The Research Institute for Leather and Synthetic Materials (FILK) in Freiberg has studied and tested a number of alternative materials against leather.
The paper, Comparison of the Technical Performance of Leather, Artificial Leather, and Trendy Alternatives not only examines the differences in make up of alternative materials versus leather, it tests the performance qualities required in footwear, apparel and gloves.
The report observes, “Leather is a bio-based and biodegradable material with a tradition nearly as long as mankind. For centuries, it was used as a strong and long-lasting material with a broad spectrum of materials properties. Leather was used as protective and decorative clothing for sports goods and as technical material….Processing allowed adjusting the leather properties from a hard board-like appearance, e.g., as sole leather to very soft touch textile-like glove leathers. To manufacture shoes, leather is made hydrophobic, and as wash leather, it absorbs much liquid.”
It looks in more detail at the different composition of materials marketed under different names as ‘synthetic leather’ including textiles coated with PVC or polyurethane as well as a number of natural fibrous materials.
In final testing, performance characteristics such as crack resistance and tear resistance, which are crucial in creating consumer goods with longevity, leather outperformed its alternatives. This study is an interesting and worthwhile read for any product developer making choices about sustainable materials.