• cotance@euroleather.com

Leather: Often copied, never equalled

(other linguistic versions hereunder)

Leather is leather! - In the European Union, "leather" is not a legally protected term. As such, the numerous alternatives use the term in their descriptions in an attempt to appropriate the unique properties of the original. The umbrella organisation of European tanners' associations, COTANCE, wanted to know whether these alternatives can actually claim to have the same advantages as the original.

For this purpose, samples were procured and made available to the independent Research Institute for Leather and Synthetic Materials (FILK) in Freiberg. FILK was thus able to examine the material properties of nine of the most frequently referenced alternatives to leather. The result of this study "Trend Alternatives for Leather" is now available. None of the tested substitutes exhibited all of the performance characteristics of leather and some contained chemicals of concern.

Why is leather so worthy of imitation?

The fascination for one of the oldest natural materials in the world remains unchanged. No wonder, because the material is a true all-rounder. It not only lends a noble touch to fashion, footwear, accessories and furniture, but brings many functional properties such as durability, tear resistance and breathability.

Leather comes from a by-product of the food industry; European tanneries process the hides and skins that are left over from food production. If this further processing did not exist, they would have to be disposed of. No animals are killed for leather production in the EU.

The manufacture of leather is a complex and technical process, involving a great deal of manual skill. It is therefore, often more expensive to produce than its imitators. In addition, it is not available in unlimited quantities. For these reasons, research and development of substitutes for leather is being carried out at full speed. In recent years, renewable raw materials have become the focus of research and development activities.

According to the study, these newly developed materials can be divided into three groups:

  • Materials with a predominantly natural base, such as “MuSkin”, which do not require plastics;
  • those that are predominantly made of plastics;
  • and products made exclusively of plastics, such as classic PVC or PUR. An example of the products found in the middle group is "Desserto", a mixture of natural raw materials (cactus fibres) and plastic (textile carrier fabric made of polyester, with two layers of polyurethane on top); in this case the product is 65% polyurethane.

These materials are advertised as a more environmentally friendly alternative to leather. However, there is often a lack of transparency, with concrete information on the respective ingredients and material properties simply omitted. This is where the current study "Trend alternatives for leather" enters into play.

Put to the test: material properties of leather and substitutes

On first inspection, some of these substitutes hardly differ from a leather product. In addition, their product names often use the word "leather", which many buyers associate with the positive quality characteristics of leather.

Therefore, the study examined the nature and physical attributes of these alternative materials. The FILK experts carried out various standardised physical and chemical tests on nine recent substitutes, plastic alternative and, as a reference, also on genuine leather.

The original is always better than its copy

Within the test series, the experts also took a close look at the typical characteristics of leather such as cracking strength, tear resistance, water vapour permeability and the absorption of water vapour, for all the materials.

They found that none of the tested substitutes can truly be called an "alternative" for leather.

Technical progress has achieved that individual properties of the tested substitute materials are similar here and there, but this was by no means true for all of them. In particular, water vapour absorption and water vapour permeability scored significantly lower than leather.

Leather is also superior to its competitors in terms of longevity and useful life, as shown by its superior performance in tests of durability such a flex and tear resistance.

The study result documents that so far leather is far superior to its substitutes with all its natural properties. No substitute can claim them all. Without a doubt, the different materials tested cannot replace the original. It is important that customers and consumers understand the performance deficit of the alternative materials and give this proper consideration to ensure that the products they buy will perform as they expect them to.


Read the extract:

Summary of the FILK study on leather and alternatives


Read the scientific paper from FILK: 

Comparison of the Technical Performance of Leather, Artificial Leather, and Trendy Alternatives


This article in:

German: Bericht Trendsubstitute.pdf

Italian: Solo la pelle meglio della pelle, confronto tecnico con nuovi materiali alternativi.pdf

French: Le cuir souvent copié, jamais égalé.pdf