Synthetic Leather: A Versatile and Affordable Alternative to Genuine Leather
Fashion has become an essential part of our lives and is constantly evolving over the years. All through earlier civilizations, leather played a very crucial role, determining trade with leather markets. Most of the leather products were produced from animal skins and hides. With time animal leather production and processing tanneries have witnessed tremendous scrutiny due to environmental and health reasons.
To meet the growing demand for leather products, a synthetic alternative is an excellent solution. Synthetic leather is also known as faux leather, PU leather, or imitation leather holds the appearance of actual leather but is not made from animal skin or hides. It is made of synthetic materials consisting of synthetic or natural fibres that are coated with a polymer or similar materials.
PU Leather Sees Higher Demand with its Multi-functionality Across Industries
In 2018, more than 9 billion sq. meters of synthetic leather was produced globally forming a part of extensive applications such as footwear, furnishings, apparel, automotive, and leather goods. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU) are the two major types of synthetic leather available in the market. PVC leather is the most preferred material for upholstery and footwear as it has a multi-layered structure and fewer pores as compared to PU leather. On the other hand, PU is preferred for applications wherein, pliability and flexibility are the priorities. It is more popular for mid-range and high-end designs as it closely resembles and feels like genuine leather. PU leather is the fastest-growing category owing to its ability to offer a variety of patterns, styles, glossy finishes, and colours.
India and China Set Asia Pacific Apart as End-use Industries Flourish
Asia Pacific leads the consumption and production of synthetic leather with China and India as the largest producers of synthetic leather in the region. The market in the region is dominated by high-volume, low-value applications in the footwear and furnishing industry. China accounted for around 55% of footwear production globally and held one-fourth of the global car production in 2018. Asia Pacific is expected to witness a major upgrade towards high-value applications especially in automotive, leather goods, and sports equipment.
Europe and North America continue to be low-volume and high-value markets witnessing large demand from automotive, apparel, and leather goods. Furthermore, there is a growing trend of vegan products in these regions contributing to the rising demand for synthetic leather.
Growing Consumer Awareness about Animal Cruelty and Sustainable Leather Products Trend
There has been significant growth in the usage of synthetic leather products over the past decade. The market is majorly driven by factors such as shifting consumer preferences, concerns over animal cruelty, and the impact of tanneries on the environment. Consumers are exploring cost-competitive alternatives to genuine leather. Low-replacement cost and highly customizable materials also prompting consumers to shift towards synthetic leather.
The automotive, apparel, and furnishing industries are turning their attention towards more sustainable materials. Automakers are embracing synthetic leather as leading players have started adopting its usage in premium luxury car segments as well. Consumers are avoiding animal-sourced upholstery in their vehicles pushing automakers to opt for eco-friendly interiors.
Will a New Wave of Vegan Leather be the End Road of Synthetic Leather in Near Future?
Though synthetic leather is gaining popularity across a range of end-use industries, its environmental impact cannot be neglected. Most of the alternative products to genuine leather are made from petroleum-based plastics. These plastics are one of the major sources of micro pollution in the seas and oceans. They are also not biodegradable and have a grave impact on environmental and human health.
However, over the past few years, companies are investing in innovations that are made using plant and other bio-based materials. Innovators are coming up with leather developed from pineapples to grapes to flowers. One of the players Ananas Anam, developed a sustainable leather alternative Piñatex®, a natural leather produced from waste parts of pineapple. Many new entrants in this segment are using natural materials to create a new wave of eco-friendly and biodegradable leather for a sustainable future.
Companies Investing in Capacity Expansion and New Technologies to Counter Fierce Competition
In the past few years, the market for synthetic leather has displayed decent growth as compared to genuine leather. Companies are investing in the expansion of production lines to meet the growing demand for synthetic leather, especially from automotive. Luxury carmakers such as BMW, Porsche, Toyota Motors, and Mercedes-Benz manufacture limited-edition models using premium faux-leather interiors.
As PU leather is gaining more popularity compared to its other synthetic counterparts, companies are spending to bring new capacities on board. In recent past, companies such as Anli, Xiefu New Material, Xinwanhua Leather, and Mayur Uniquoters have invested in or have announced plans to set up new PU leather capacities. Furthermore, companies are expected to achieve significant revenue growth potential from venturing into the PU leather market as compared to PVC leather. Companies are developing advanced waterborne PU-based leather that is durable, eco-friendly, and safe as compared to its previous generation products, thus helping in maintaining ecological footprint.