What you always wanted to know about PU leather but were afraid to ask.
PU leather has many names: bicast leather, split leather, reconstituted leather, corrected grain leather, leatherette and sometimes, maddeningly just 'leather'. It looks a bit like leather, but trust me it's not leather. Give it a good smell.. You know what real leather smells like, right? Certainly not the faint aroma of a chemical company's R&D lab. Here at LD, we hate PU leather, we detest it with a passion bordering on insanity!
If it's not leather, why does everyone call it leather?
To answer this, lets explain a little bit about the process of making a roll of cheap PU leather. Firstly you get a nice cow hide and take the layers of quality leather from it to use wherever, then you take the fibrous part of the hide that's left over (split leather) apply an adhesive and bond a layer of polyurethane which has been embossed to make it look like leather. Sometimes the suppliers don't even use the split leather, preferring to use a polyester material which is treated to smell 'leather like'.
What are the differences?
Putting this simply, real leather (when treated correctly) will get better with age. Leather becomes more supple, giving a pleasing feel to it that’s a pleasure to touch (for most people, sorry vegans!). PU leather will crack around stress points after continuous use. The Polyurethane layer cracks open and peels away from its backing as in the pictures. Leather is of course organic and natural and therefore random where as the grain on PU material will be repeated and made to look like perfect leather.
Why do you hate PU leather so much? You’re scaring me!
- Just because it's cheap. I can understand that there will always be a market for a £1 phone cover, so make them out of any old cheap rubbish, fine, I don't care. I was horrified however to see a very expensive leather iPhone cover a friend had bought from a designer brand shop (I won't say which, but lets call my friend 'Ted B') was starting to crack open around the edges. It was plain to see that it wasn't leather at all but textured PU. I explained this to him, but he just looked at me dumfounded in a state of disbelieve . After all, it had cost him £35 and had been sold as a leather cover - it couldn't be anything else but real leather at that price, surely?! Why did they not use real leather on such an expensive item? Simply to increase their profit margin - bah!
- There are much better materials that cost just a little more. The PU element is called Polyurethane, and can actually actually be a very nice material to use by itself. We use a high grade polyurethane for the covers on our iPad 2 cases (as do Apple on theirs).
- It's illegal to call it leather in the UK. As it's not leather, it is a misrepresentation to call it so. Astonishingly though, even main brand suppliers do just that and get away with it. Undoubtedly there are many grades of quality when it comes to PU leather but in our books if it's got a layer of polyurethane on it, it ain't leather - as simple as that.
- It's smelly! When you first open a the packaging of a product made from PU leather, you often get a horrible chemical smell assaulting the senses. This comes mostly from the adhesives used in the bonding process. This smell will go away over time, but products made in fast factories in China aren't given time to 'air' and usually go straight into the packaging for shipping.
Links to more information
How to spot fake leather: http://www.ehow.com/how_2079581_spot-fake-leather.html
It’s on Wikipedia so it must be true: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicast_leather
These guys love it. That’s more than a little freaky... http://pu-leather.net/