars. However, LifeStride’s faux leather shoe for women is much cheaper and looks like the real thing.

What Is Durable Enough for You?

In the age of fast fashion today, some products barely last through one or two wearings before showing signs of degradation. So you must decide for yourself what “durable” means when you’re answering this question.

For me, products that give me two to five years of life without falling apart are pretty durable. And from what I’ve experienced, yes, vegan leather fits that bill.

Pinatex: A More Durable Vegan Leather

A new type of faux leather using waste products from pineapple farming is hitting the stage now—Pinatex.

The designer found a way to use non-woven techniques to bind the fibers together—a lot like felt—and the result is a very durable fabric that resists wear and tear.

The downside is that Pinatex is still relatively expensive. A pair of Pinatex shoes could cost you over $200. As an example, here’s an Amazon listing for one pair if you want to check the current price.

So Pinatex is a significant investment. However, it lasts longer than standard plasticized leather and it looks more realistic, too.

How to Care For Vegan Leather

The care you give your faux leather products can help provide longer life. Here’s what you need to know about caring for your faux leather to make it last longer:

  1. Brush your faux leather with a soft-bristled brush to remove any dust or hair gathered on the surface.
  2. Mix a tiny bit of soap with warm water and gently blot any stains or soiled sections with a soft cloth. Make sure you wring the cloth out so it’s only damp.
  3. The surface of most faux leather is nonporous, so you should be able to clean marks from the surface without damaging or staining the fabric.
  4. Direct sunlight can cause a drying effect on most faux leather, so be sure to store shoes, belts, and wallets out of direct sunlight. 
  5. Wipe down the surface to prevent cleaners from drying out the material over time.

Overall, the more you can prevent the material from drying out due to sunlight exposure, dust, or cleaners, the less likely the material is to crack and look aged.

Vegan Leather for the Animals

Durability is only one part of the equation for those choosing vegan leather. For many vegans, selecting a more compassionate option is really the most important factor.

Since vegan leather can still last for a few years, most vegans consider it to be durable enough, even if it is a bit less durable than real leather.

Caring for your vegan leather can increase its lifespan, too, as well as rotating things like shoes to spread out wear and tear. And as vegan leather becomes more popular, we may soon see options that last as long as real leather!

Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey

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