High Society Kustom Garage

Types of Vegan Leather

Vegan leather is a rather loose, marketing term that seems to be trending right now.  There are many types of vegan leather, which covers any leather-like material with no animal hide in its makeup.  It is also called artificial leather, faux leather, leatherette, or pleather depending on what the marketing departments think will sound best.  Essentially, this category as a whole covers fabric that attempts to mimic the look and feel of genuine leather.  This now includes a new generation of plant-based synthetic leathers, though these aren’t readily available to Australian trimmers for use in retrims.

Types of vegan leather

Besides the aforementioned plant-based synthetics, there are three main types of vegan leather available for retrims in the Australian aftermarket.  These are PVC, PU, and silicone.  They each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

PVC

Strictly speaking, vinyl is actually a PVC-coated fabric.  PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride has been in mass production as a coating film on woven fabrics since the 1930s.  Vinyl for automotive upholstery is made from two separate synthetic materials.  First, a woven or knitted backing is constructed from strong polyester fibres.  The fibres are then coated the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and plasticizers (phthalic acid).  This coating is melted onto the surface of the fibres, sealing the face surface, making a waterproof surface that is still flexible and tough.  It is, however, despite its flexibility, somewhat stiffer than its competitors, especially in cold weather.  PVC is generally, in the Australian aftermarket, the most readily available and least expensive synthetic.  It is also the best choice as far as outdoor fabrics among this group.

PU

By the 1950s, development had begun on another coated fabric, this time with Polyurethane (PU).  PU resins are of a softer polymer and therefore don’t need additional plasticizers.  Because of this, there is no cracking or peeling, and it remains soft and supple.  When worked into pieces for your retrim, it reacts a lot like real leather, wrinkling and creasing.  Polyurethane is the most realistic imitation of genuine leather in this respect.  Beware of cheaper PU fabrics though, as these are prone to cracking and flaking.  This is because they are a blended PU, where the PU coating is super thin, and applied over a PVC coating.

Silicone

The 2010s brought another coated fabric to the fold.  Silicone is the latest mainstream innovation to coated upholstery fabrics.  Similar to PVC and PU, the silicone coating is applied to a polyester backing.  The main difference here is that silicone is an organic polymer making them stronger on a molecular level.  Silicone fabrics are also extremely soft to the touch.  Being such a new fabric to market, very few choices are available within this sub-category for automotive retrims.  It is also usually more expensive.

The environment

No animal products are used to produce synthetic leather, which helps its ethical standing, but from an environmental point of view, things aren’t so positive.  The materials used in synthetic leather are mostly based on fossil fuels.  Even plant-based synthetics are not truly biodegradable and often have coatings that are reliant on fossil fuels in their manufacture.  So, if you’re making decisions based on environmental impact, silicone is more ocean-friendly than plastics, but longer lasting in the environment.  It is also arguably not as durable as polyurethane, so a shorter life expectancy also has its own carbon footprint impact.

Wrap up

You’ve decided that leather isn’t for you or your ride. A synthetic of some description better suits your needs, budget, or ethical views than leather. But spend a few moments in the average trim shop looking at the samples, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. All the colours of the rainbow, endless textures and finishes, and features that aren’t visible. Hopefully, some of this information will go some way to help you narrow the field.

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