Leather is probably one of the oldest materials used by mankind. Even before humanity woven threads, invented fabrics, and then evolved into wearing clothes, leather was the first material the human race found to drape our skin. From primitive man to the present day, leather has undoubtedly played a crucial role in the development of civilization.
The evolution of leather
As the use of leather and leather crafts has survived the eras of Ancient Rome, the Dark Ages, the Vikings, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and then the industrial revolution, from the Victorian era, moving to the progressive era of the 1900s and now to the modern times of the 1950s to the present.
With the spread of industrialization and the invention of machines, came the demand for new types of leathers, supple leathers, softer leathers and leathers with fashionable appearances. This demand has seen the rise of innovation in tanning facilities and new chemical developments for sophisticated processing methods that add to the aesthetics of leather, making it a luxury item of great value. Luxurious leathers continue to be the material of choice not only for commercial and residential furniture, but also for automotive, aircraft and marine applications.
Leather has flourished and global markets continue to grow with demand. Leather exports and imports are still on the rise.
This push has also seen the evolution of “faux leather” or “synthetic leather” for price conscious customers and for cheaper applications. Synthetic leathers have been around since the 19th century, and in 1963 the first large (synthetic) faux leather was produced by the DuPont company. It was made from a polyester (plastic fiber) base with a polyurethane (plastic) coating.
Later, “leatherette”, another type of synthetic leather made from coating fibers with PVC (a plastic) was introduced. Now, this alternative leather industry doesn’t even need leather to be produced.
As the issues of respect for the environment, the environment and sustainability become more and more important, the global fashion industry now uses more synthetic leathers, PUs, artificial rubbers and PVC materials. for alternative products to leather. There is now a natural decline in the demand for genuine leather. In addition, the global economy is moving away from an outsourcing model. The theory is that by moving production to countries where wages and material costs are lower, alternative leather products can be produced more cheaply, resulting in lower target prices and cost savings.
The demand is so high that “faux” leathers / synthetic leather products made from plastics and other compounds are becoming more and more popular to meet the demand. They are also cheaper and more animal-friendly options for sourcing leather.
The synthetic leather business
According to various industry reports, the synthetic leather market size is estimated to be USD 63.3 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach USD 78.5 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 4.4% between 2020 and 2025 .
The market is mainly driven by the growing demand for synthetic leather in end use industries such as footwear, furniture, automotive, clothing, bags, handbags and wallets, etc. Factors such as the growing demand from the footwear industry, the lack of animal slaughter, the advantages over pure leather, and the growing demand for luxury cars and electric vehicles will drive the synthetic leather market. . APAC is the key synthetic leather market globally, followed by Europe and North America, in terms of volume and value.
PU-based leather was the most important type for the synthetic leather market in 2019 and 2020.
PU-based leather is made by coating a fabric such as polyester or cotton with a flexible polymer. It is then processed by various processes to resemble leather made from animal skin. PU-based synthetic leather is made using soft polymers and therefore does not require additional plasticizers. It offers various advantages such as waterproofness, lightness and softness.
In some cases, PU leather can tear easily, but will not fade or crack in the sun. It is widely preferred in the automotive and clothing industries. PU-based leather is considered to be more environmentally friendly than vinyl-based leather because it does not create dioxins. PU based leather is more expensive than PVC based leather due to its extensive manufacturing process.
It is important to know that the footwear is considered to be the largest end-use industry in the synthetic leather market between 2020 and 2025.
Alternatives to leather are now part of Smart Materials
With the great shift of brands towards greater ecological responsibility to source and offer unique concepts that are just as new, the emphasis is on responsible creations of alternatives, trim and accessories in leather.
As a result, Leather is now part of the SMART MATERIALS sector to achieve its goal of establishing the criteria for a more environmentally friendly sourcing.
The new challenge of innovating and creating alternatives is taken up by Tanners and Producers with enthusiasm.
By favoring companies offering leathers from new animal sources or new alternatives to conventional leathers, it is now possible to favor eco-responsibility and to make choices according to the desired end product.
As eco-responsible innovations evolve and vary with each season, we observe different trends in the industry.
Non-woven microfiber suede
It is the perfect combination of fabric and PU leather and has a soft feel of fabric and the appearance of real leather.
Main scope of application: Car interiors, Home and furnishings, Electronics and fashion accessories
Options available in polyester microfiber and polyamide microfiber
The recycled version is also available.
Water Based PU Coating Leather
This is a great option for vegan leather as it has similar outlook and interior structure to real leather. It normally has a rich surface texture and has no distortion. It can also be waterproof, antifouling and grease resistant.
Main application area: car interiors, fashion accessories, home and furnishings
Various backing fabric options: non-woven microfiber suede, woven suede, cotton, etc.
The recycled version is also available.
Woven and knitted suede
This is mainly used in clothing and various finishes / treatments can be applied to both knitted suede and woven suede. The short pile on the surface created by the microfiber structure increases the smoothness and luxury of the fabric.
Main area of application: fashion accessories, home and upholstery
Various finishes and design options can be created with customization.
The recycled version is also available.
Bonded leather is leather but not quite. It is made of leather but may not be called leather (not at all in some countries). Bonded leather (also known as bonded leather / coated leather / blended leather) is made by grinding scrap leather from factories and then mixing it with an adhesive / binder to create a layer which is then bonded to a surface of support and finally provided with a polyurethane waterproofing coating; it is then stamped to make it look like real leather.
This man-made synthetic leather is an extremely popular substitute for animal skin and has seen enormous demand for upholstery and leather-like clothing manufacturing. In bonded leather, at least 20% of the material constitutes genuine leather scraps.
Consumers are looking for new sensory surprises as well as transparency.
Being environmentally friendly or mindful of the environment is not always important to a customer, but as brands with brand values aim to be more responsible towards the environment, a consumer’s expectations increase. Not only are they interested in new sensory surprises, but they are also interested in now understanding the process and its transparency. It is yet another form of human evolution.
While faux (vegan) leather is not 100% perfect, it is far better over animal leather. At that time and time, we now know for sure that animal leather is the most environmentally toxic textile of all. And this again shows that there is absolutely no reason for using trendy animals.
With such a range of faux leather types, each varying in their level of environmental friendliness, consumers have endless ethical choices, without compromising on ethics or aesthetics.