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Is PU Leather Vegan? – Where the Plastic Comes From

Leather items and accessories are an investment, and sometimes an animal-friendly option with a similar look and feel is a better option. Many faux leather alternatives are on the market, including PU leather, but is it vegan? I’ll answer that and share information on where this material comes from and the good uses and care for PU leather.

PU leather is sometimes vegan, depending on the material it’s made from. PU leather is polyurethane and is either semi- or full-synthetic. Full-synthetic is vegan, highly durable, and affordable at $1–$2 per square foot. PU leather is good for shoes, furniture, handbags, jackets, and furniture.

Leather is great for garments and accessories, but what about PU leather as an alternative? Or are you looking for a good present for a vegan in your life? Let’s explore more about where the plastic for PU leather comes from and if it’s the right choice for you. 

What Is PU Leather?

Polyurethane (PU) leather is faux leather made from a polymer that is softened by heating then processed to harden and be durable for shoes, furniture, and clothing. It is easy to make, clean, and maintain and gives the look and feel of real leather.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of PU Leather
  • PU Leather Overview Table
  • Is PU Leather Considered Vegan?
  • Characteristics of Vegan PU Leather
  • Is Vegan PU Leather Bad for the Environment?
  • How to Determine if Something is Made of Vegan PU Leather
  • Vegan PU Leather Products
  • Pros of Vegan PU Leather
  • Cons of Vegan PU leather
  • Popular Vegan Leather Alternatives 
  • My Personal Research Into Vegan PU Leather
  • Helpful Vegan PU Leather Insights 
  • Key Takeaways
Opening a PU Leather Wallet - Is PU Leather Vegan - Liberty Leather Goods
Opening a PU Leather Wallet

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One misconception about PU leather is that it is the same as faux leather. However, PU leather is made of only plastic, and faux leather is manufactured with dyes, waxes, and polyvinyl chloride, among other elements.

Another misconception about PU leather is that it is entirely waterproof. This is a misnomer because although it is usually made with plastic, that barrier can wear off over time and with repeated exposure to water. 

History of PU Leather

Leather alternatives came around sometime in the early 1900s and was made from paper pulp or covered cloth with chemicals and pigments. During World War II, Germany made faux leather due to rations out of paper. The covered cloth alternative was used in the United Kingdom for vehicle interiors and furniture upholstery.

Polyurethane was created in 1930 by Dr. Otto Bayer and included various types used for adhesives, coatings, soles of shoes, and even foam insulation. PU leather made its debut sometime in the 1950s. PU leather now consists of a fabric backing that could be cotton or shredded leather coated with a polymer and treated to mimic how real leather looks.

PU Leather Overview Table

MaterialPolyurethane (plastic)
VarietiesFull synthetic, semi-synthetic
Cost$1–$2 per square foot
UsesShoes, furniture, handbags, jackets, furniture
PU Leather Characteristics

Is PU Leather Considered Vegan?

Most PU leather is considered 100% vegan because no animals are involved in the processing and making of this synthetic material. There is a form of semi-synthetic PU leather that includes a leather base coated with PU plastic, making it not vegan.

PU leather items can last 10–20 years if maintained well.

Characteristics of Vegan PU Leather


PU leather is made from polyurethane, a type of plastic.


Full synthetic PU leather is made entirely of plastic, while semi-synthetic contains a leather base.


Vegan PU leather is highly durable thanks to the coating. It takes a long time to wear down and resists cracking. Vegan PU leather is considered one of the most durable faux leathers.


Vegan PU leather is highly affordable at $1–$2.10 per square foot. For comparison, a cowhide at approximately 18 square feet costs about $150, and the same made from vegan PU leather costs about $20.


Vegan PU leather has multiple uses:

  1. Shoes 
  2. Handbags 
  3. Furniture 
  4. Vehicle interiors

Is Vegan PU Leather Bad for the Environment?

Because it is made entirely of plastic, vegan PU leather is not the most eco-friendly. The plastic does not break down in the environment because it is made to last for a very long time. However, this can be good for furniture as it will last 10–20 years with the appropriate care. That being said, vegan PU leather takes fewer resources for its production and does not harm any animals.

How to Determine if Something is Made of Vegan PU Leather

Because PU leather is either semi- or fully synthetic, it can be confusing to look for a vegan leather product. The easiest way to determine if something is made of vegan PU leather is to look at the product tag. It should state 100% synthetic or vegan. Any products that say bi-cast or semi-synthetic on the label are not vegan and contain some form of real leather, usually in the base of the material.

Vegan PU Leather Products

Vegan PU leather is not the same as leather and doesn’t have the same feel or durability — so are there any products worth buying? Absolutely yes! Vegan PU leather products are just as soft and supple and still have a high degree of durability for many everyday products. This includes: 

  1. Sneakers
  2. Jackets
  3. Handbags
  4. Pants

Check out this informative video from PeTA on vegan and cruelty-free PU leather clothing and accessories.

Pros of Vegan PU Leather

Vegan PU leather is easy to make, costs less, and is very water resistant. It comes in several different styles and colors and is much more durable than real leather. Vegan PU leather is also considered sustainable.

Cons of Vegan PU leather

Depending on how it’s made, vegan PU leather can sometimes look, smell, and feel fake. It is less resistant to tears or cracking than real leather and doesn’t change with age. Some PU leathers are not vegan and are made with genuine leather. Also, plastic does not break down and is not eco-friendly.

Popular Vegan Leather Alternatives 

As people become more environmentally and sustainability aware, vegan leather and other eco-friendly alternatives are gaining popularity. So what are some vegan leather alternatives that are available now? Here are just a few that can be found in many stores:

  1. Cork leather – made from cork-oak tree bark
  2. Vegea – made from grape marc (wine industry byproduct)
  3. Desserto –  made from cactus leaves
  4. Pinatex – made from pineapple leaves
  5. Mycelium leather – made from mushrooms
  6. Apple skin – made from apples

Researchers Saha, Ngwabebhoh, Nguyen, et al. tested several other vegan leather alternatives, from maple leaf pulp to kombucha biomass cellulose, and found that these materials were stable, breathable, smooth, and eco-friendly by using what would be considered waste from the agricultural industry. These materials would be suitable for clothing applications because of their molecular structure and porous nature.

My Personal Research Into Vegan PU Leather 

Vegan PU leather products are often chosen for being animal friendly. So what vegan PU leather products exist, and how do the prices compare? I have compiled a list of some popular PU leather items with price comparisons for similar leather products here.

Leather ProductGenuine Leather CostPU Leather Cost
Shoulder bag$25–$3,600$8–$425
Walking shoes$12–$795$10–$225
Biker Jacket$35–$1,700$12–$429
PU Leather Prices Compared to Genuine Leather Prices

Helpful Vegan PU Leather Insights 

What is PU leather vs vegan leather?

PU leather consists of nothing but polyurethane and semi-synthetic PU leather, including a leather base coated with PU plastic. Vegan leather includes full-synthetic PU leather and other alternative materials like apples, grapes, and cactus leaves. If the label states “vegan” or “100% synthetic,” it is vegan.

Is 100% PU leather vegan?

100% PU leather is vegan because it is made completely from plastic and synthetic materials. There are no animal products in 100% synthetic leather. Check the label for statements like “100% synthetic” or “vegan” to be sure it’s a vegan PU leather product.

Key Takeaways

  1. PU leather can be semi- or full-synthetic.
  2. PU leather items can last 10–20 years if maintained well.
  3. Vegan leather can be made from PU or PVC plastic, cactus leaves, grapes, apples, and more.

In Closing

Leather clothing and accessories are a luxury for some, but PU and vegan leather are worth considering. These animal- and eco-friendly alternatives look just as luxurious without a hefty price tag. From shoes and handbags to furniture and vehicle interiors, PU leather is a great choice for budget-conscious and vegan animal lovers. Which PU leather item will you purchase next?

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