There are many alternatives to leather on the market. Some are advertised as materials with a high sustainability profile but their real composition is rarely known. The umbrella organisation of European tanners, Cotance therefore wanted to shed some light by commissioning a study that examined nine materials considered trendy. The samples were analysed by the Research Institute for Leather and Synthetic Materials (FILK) in Freiberg, which has now made available the results of the comparative study entitled “Trend Alternatives for Leather”. Well the result is pretty clear: none of the tested substitutes exhibited all of the performance characteristics of leather and some contained chemicals of concern. In particular, the German researchers analysed the typical characteristics of leather such as cracking strength, tear resistance, water vapour permeability and the absorption of water vapour, for all the materials.
According to the study, these newly developed materials can be divided into three groups: materials with a predominantly natural base, such as “MuSkin”, which do not require plastics; those that are predominantly made of plastics; and products made exclusively of plastics, such as classic PVC or PUR. An example of the products found in the middle group is “Desserto”, a mixture of natural raw materials (cactus fibres) and plastic (textile carrier fabric made of polyester, with two layers of polyurethane on top); in this case the product is 65% polyurethane.
Despite their true nature, these materials are advertised as a more environmentally friendly alternative to leather. Cotance points out a lack of transparency, with concrete information on the respective ingredients and material properties simply omitted.
On first inspection, some of these substitutes hardly differ from a leather product. In addition, their product names often contain the word “leather”, which many buyers associate with the positive quality characteristics of leather. The study result documents that so far leather is far superior to its substitutes, both in terms of performance and sustainability.

Photos of the surface and the cross-section, light microscope, MuSkin.  Above, the surface and the cross-section of Desserto