LEATHER ALTERNATIVES: A ‘FASHIONABLE' CONCEPT?
Business Of Fashion|June 2021
Luxurious leathers continue to be the material of choice not just for commercial and residential furniture but also for automotive, aviation and marine applications as well.
Annou Iyer

Leather is probably one of the oldest materials used by mankind. Even before humanity spun yarns, invented fabrics, and then evolved to wearing garments, leather was the first material that human race found to drape around our skin. From early man to the modern-day, leather has undoubtedly played a crucial part in the development of civilisation.

Leather’s Evolution

As use of leather and leathercraft survived eras of Ancient Rome, Dark ages, Vikings, Middle Ages, Renaissance, the era of Enlightenment, and then the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian Age, moving to the Progressive era of 1900s and now the Modern times from 1950 till date. With the spread of industrialisation and invention of machineries, came the demand for new kinds of leathers, supple leathers, softer leathers, and leathers with fashionable appearances. This demand saw the rise of innovation in tanning facilities and new chemical developments for sophisticated processing methods that add to the aesthetics of leather, making it a high-value luxury item. Luxurious leathers continue to be the material of choice not just for commercial and residential furniture but also for automotive, aviation and marine applications as well.

Leather has seen prosperity and the global marketplaces keep surging with the demand. Exports and imports are always on the rise for leather.

This surge has also seen the evolution of “Faux Leather” or “Synthetic Leather” for price-conscious customers and for cheaper applications. Synthetic leathers have been around since the 19th century, and in 1963, the first major faux (synthetic) leather was produced by the company, DuPont. It was made from a polyester (plastic fibre) base with a polyurethane (plastic) coating.

Later, “leatherette”, another kind of synthetic leather was made from covering fibres with PVC (a plastic) was introduced. Now, this Alternative Leather industry does not even need leather to be produced.

With Go Green, Eco friendly and sustainability issues becoming more and more important, the global fashion industry is now using more of synthetic leathers, PU, manmade rubbers, and PVC materials for leather alternative products. There is now a natural decline in demand for real leather. Also, the global economy is shifting out of an outsourced model. The theory is that by shifting production to countries with lower wages and materials costs, leather alternative products can be produced cheaper, resulting in a lower target prices and cost savings.

The demand is so high that “faux” leathers / synthetic leather products made from plastic and other compounds, are becoming popular to meet demand. They also serve as less expensive, more animal-friendly options for leather sourcing.

The Business of Synthetic Leather

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