Elise Arcenaux, Essence Brooks, Erica Charlton, and Justin Gulizo
Leather is a staple among LSU students and faculty alike. Whether it be faux leather or real leather, it is an obvious trend around campus. Figure 1 is a good depiction of the visual difference between the most popular type of faux and real leather. Since its inception, leather has been made from the hides of animals, but in recent years, a vegan alternative has come about. Students at LSU, it seems, do not pay much attention to whether their articles of clothing are real or faux leather. The durability is certainly something to be concerned with, especially since the leather is worn to bars, hunting, and around campus. Although it may not be the first thing on a college students mind, it is important to consider the effects that both faux and real leather have on the environment and animals. Before focusing on the leather vs faux leather controversy on LSU’s campus, it is vital to examine the origins of leather production and its journey through the centuries.
When leather was first manufactured it was used to guard people from the elements. At its most primitive, leather was made from animal hides that the first hunters brought back to their tribes. The first leather was vegetable tanned, which is a process that soaked the skins in water, tree bark, and leaves until it was well-maintained (History of Leather). Starting in the Middle Ages, hides were used predominantly for fabric and military equipment. Leather does not absorb any smells, and it is easy to clean. Since leather is durable and comfortable, it was the perfect material to use to make seat covers out. During this time, leather was also used to make saddles, shields, and shoes. The saddles that went on the horses needed to be a sturdy since horses were the only mode of transportation at the time. Along with the saddles, the reigns and other parts of the horse’s accessories were made from leather due to its toughness. Horses were also used in battle. Like the horse accessories, battle armor and shields were made of leather as well. Leather was no chainmail, but it did provide as a first defense against arrows and other weapons during war (History of Leather). 6
With the Industrial Revolution came new ways to manufacture and innovate leather. Figure 2 is a depiction of what a leather shop looked like before it was revolutionized. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the demand for leather increased exponentially and only with the aid of machines could these demands be catered to. The automobile was one of the more notable inventions that incorporated leather. All of its previous usages were still in play, just revamped. Instead of using the vegetable tanning process for leather, manufacturers transitioned to chrome tanning. Vegetable tanning was still used, but it was unsuitable for more practical, lightweight leather products. With the rise of the standard of living came the rise in demand for more versatile leather. People wanted more lightweight, soft, and colorful leather. Footwear was lighter, upholstery was more colorful, and either was worn more as a fashion statement as the 19th and 20th century approached.
Modern expertise allowed for advancements in the leather industry. Chemicals have developed, machines have been updated, and aesthetics have taken on a whole new level. Real leather continues to be an optimal choice of clothing and accessories by many people in today’s society, especially by students at LSU. The applications of leather today are endless. When faux leather is purchased it is typically purchased with the animals in mind. Faux leather, however, has environmental downsides. Faux leather is a manmade cloth that is treated with dyes and chemicals that are unnatural and can be harmful to the atmosphere. There are two types of faux leather: polyurethane (“PU”), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC – “Vinyl”). Vinyl has been used in the United States since the 1940s. This synthetic leather is usually used for products like shoes, car interior, and upholstery. Polyurethane became useful to chemical companies in the late 1950s. PU is used for making high-wear products because of its softness and flexibility. Its breathability also makes it the perfect material for clothing and upholstery because it makes contact with skin. Vinyl is not as breathable, but it remains ideal for moisture repellent products such as book bindings or electronic cases.
The general opinion of faux leather is that it is less sturdy than real leather because it is cheaper. Countless organizations, according to tests and experiments, have admitted that faux leather is, indeed, very durable if made properly. Yes, faux leather tends to crack or peel, but that is due to it being made from poor fabrics or not being taken care of (Chateigner). Manufacturers can add either synthetic or natural fibers to faux leather fabrics, a process which is responsible for making them stronger and long-lasting. There are also plenty of ways to make sure your faux leather products are good quality. Faux leather purchasers should avoid non-porous leather for clothes or seat covers. Consumers should be aware that body perspiration may wear out the fabric and it needs to be kept away from direct sunlight. LSU students may not be wary of these warnings since they are always on the go. Increased durability also comes from the application of leather conditioners, oils, and creams. They can repel the liquids, which ruin these faux leather accessories, ensuring great quality for many years.
Faux leather is also set at a more reasonable price than real leather. It is obtained very easily because it can be stored for a long period of time. The cost of faux leather depends on the quality customers prefer. Textured and less smooth faux leather can be more costly than industrial style leather. Industrial style is a rough texture which cost about 10 dollars per yard (Chateigner). A more refined leather will cost you about 15 dollars per yard. Compared to the $200 to $2000 dollars you may spend on a real leather coat, a faux leather one is a large difference in price (Sciarretto). Because LSU students are in college and mostly do not have high paying jobs, the faux leather that students buy tend to be lower quality. Because of this, the general stereotype of vegan leather on campus is that it is not as long-lasting as authentic leather.
In contrast, the use of real leather has certain benefits that faux leather can never reproduce in its production. Real leather is a material that will last throughout the age of time because of its physical properties that set it apart from faux leather. “It can endure all sorts of biological, meteorological, physical, and chemical abuse” (Kanigel). These are types of abuses that can only be withstood by real leather. Real leather will not decay or wear down over time. It will stay mostly the same condition or get even better in time with the stress that comes with use. In the southern parts of the United States, the climate fluctuates between being hot, cold, and rainy, but these conditions do not greatly affect the quality of the leather. The physical labor and just everyday wear may crease or dirty the leather, but the quality will remain the same. These are the properties of real leather that faux leather cannot match in its production.
Along with the physical properties that are beneficial of real leather, the characteristics of the material cannot compare to other materials. Real leather exceeds its quality in the areas of strength, friction, and breathability (Hassan). Of all types of leather, authentic leather has the greatest durability in the sense that it is the stiffest material and does not undergo much change under stress. This allows real leather to retain its original shape better than other materials. The shape and look of real leather are also resistant to frictional forces applied to it better than other materials. The breathability of real leather can be attributed to the thickness of the leather. The lesser the thickness, the higher the breathability of the garment. Real leather has the highest breathability compared to faux leather which cannot recreate this property. With all of these great attributes to owning real leather, it is also more expensive than its faux leather counterparts. These higher prices are more worth it over time due to the “life expectancy” of the leather to maintain its quality. The quality of real leather stays true to its original form and cannot be easily stretched or ruined. Faux leather, on the other hand, can be easily stretched and scratched to deform the original look of the leather. The quality of real leather allows the customer to purchase the item once and not have to worry about ruining the leather over time.
Some animals spend their entire life preparing to be used for clothing, furniture, or even accessories. Many animals used for their skins have a poor quality of life leading up to their death, which can be seen in Figure 3. They are beaten and even skinned alive (PETA). Leather can be made from many numerous animals including cows, pigs, sheep, goats, alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos. Every genuine leather jacket or pair of boots purchased is sentencing an innocent animal to death. The most notable animal that leather comes from is a cow. Leather is not the main reason these animals are killed. Leather is a secondary use, and the primary use is for beef or milk (Via). These animals are not just raised purely for their hide but for all parts. In a way, it is more wasteful to not use the hide on these animals.
Here on LSU’s campus, leather takes many forms. The most common place they are found is shoes. Nearly every boot you see on campus is some type of leather whether it is real, fake, or suede. Cowboy boots are especially popular on game days. This is not something unique only to LSU. At almost any SEC school, you will find fans wearing cowboy boots (Mason). The southern roots of our fans carry into every aspect of our lives. Even though many women do not use their boots for outdoor activities outside of games, they are still proud to show off their origins. Being that LSU is an SEC school, game days are practically a holiday, and cowboy boots are a staple for men and women. As you can see in Figure 4, LSU fans take their pride seriously and have even combined the cowboy boot trend with LSU logos and colors. The stakes of game days have heightened and in recent years, women dress up more games (Mason). Women often pair cowboy boots with dresses, skirts, or jeans when it gets cooler (Housershoes). Besides it being a fashion trend, they are also sturdy. With tailgating, miles of walking, and crowded games, good shoes are a necessity to last the whole day. Because genuine cowboy boots are made with real leather, they are durable and able to handle the wear and tear of an LSU game. Men also wear real leather boots because of their southern roots. Because Louisiana is a “Sportsman’s Paradise,” it is very common for LSU students to participate in hunting and fishing. This also causes there to be a country flare on fashion here. If men wear boots to hunt or do manual labor, it will cross over into everyday wear around campus. The rugged activities these people do also need sturdy material like real leather, rather than synthetic materials.
Are these real leather fashions thriving because of the quality of leather, or because it is a trend? It is safe to assume that when most LSU women are choosing their gameday boots, they are looking more into styles rather than asking the retailers about the quality of the genuine leather. Cowboy boots are traditionally made with real leather. However, many other boot styles worn on campus are typically not real leather. Because neither real or faux leather prevails more over the other, we can assume that most vegan-leather-wearers are not worried about the environmental or ethical aspects, since they are used somewhat interchangeably on campus. The use of real or fake leather depends a lot on the choices of retailers. Even though students themselves may not be as environmentally conscious, if the popular brands that LSU students buy from are switching to faux leather, students will buy it without complaint if it is the hot place to shop. This concept applies other items like backpacks, wallets, purses, and skirts. Leather skirts are currently trending, but rarely do vendors sell real leather skirts. They are typically made out of vegan leather or pleather (Madu). It is unnecessary for a skirt to be made from durable leather, so no one minds it. An example of a faux leather skirt can be seen in Figure 5. In contrast, purses, wallets, briefcases, and other types of bags are both leather and faux leather. Whether the leather is real or not typically depends on the prices or status of the brand. For example, high-end brands are more likely to use real leather because their products are expected to last longer. Overall, we can assume that LSU students base their leather product purchases off of price and quality needed.
It is evident that there are many positive and negative aspects to every type of leather. Real leather will almost always prevail faux leather in quality and longevity. Faux leather is cheaper and does not involve the use or abuse of animals. In past years, the quality factor would always prevail. With the increase of environmental awareness and quality of vegan leather, though, the environmentally-friendly vegan products may take the place of real ones. Even outside of leather, it is currently a fad to be eco-friendlier in many aspects of society. Animal rights groups continuously pressure buyers and retailers to be more conscious of the what their products are made of. If this trend stays in place, leather products could become an item of the past.
Chateigner, Jean-Marc. “Where to Get Faux Leather Fabrics and How Much Does It Cost? Faux Leather Guide.” Faux Leather Guide, 22 Apr. 2013. Accessed 15 November 2018.
Figure 1: Faux leather vs real leather. Adam. “Leather vs. Faux Leather.” 2017. New House Design. Accessed 19 November 2018.
Figure 2: Old leather making shop. Mahi Leather. “A Brief History of Leather | Origins and where did it come from?” Accessed 21 November 2018.
Figure 3: Cows that will have their hides used for leather. PETA. “The Leather Industry” 2018. Leather: A Global kill. Accessed 27 Nov 2018.
Figure 4: Leather gameday boot. “Women’s LSU Boots.” College Football Boots. Accessed 16 November 2018.
Figure 5: Faux leather skirt. “All for Pleather Mini Skirt.” 2018. Windsor. Accessed 21 November 2018.
“History of Leather.” Moore and Giles, Accessed 20 November 2018.
Hassan, Nesreen and Mohamed, Nashwa. “An Investigation into the Physical and Functional Properties and Sew Ability of Faux Leather.” History Studies International Journal of History, vol. 5, no. 2, 1 Apr. 2015, pp. 375–382. Accessed 16 November 2018.
Housershoes. “Tailgating 101: How to Choose the Perfect Outfit for Game Day.” HouserShoes.com, 27 Oct. 2016. Accessed 15 November 2018.
Kanigel, Robert. “Faux Real: Genuine Leather and 200 Years of Inspired Fakes.” Google Books, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. Pg. 51. Accessed 15 November 2018.
Madu, Kelly. “10 Fashion Week Trends You’ll See on Your School Campus.” Society19, 6 Mar. 2018. Accessed 15 November 2018.
Mason, Shaniece. “Gameday in the South? No T-shirts Please.” CNN, 1 September 2016. Accessed 15 November 2018.
Sciarretto, Amy. “How Much Should You Spend on A Leather Jacket?” Bustle, Bustle, 22 Sept. 2015. Accessed 15 November 2018.
“The Leather Industry.” PETA. Accessed 15 November 2018.
Via, Alex. “Real Leather vs. Fake Leather.” Buffalo Jackson Trading Co. 4 Jan. 2017. Accessed 26 November 2018.