Leather – tanned skins that protect the feet from rough stones, puddles and cold weather.
We humans have worn the stuff since we wielded clubs and lived in caves. But just like many other natural favourites, first there is the real thing, then someone fakes it.
Faux leather lovers argue that fake is better for the environment, kinder to animals and easier on your pocket – but we believe the original is still the best. Here’s why.
The First Fake
Looks like leather, smells like leather – it must be leather. Right? Wrong. The first fake leathers were designed as cheap alternatives to the real thing.
A woven calico background was coated with layers of linseed oil and powdered leather – sweepings from the cutting room floor. Sometimes a tough natural latex called Gutta-percha was used as the binder and end result was made into desk surfaces, the soles of shoes and telegraph cables.
Other types of leather cloth found a use as oilskins and chair coverings. But the material wasn’t supple enough to replace leather in the manufacture of leather shoes and boot uppers.
Among the first shoes to be made with polyurethane were Corfam ‘poromeric’ shoes. The material was introduced during the early 1960s by the Dupont chemical company and manufactured at their plant in Tennessee.
The company spent many millions of dollars marketing the product to shoemakers, but the supposedly breathable leather substitute flopped. In 1971, Du Point sold the rights to a firm in Poland.
Corfam looks like patent leather and is still popular with the armed forces in America and elsewhere. We think leather boots, spit and polish work best. Anything else is cheating!
Plastic material that resembles leather – there are many forms of pleather, some porous, some not – like PVC. Yuk – incredibly sweaty. Apparently some people like that sort of thing – catwoman for one.
As production processes have improved, fake leather has become common place and so much like the real thing in appearance that it’s often hard to tell the difference at a glance. Some of the stuff is even perfumed so it smells like actual leather. The muscle bike manufacturer, Harley Davidson are reported as having stocked a faux leather biker’s jacket. But frankly we could see no evidence of it on their website.
We don’t believe Harley riders – hairy chaps of the Hells Angels ilk would thunder down the highway in anything less than cowhide.
If you are old enough to have been a child during the 1960s or 70s, you may remember burning your bare legs on the leatherette seats of the family saloon car. Sunny weather would toast the imitation leather to temperatures not seen outside of nuclear fission, producing a smell that could induce instant car sickness.
The foul stuff was less prone to drying and cracking than traditional leather but revolting to sit on for more than a few minutes at a time. Would you believe it, they also make shoes out of the stuff?
The American version of leatherette – this fabric backed, Vinyl coated, skin effect cloth is used across a wide range of applications. You will stick to the stuff on chairs in hospitals, office atria, bus seats and many other places – squirming in the residues of sweat left by other people and adding your own for the next unhappy passerby.
The stuff is used to make vegan shoes too – ensuring the health and vitality of fungal infections everywhere. The company that make Naugahyde market it through a stuffed animal made of the stuff – the Nauga – which they say is ugly – but its vinyl hide is beautiful. I guess that depends on your taste.
No matter what the naysayers’ objections, leather shoes are the best shoes. When it comes to the environment, the longevity of a product is key to assessing its environmental impact. Simply put, a good pair of leather shoes lasts a great deal longer than its plastic, petrochemical rivals.
Well made shoes with welted soles can be repaired again and again – lasting for years and still looking great. And vegetarians aside, leather is a byproduct of the meat industry. Using the skins reduces waste and therefore must surely be the choice of meat eaters everywhere.