What is PU Leather? Meaning + Pro’s & Con’s

Clemens Kohlbacher
18. December 2022

PU leather short for polyurethane leather is getting more and more popular. Since the downsides of conventional leather with regard to sustainability and ethics get more obvious many people are looking for alternatives and similiar solutions. The chinese have already done a lot of research and development work when it comes to pu leather and it seems to be a very promising substitute to real leather.

There are many differences, most positive but some negative, when compared to other leather kinds. Here is the ultimate overview of pu leather and everything you need to know about it.

What is PU Leather?

PU leather is the abbreviation of polyurethane leather. Polyurethane is a widely used in the construction and engineering industry. It is an ultra durable, flexible and long lasting polymere. They are used for coating roofs, industrial floors and the inside of tunnels for example. It is an artificial man made chemical mix that mainly got popular for the wide variety of used and durability.

Now it is used for making leather as well and is has been successfully established over the past couple of years. Pu leather leather is basically an artificial man made leather alternative. The definition is not 100% set which might lead to confusion because there are two kinds of leathers which are often referred to as pu leather:

  • 100% PU Leather
  • Split Leather (Leather coated with PU Leather)

This might lead to confusion and brings us the next point regarding the question if pu leather is vegan.

Is PU material vegan?

PU leather is actually in its real form 100% vegan because it is a basically a blend of different artificial chemicals. 

But the problem is that many people the term pu leather very loosely and often refer to split leather as pu leather. Split leather is uses the leftovers of the conventional leather production and coats it it with polyurethane. This makes it a mix of real and pu leather, but people often call it just pu leather instead of split leather. 

Therefore it is always better to ask or check the label if the product is really entirely made of pu leather or just a the coating. Ethical wise this makes a huge difference for people avoiding animal products and not wanting to contribute to the suffering and death of animals because of the leather production.

Quality & Durability

Since polyurethane has been used as a special coating for heavy duty and industrial purposes it is very durable. It lasts a very long time and usually does not crack or wear down easily. The overall durability and quality is quite good and actually way better compared to most faux leather alternatives. But that is what it is originally made for – being very tough and long lasting.

The only downside is that it is flexible but not as flexible and stretchy as for instance cow leather. Animal leather usually gets softer and stretchier the older it gets. Pu leather usually maintains its flexibility and softness.

Manufacturing Process

During the manufacturing process of pu leather quite a lot of chemicals and petroleum is used. The whole process is broken down into 4 simple steps.

1) Starting with the base fabric
2) Application of polyurethane coating
3)Coloring it by adding an extra layer of color
4) Final texture for finish gets added


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Sustainability & Ethics

Sustainability wise pu leather is actually way better than animal leather. The production takes up way less ressources and therefore more eco friendly. Although it is not as sustainable as plant based leather alternatives it is still more sustainable than conventional leather. Especially when it comes to 100% true pu leather. There are still a lot of chemicals and petroleum involved in the making it not the most eco friendly solution. It also does not decompose when thrown away in nature.  Better vegan leather alternatives when it comes to sustainability would be cork, mushroom, grape or pineapple leather

When it comes ethics it is obviously way better than animal leather. No animals are harmed during the manufacturing process since it is 100% man made and requires no animals at all for the making. It is therefore also completely vegan. Only when people refer to split leather as pu leather it is not vegan because it still contains some leftover genuine leather.

How to tell the difference

Most of leather products have a label on them explaining which kind of leather or which materials are used. In case of uncertainty there are a lot of factors that actually differentiate both. You can tell that quite easily right away just by looking at them. Here are some of the most obvious factors when it comes to telling the difference between genuine leather and pu leather.

The Smell

If it is brand new the smell tells it all. Genuine Leather has a very unique and leathery smell to it. Pu leather smells very synthetic like plastic. So just by smelling it you can tell the difference within just a. couple of seconds. If it is used or older that can be quite tricky though since the smells goes away quite quickly.

The Texture

Usually real leather, especially when older, feels slightly softer and smoother compared to pu leather. It might look very similiar but by feeling it or taking a closer look you can tell the difference. A typical side to side comparison makes it quite obvious. But from the distance it is almost impossible to tell the difference and can easily be taken for genuine leather.

genuine leather vs faux leather


Well this should a clear indicator if it fake or not because pu leather is very cheap to make and pu leather products are usually priced very cheaply. Obviously there are a lot of scammers online that charge the same price for pu leather but real retailers or manufacturers charge way less. 

Water Test

Animal leather is not water resistant. It absorbs it and gets quite wet. Pu leather on the other hand is very water resistent and does not absorb it at all. This adds to the durability of it.

Where can you buy it?

Alibiba, the chinese b2b version of amazon, is a great place for sourcing pu leather since it is very common in china. Most fake leather products are made in china and the original polyurethane is also very common in china. The price per meter depends on the order quanity but is already low from the beginning. This supplier will only charge US $1,00-3,00 / m depending on the order quality.

Our experience

Pu leather is way better compared to animal leather just with regards to the ethical aspect alone. It is also more sustainable that for instance cows leather although still a lot of chemicals are used during the manufacturing process of leather.

Brand new it smells quite synthetic and unpleasant although the unpleasant scent goes away quite quickly. 

But there is another possible downside and that is its breathability. Pu leather should not be used for clothes such as jackets or boots because t is not breathable at all. It is quite resistant against water from the outside as well but the same applies to fresh air making it not practical for conventional useful for clothes.

A great alternative is Piñatex, a vegan leather alternative entirely made from recycled pineapple leaves. Our sustainable watches run with a swiss movement and the leather straps are made from Piñatex.

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Clemens Kohlbacher

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