Faux leather is a fabric that looks like leather, but is actually made out of other materials. It's commonly used to make a wide range of products, including garments and shoes, furniture and vehicle seats, and electronics accessories. Also known as leatherette, pleather, or Naugahyde®, this material is often cheaper and more versatile than real leather, but may not be as high-quality.
There are two main types of man-made leather: polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). The first is made by adding plasticizers and dye to PVC, which make it more flexible and give it a natural color. The second is made by coating a fabric like cotton or polyester with a flexible polymer and then treating it to look more like animal hide.
Both types are used in making clothing, upholstery, and product covers, but each is better for certain applications than others. Since PVC leather isn't as breathable as PU leather, it's less commonly used for clothing or for surfaces that come into direct contact with skin. Not being breathable is good for other things though, like bound books or cases for electronic devices. Also, PU fabric is softer, more flexible, and stronger, so it's more commonly used for making high-wear products, like luggage.
As Compared to Real Leather
Faux leather looks different from real leather in several ways, and also feels and smells different. While real leather usually has visible, irregular pores; rough edges; and forms a pattern of crisscrossing lines when folded, faux leather generally won't. It may have pores printed onto it, but they generally look like a repeating pattern, and the edges are usually plastic-like and smooth. Also, real leather feels smooth and buttery, while the fake version feels like plastic or vinyl. The smell between the two differs as well, since real leather has a very distinctive smell, and faux leather doesn't smell like anything or smells like plastic.
Pros and Cons
Artificial leather has a number of advantages: it can be made into any different type of color or texture, which can be more fashion forward and allow people more freedom when decorating, and it generally costs less. It is also easy to clean, and usually only needs an occasional wipe with a damp cloth, while real leather needs regular conditioning. Additionally, it can be very durable, won't fade as easily in ultra violet (UV) light, and doesn't involve the death of any animals.
Despite this, it may not feel as nice as real leather, is easier to tear or puncture, and doesn't age as well. Some people also find it to be wasteful, since the hides used to make real leather usually come from cows that were going to be killed for meat anyway. Also, many people like the smell of leather, and the luster that it develops but faux leather does not.
Synthetic leather was created early in the 20th century, but most early forms were very stiff and not breathable. These qualities meant that the material was not a good choice for products that were likely to be in contact with the skin, like clothing or upholstery. American company DuPont® addressed these issues early in the 1960s with a porous imitation leather, which was gradually improved on, resulting in a fabric that circulates air well and is comfortable to use.