Qualities of leather - Eco alternatives are no better than leather: science says so
08 March 2021

They do not offer the same resistance to breaking and tearing, nor the same permeability to water vapor, much less the same capacity to absorb water vapor. Whatever the manufacturers say, eco-friendly alternatives are no better than leather. And, on balance, they are not even so much eco: because often the materials are composed, in whole or in part, of plastic derivatives. To clarify the hierarchies, performance and sustainability, between leather and its imitations is Trend Alternatives for Leather. Leading the study is the independent German research institute FILK (Forschungsinstitut für Leder und Kunststoffbahnen), who shared it on the open source scientific platform MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute). Report by La Conceria 

The eco alternatives
Cotance, the European confederation of national tanning associations, has made a series of materials available to FILK researchers. "Currently communicated in the media as an alternative, in various respects, to the skin". Objective: “Verify its technical properties”. In other words, "the analysis was carried out by carrying out standardized physical and chemical tests on 9 alternatives recently entered the market, on plastic material and, as a reference, also on real leather ". The conclusions, we said, are unequivocal: none of the 9 alternative materials can even be said to be equal to leather from the point of view of performance and, therefore, of durability. “In particular, absorption of water vapor and the relative permeability obtained scores significantly lower than the skin ". Which, "was also superior in durability tests (resistance to bending and tearing )". Whatever the marketing departments of their promoters say.

The (alleged) sustainability
The question does not end there. The FILK study highlights a further criticality. These materials "push on the lever of ecological marketing - recalls Cotance -, even if they are not absolutely green". What is ecological marketing all about? The producers of the alternatives "not only imitate the skin in appearance and touch but use the word in a way that is misleading and completely non-transparent to the consumer". Fortunately, the Leather Decree has come to bring order to the subject in Italy. But the fact remains that expressions such as “faux leather or cactus skin” still recur in publications: “Materials that have nothing to do with leather and which should communicate according to their characteristics”. They choose instead to place themselves "in a way antagonistic than the skin" on the basis of greater sustainability. Completely presumed. The German survey concluded that the sample of materials can be divided into three groups. The first provides a predominantly natural base "which does not require the addition of plastic components". But the second and third foresee the " prevalent presence of plastic components" or, even, the " exclusive use of plastic derivatives: for example, PVC or PUR".

The Desserto case
Among the cases of misleading terminology is cited "cactus skin". And it is no coincidence because the Mexican Desserto also ended up in the FILK investigation. This is "a very significant example - reports Cotance - because the material is extremely trending ". Well? “In the light of the analysis, it was found that it contains 65% polyurethane”. Desserto “turns out to be a mixture of natural raw materials (cactus fibers, in fact) and plastic - concludes the press release -: polyester fabric covered with two layers of polyurethane”. And these would be the "eco" alternatives?

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