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Genuine Leather and Vegan Leather: The Difference

March 27, 2023by Dhiren Nautiyal


This post discusses various types of leather and the differences between genuine leather and vegan leather.

In this post, let’s tackle some of the most confusing terms prevalent in leather goods industry. While some of this confusion arises from the deliberate act of misleading the general consumer to sell something in the name of something it is not, some of the confusion comes from a process that combines leather with another material to create a new type of leather to be used for a variety of applications. So, let’s get started –

Genuine Leather:

We all know it, it could come from an animal – think cow, buffalo, steer, goat, pig, etc., or a bird (think Ostrich), or a reptile (think alligator, snake, etc. The most important thing to remember is that Leather is a living breathing organic material that comes from a natural source.

Bi-Cast Leather:

When Split Leather is coated with Polyethylene or Polyurethane compound, it becomes Bi-Cast Leather. It is done essentially to “prop-up” or give structural strength to otherwise weak leather. Split leather is weak because it comes from the lowest parts of the hide and therefore is of lesser structural integrity than the top parts).

Bonded Leather:

This is also a border-line leather and not really leather in strict sense because it doesn’t come from a single animal hide. Instead, this leather is reconstructed by binding the ground up pulp of leather scrap to imitate leather. This leather is only suitable for a very few specific applications such as book binding, etc.

PU Leather:

PU “Leather” is made by laminating a base material (usually polyester, cotton or nylon) with Polyurethane coating. This is one hundred percent a man-made material and has nothing to do with genuine leather even remotely. To be honest, it is more of a fabric than leather. Just because the word “Leather” is used (often deceptively) with PU doesn’t make it so.

PVC Leather:

Similar to PU “Leather”, PVC “Leather” is made by applying a coating of a combination of poly-vinyl-chloride, plasticizers, and lubricants to same base materials i.e., polyester, nylon or cotton. Again, this is one hundred percent man-made material and doesn’t have a shred of genuine leather in it.

Vegan Leather:

No, even though from a puritanical perspective, Bi-Cast and Bonded Leather are really not good quality leather, they do have leather content in them and therefore they fall under Leather. But PU and PVC “Leather” have zero leather content in them and therefore cannot be called Leather at all. If anything, PU Fabric and PVC Fabric are more appropriate terms to describe them.

All of the above materials except Genuine Leather deteriorate over time. Leather is the only material that gets better with its use over time and can last forever (well, at least metaphorically).


by Dhiren Nautiyal

Dhiren Nautiyal is the founder & CEO of GNN International, a premium leather goods manufacturer. Dhiren has been a lifelong learner and problem solver who is passionate about helping his customers find the best outcomes for their brands. When not busy shaking hands, he can be found immersed in a captivating literary novel or exploring the wisdom shared in non-fiction works. Connect with him on LinkedIn.