Fiona is the editor of Plantpuree, a website that celebrates vegan living. With over 20 years in diet & fitness, fashion, and beauty, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to her work and writing on veganism.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Gorgeous, luxurious leather products are seen as a style statement or status symbol. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths out there about whether faux leather looks cheap. People often think it looks like plastic, feels synthetic and doesn’t perform as well as real leather. We’re here to dispel those myths and show you high quality faux and vegan leather can look just as ‘expensive’ – if not better – than the real thing!
Table of Contents
Does Faux Leather Look Cheap?
Truthfully, sometimes faux leather does look cheap! But it has come a long way with many designer brands, like Senreve and Stella McCartney, now crafting beautiful handbags from newer, high-quality vegan leathers. These products show how expensive vegan leather can look and why it is a great luxury alternative for eco-conscious consumers.
Is Vegan Leather Low Quality?
No. Not any more! The materials used, how it’s made, and where you purchase them from can all affect the quality of the vegan leather you buy and how expensive the product looks.
It used to be a given that vegan and faux leather were inferior leathers. This was because PVC and PU were the most popular materials used to make vegan leather, and these plastic-derived materials were not only notorious for looking cheap but also being environmentally unfriendly.
However, things have changed in recent years. The last few years have seen a response to the demand for higher quality, eco-friendlier alternatives to traditional leather from both the fashion industry and consumers. Manufacturers such as Desserto and Ananas Anam are investing time and resource in research, resulting in durable vegan leather materials that stand the test of time.
Brands like Senreve which craft prestige vegan versions of their beautiful bags from lab-formulated and plant-based materials set high standards for vegan leather that not only refuse to sacrifice quality for ethical commitment and environmental sustainability – but also challenge the very definition of leather itself.
However, you may still come across vegan leather products that look cheap made of materials like leatherette or pleather. While not as strong, lasting, or comfortable to wear, these are usually less expensive but are of poor quality.
What Are The New Improved Vegan Leathers?
Vegan leather is used as an umbrella term to describe a variety of non-animal leathers – all of which look, feel and behave differently. Because of their different origins and composition, each type of vegan leather has unique physical and chemical properties which affect how expensive or how cheap they look.
A number of vegan leather materials are now available that are free of toxic chemicals and employ more environmentally friendly components than polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These kinds of vegan leather can cost more than their fossil based equivalents but are frequently more resilient, flexible, and breathable. 1
There are several higher quality, eco-friendlier alternatives to traditional leather that have entered the market in recent years which brands like Stella McCartney, Zara, and Nanushka are using in their collections. Broadly, these vegan leathers fall into one of three categories – plant-based leather, recycled plastic leather, and laboratory-grown bio-leather. In terms of environmental concerns, none of these materials are perfect, but all offer a significant improvement over traditional PVC and PU.
Plant-based Vegan Leathers
Plant-based leather has created a whole new world of possibilities, unlike the traditional vegan leathers made of plastic, which leave many eco-conscious consumers cold. Some of them, for example cactus, are soft and buttery and surprisingly leather-like in feel and appearance, and can be just as durable as animal leather.
These plant-based leather alternatives include everything from bananas, apples, cacti, apple peel, green tea, coffee grounds, coconut water, and more. These materials are often more sustainable to produce than PVC or PU, as they don’t require the use of harmful chemicals or toxic tanning processes. In addition, plant-based vegan leathers are often partially biodegradable – meaning they won’t wholly end up in landfill like traditional plastics.
Many even utilize agricultural waste, making them a more sustainable option. For example, one of the most popular plant-based leathers is Pinatex, which is made from pineapple leaf fibre. It is completely natural, does not require any extra land or water to produce, and the leaves used are a by-product of the pineapple industry so nothing goes to waste.
Ananas Anam, the company behind Pinatex, has previously teamed up with Nike, H&M, Hugo Boss and Paul Smith and in August 2022 announced a partnership with fashion giant Zara to launch a range of vegan shoes and accessories. 2
Even though several plant leathers are coated in plastic, they consume less than would be required to produce 100% synthetic leather. Additionally, a lot of the plant material used to make these leathers is often recovered from the waste stream and put to greater use.
Recycled Plastic Vegan Leathers
With the world’s oceans filled with plastic pollution, it makes sense that we would want to find a way to recycle this material rather than continue to add to the problem. And that’s exactly what some brands are doing with recycled plastic vegan leather.
This type of leather is usually made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is the type of plastic most often used to make water bottles. It is durable, flexible, and does not require any extra land to produce.
However, one downside of recycled plastic leather is that it does not biodegrade, so it will eventually end up in landfill at the end of its life.
Laboratory Grown Bio-based Leathers
Finally, there is laboratory grown or bio-leather, which is made from cells cultivated in a lab. Bio-based materials are made from materials such as mushrooms or Kombucha. These innovative materials have a number of advantages – they’re renewable, biodegradable, and breathable. However, they’re not as durable as some of the other options in this post, they can be more expensive than other vegan leathers, and they’re not as widely available.
What About Durability?
The more durable the leather is, the less likely it is to show wear and tear over time and look cheap.
Some types of vegan leather are more durable than others. For instance, Noiranaca leather claims to be 40% more durable than animal leather and 300% more durable than PVC. 3
Although, the durability of vegan leather is a common question, it’s impossible to give a single answer that applies to all vegan leather products because their differing compositions mean they each behave differently. However, a study by the Freiberg Institute found three types of leather already used in vegan handbags—PU, Desserto Cactus leather, and Pinatex Pineapple leather—performed well on a variety of tests relating to durability. 4
An understanding of how to care for vegan leather is also an important factor relating to durability. The more effort you put into maintaining your vegan leather pieces – the longer they will last.
Does Vegan Leather Feel Fake?
This is another common misconception about vegan leather. People often think that because it’s not made from real animal skin, it must feel fake or synthetic. However, this is not the case! Many new vegan leathers on the market are just as soft and supple as traditional leather.
Vegan leather is available in a wide range of hues and finishes, including smooth and pebbled, so some of it has a more “leather-like” appearance and feel. YouTube influencer, Sophie Shohet’s comparison of her Senreve Saffiano leather bag to their vegan equivalent is a fantastic illustration of how high-quality vegan leather can have a similar feel to real leather. As she says in her video – she can’t tell the difference between the two! 5
How Does Vegan Leather Look – Expensive or Cheap?
How cheap or how expensive a vegan leather product looks depends on the type of leather used and how the product was crafted, stitched and finished. If we were to take a handbag as an example – a high quality, well-made vegan leather handbag would look just as good as a real leather one. The stitching would be even and precise, the hardware would be solid and the overall finish would be excellent. A great example of this is if we compare Senreve’s leather croc -with its vegan version – they both look beautiful! Note how this same criterion is a factor in durability and how long a vegan handbag lasts.
A cheap, poorly made vegan leather handbag, on the other hand, would look exactly like a cheap, poorly made real leather handbag! The stitching would be wonky, the hardware would be flimsy and it would just look cheap overall.
Is Vegan Leather Worth it?
The answer is yes! Undoubtedly, the billions of non-human animals exploited for their hides each year gain from a future where the textile industry is less dependent on livestock. But that’s only one of the several advantages. Just because you’re vegan, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style, sophistication, or luxury for your values. In fact, some of the most stylish celebrities and fashion icons are now sporting vegan leather clothing and accessories.
So does vegan leather look cheap? No – not if it’s made well! Thanks to the innovative work of manufacturers and designers, it can now be just as stylish and luxurious as the real thing.
What does this mean for you? It means that if you’re looking for a beautiful, high-quality piece made from vegan leather, you have more options than ever before!
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