At Bolsa Nova, we've chosen to work with genuine leather over faux leather; still, we appreciate that personal preferences differ among individuals. Today's consumers are more sensitive to environmental, social, and ethical matters. What is more difficult to fully appreciate are the tradeoffs regarding sustainability, appearance, feel, smell, cost, durability, usage, post-purchase care, and replenishment between product options. With the intent of elevating the discussion beyond visceral feelings, we share our insights about some differences between vinyl and full-grain leather.
A 2017 fashion industry study stated, "synthetic leather had only a third of the environmental impact of cow leather." Consider, however, that laminate products peel and crack within a couple of years. Leather products such as mini bags and crossbody bags can last for decades. In other words, a heavily used faux bag might need to be discarded and replaced multiple times to serve as long as a single genuine leather bag. Buttery soft leather handbags can become heirlooms - handed down from one generation to the next. Synthetic materials look best brand new. Leather, on the other hand, improves in appearance over time. Many handbag owners appreciate how the look of their items improves with age as natural imperfections, stretch marks and patinas become ever more distinctive.
Leather is made from animal hides but is mostly the waste-product of the beef industry. It is biodegradable. Faux leather avoids any animal impact but its production, disposal, processing, dying and the shorter life cycle are not without harm. Although faux leather is branded as "vegan leather," it is not plant-based. It is plastic-based. Pleather is a vinyl or polyurethane coating (machine-pressed to synthetic fibers) fashioned to look like leather after undergoing a manufacturing process. Think of leather as a layer (like paint) that offers a uniform, waterproof, air-tight cover. With less ability to flex or stretch, fake leather is more prone to melting, cracking, or puncturing.
In between faux leather and genuine leather, there is another product class called "bonded leather." Essentially leftover leather scraps are shredded, pulverized, synthetically reconstituted, and bonded with polyurethane. The exposed side is the leather while the underside is the man-made material. So, is this option the best or the worst of both worlds? It is probably best to reduce waste. Bonded leather is less expensive than genuine leather, but it has all the drawbacks of the shorter lifecycle of polyurethane products. It will never have the same hand feel, smell, or aging appearance as full-grain, genuine leather.
At Bolsa Nova, our signature collection features buttery-soft Italian leather handbags - hand made, garment-dyed, and produced in limited quantities. Our craftsmen use the whole leather skin (including dents, scar, and scratching) to add to the uniqueness of each bag and to minimize waste. Our washed-leather collection undergoes additional water treatment cycles to further soften and fade our bags to give it an antique, lived-in look out of the gate. To extend product life for decades, we encourage buyers to condition their bags once or twice a year. While our bag's appearance evolves over time, we build our hardware so that crossbody straps can be effortlessly swapped out to accessorize your classic piece in multiple ways at any moment. Feel free to reach out to us if you have additional questions or comments. While preferences are personal, it is our feeling that more information is always better than less; we are happy to have the conversation.