•Polyurethane (PU) Leather•
Whatever you’d like to call it, “leather alternatives” seem to making their way into fashion on every price level. From the lower ended fashion icons of Forever 21 and H&M to the bohemian Free People to top designers, Tom Ford and Stella McCartney, “pleather” is being used more than ever and with fabulously, stylish results. Because of it’s lower cost, ease to work with, and the control gained over the result, using faux leather to create great pants, skirts and tops has become very fashionably acceptable. According to New York Magazine, this could be the Year of Pleather. Obviously, making and using pleather eliminates the animal cruelty issue that real leather poses! Even though this may not be the central reason for most designers to implement it, it is a wonderful bonus for people who have chosen not to wear products derived from animals!
The word “pleather”–a mashup of the words, plastic and leather–was coined to describe a synthetic leather that was made from plastic and that is, pretty much, what pleather is. PVC leather and Polyurethane leather may sound similar but, in fact, they are quite different. Many of you would think “Naugahyde” when thinking of artificial leather but designer pleather has come along way and couldn’t be further from it.
Pleather is basically made by layering plastic on fabric in varying thicknesses and degrees. PVC leather, polyvinyl chloride, made from similar plastic as the pipes in your bathroom, was one of the early developments as a leather alternative, but it is stiff, not porous or breathable and difficult to clean properly. It lends itself more to upholstery and handbags than to clothing.
Polyurethane (PU) leather, in contrast to PVC, is washable, can be dry-cleaned and allows the fabric to breathe, all of which makes it an attractive fabric to use in clothing design. As NY Magazine describes it, “…advances in polymer chemistry have created new ways to apply the coating to the backing, resulting in textiles that feel and wear more like the real stuff, if not better, but won’t age, become discolored, or stretch out over time.” These new materials can be manipulated in way that leather never could—texture, color, pattern and thickness. Even a new artificial suede has been developed that won’t rub off on clothing and is waterproof.
Logical-minded people would think that labeling an item “vegan” or “animal cruelty-free” would be a selling point for many mainstream (non-vegan) designers, but that would also be taking a moral stand and many do not mix their fashion statements with ethics. Wouldn’t proudly marking a product as cruelty-free appeal to consumers? Hopefully, that will come to pass in the near future. Stella McCartney, on the opposite end of most in the high fashion industry, has openly taken a stand and makes the moral treatment of animals the centerpiece of her company’s mission to spectacular success.
Of course with every technological advancement, the question of safety and the environmental price to pay for a new material is everpresent. The latest superior, soft Pleather has it’s advantages over leather on many levels but are the plastics that are used to make Pleather harmful to us and the environment? Both PVC and Polyurethane are found all around us, probably in every room of our houses. Credit cards are made from PVC plastic! Chemicals and levels of lead in these man-made materials are of great concern, but reports show that PVC seems to be much more toxic than Polyurethane, which is considered safe, in general.
According to Care2 Healthy Living, “some of PVC’s disturbing ingredients include: chlorine, petroleum, pthalates, and the carcinogen DEHP. The production process puts harmful chemicals like these, along with dioxin (linked with immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine system damage), and VOCs (which you may recognize as that “new car smell”). VOCs are associated with headaches, fatigue, nose and throat discomfort, among other ailments; some are suspected to cause cancer.”
Polyurethane leather, which is what we are seeing all over the stores now, seems to a safer material with which to drape our bodies. In fact, it’s been used for years to make the fibers that create spandex and elastic textiles. And then there’s the question of biodegradability of these plastics—will they live in land-fills forever or can they be recycled?
All of this controversial talk about leather, pleather, fashion and the environment reminds me of the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes! Maybe the next, more natural, most environmentally safe, fashionable trend will just be going naked!
When shopping online or in the stores, take a careful look at the label and you will notice that pleather items will be identified by PVC or Polyurethane. Alternative Outfitters specializes in vegan clothing and accessories, featuring many items in faux leather or pleather. Three companies that we love for their animal-friendly products and their stand on veganism are: Matt and Nat, Olsen Haus and Cri de Coeur. Check out our previous links with great products from these companies…
Matt & Nat:
Cri de Coeur:
If 2013 is the Year of Pleather, it will be fascinating to see if Pleather is just a trend or if it will become a mainstay textile, used season after season. It would be wonderful if top designers would extol the virtues of Pleather as not only fashionable, lower cost and highly stylish but as animal-friendly! Do you have an opinion about the virtues of Pleather vs. leather? I would love to hear them!
Click here to read about the new fabulous eco-friendly faux leather jeans designed by fashion model Freja Beha Erichsen with Mother jeans which will be available at Barney’s New York in September.