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FAKE LEATHER VS. REAL LEATHER | How to Spot Fake or Imitation Leather

Synthetic leathers can often be marketed to sound like real leather. If you are looking for an authentic leather bag, stay away from terms like:

  • Leatherette (Fabric covered in plastic)
  • Faux leather
  • Vegan leather
  • PU leather
  • Pleather
  • Cork leather (Bark of cork oak trees)
  • Ocean leather (Made from kelp)
  • Piñatex (Made from pineapple leaves)

Here are some Brand Names that manufacture synthetic leather:

REAL LEATHER SMELLS INCREDIBLE

How can you tell if leather is real leather? Use your nose.

Fake leather smells like chemicals or plastic. Real leather smells like leather.

Cheap leather can also smell like chemicals if the processing is not done right.

FAKE LEATHER LOOKS TOO PERFECT

Real leather comes from real animals. The properties of skin are irregular. Often, you may see natural imperfections such as scars, stretch marks, veining, etc.

If there is a texture stamped into the fake leather to give it grain, or the appearance of real leather, you can often detect a repeatable pattern much like wallpaper. However, real leather may also be stamped (aka "plated") to create a pattern that didn't exist in the natural hide.

The absence of wrinkles, no blemishes or an appearance that is “too perfect” are good clues the bag is made from fake leather.

REAL LEATHER ACTS LIKE SKIN

Press into the leather. Does it wrinkle and crease like your skin? Can you see any pores? Remember, leather is tanned and finished skin from the animal.

Heavily coated leather may not react the same way as more natural finishes, so this test depends upon the leather coating or finish.

Full leather athletic shoes use thin leather that has multiple layers of a clay-like substance applied to give a smooth finish. Yes. They are leather, but heavily coated.

Fake or synthetic materials just depress under your finger but retain their shape, firmness, and texture.

WHAT DOES THE BACK OF THE “LEATHER” LOOK LIKE?

If you can get a glimpse at the back of the leather, you may be able to determine if it's fake (or not). Often a leather-like surface is glued or laminated to fabric or a paper-like material. Real leather may be rough or smooth, finished or not. It also may differ in color a bit from the finished top side grain.

TEST THE FAKE LEATHER WITH FIRE

For obvious reasons, this test is not recommended on a product you have not purchased... Obviously, you’ll be destroying part of the material.

However, if you own the product (and are seriously curious) and can find an inconspicuous interior seam, hold a lighter’s flame on a small piece of the material.

If the leather chars and smell like burnt hair, it's leather. If the product catches fire or melts, it's synthetic (fake leather). You may have damaged your bag, but now you know ... Such are the consequences of testing a fake leather bag. And, now you know why cows don't burst into flames.

TEST THE LEATHER WITH WATER

Depending on the finishing process, real leather can have water repellent properties. Most leather will absorb some amount of water, just like a real cow. Almost all synthetic materials will repel water instantly.

COLOR IS NOT ALWAYS A CLUE TO FAKE LEATHER

With all of the dyes, waxes, and special treatments that can be applied to a tanned hide, color is not a good indicator of whether a bag is made from fake leather or real leather.

A hot pink or a bright blue could be either. While beautiful, these shades are not natural colors to a real cow.

FAKE LEATHER COSTS LESS

Compare the cost of a product you are certain is made from real leather to one that you suspect is made from fake leather.

As a rule, the fake leather item will cost far less than the real leather item (unless the brand is passing off fake leather as real AND at a premium). If the deal looks too good to be true, trust your gut.

Fake leather is manufactured in bolts and purchase by the yard, like cloth. Real leather goes through a series of time-consuming and expensive processes. Leather is typically sold in hides or sides (half-hides) and is shaped like the animal from which it came.

A lower cost of goods usually makes the finished product less expensive. That is, unless you're getting the fake stuff AND getting ripped off. Shop Mission Mercantile and you'll always be safe with the natural, good stuff.

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