Real Leather vs Faux Leather: Everything You Need to Know

Real Leather vs Faux Leather: Everything You Need to Know

Shoeaholics across the globe recognise full grain Italian leather as one of the most sought-after materials for shoe and garment production today. After all, real leather is breathable, durable and can be moulded into a number of different shapes, making it an exceptional choice where quality and craftsmanship are key.

But what is faux leather? Imitation leathers use a variety of materials in order to look like (but rarely feel like!) the real deal.

If you’re on the hunt for your next pair of shoes, here's why we think that you should be looking for that “genuine leather” symbol as a sign of high quality and fine craftsmanship.

Lifespan of a real leather shoe vs a faux leather shoe

One of the main benefits of actual leather when compared to its imitation products, is its durability and ability to be maintained. With a little bit of TLC, leather can last many years of use. The faux alternatives do not carry this same ability to be revived, as cleaning agents and conditioners will often break down the material itself just as quickly as they will the dirt and grime that accumulates as we walk through city streets or on rainy footpaths.

Wearing in a real leather shoe vs a faux leather shoe

As a natural material, real leather will soften, shift and open with wear. If you’ve ever had the experience of a tight pair of leather shoes feeling more comfortable after a couple of wears, you’ll know why this is ideal! Unfortunately, the rigidity of faux leather means that these synthetic materials won’t shift with wear but may instead crack, peel, split or eventually even fall apart as it is used.

Breathability of real leather vs faux leather shoes

Just like your skin, genuine leather is a breathable, absorbent, and porous natural material. Genuine leather shoes will help you retain body heat, while sweat and perspiration will be wicked away – the perfect combination for happy feet! In contrast, most faux leathers contain a high portion of plastics, which hold in body heat and any moisture that may develop through the day. The result is often hot and sweaty feet.

Do real leather shoes and faux leather shoes look different?

In the shoe industry, the real leathers used have a unique fine texture and tight grain. These characteristics are often highly sought after and celebrated as a sign of quality. Because the unique grain of real leather is universally recognised, faux leather is often stamped with an approximation of this grain. While faux leathers are continuously doing a better job of looking like the real deal, most still have a long way to go before they carry the same innate sense of quality and beauty as genuine leather does!

So what is faux leather exactly?

While real leather uses the hides from animals, faux leathers (also known as PVC or PU) are made from the merging of liquid plastic with a backing. More recently, faux leathers have started to be created from a variety of experimental materials, including pineapples, mushrooms and cork. For the material produced to be flexible enough to withstand the day-to-day use of wardrobe items like a pair of shoes, many of these more experimental materials are still mixed with or bound onto a layer of plastic.

Most leathers on the market today are still the PVC kind and while these mass-produced synthetic materials are often a cheaper alternative, they retain none of the benefits of real leather, such as breathability, elasticity or durability. Because real leather is an animal product, some people will choose not to wear items made from this material and will instead opt for the faux alternatives.

Faux leather vs real leather, which is best for footwear?

Faux leather is a vegan alternative - which for some people is an important distinction.

However, faux leather is often lacking in many of the qualities that make real leather suitable for footwear, such as breathability. Real leather is soft, supple and can move as it is worn, while faux leather alternatives are less flexible, making them less suitable for products that demand a lot from their materials (like footwear). Shoes made from real leather are often seen as investment pieces, as their long lifespan and quality feel produce fine products that can last years of use.  

How to tell if a product is made from real leather?

If you’re on the hunt for a pair of leather shoes, the easiest way to guarantee what you’re purchasing is the real deal, is to shop from reputable brands who label their products with terms like “genuine leather”, “real leather” or carry this symbol:


Note that real leathers can undergo a variety of treatments to develop different aesthetic qualities – metallic leather, patent leather and high shine leather are all examples of this. This means that real leather products can look earthy and natural as well as bright and colourful, so we recommend looking beyond the colour of the leather in order to make a judgment call.

If the brand has not listed the material, and you’re shopping in person, you can often tell real leather and faux leather apart by looking closely at the grain. As a natural product, each piece of real leather carries a unique grain, while faux leather is stamped in a more repetitive and regular pattern. When trying on footwear, real leather will also display a flexibility that faux leather will not.

When in doubt, stick to brands that have a reputation for quality craftsmanship and who list the shoe's material makeup on their website.

Shop a selection of our favourite leather shoes here:

ortona - turquoise

ortona - turquoise

$320.00 $425.00

habbot ‘ortona’ women’s high cut ballet flats in premium turquoise blue leather combine timeless style with ultimate comfort. Perfect for dressing up a casual outfit or slipping into your luggage, this flattering square toe slip-on wraps neatly across the top… read more

nara - silver pink

nara - silver pink


The habbot ‘nara’ is our signature flat lace-up style. This timeless two tone derby brogue in reptile embossed silver features patent pink detailing on the toe and heel cap, combining a flattering, yet supremely comfortable shape with a confident aesthetic… read more

piano - lipstick

piano - lipstick


habbot ‘piano’ women’s flat slip-on loafers feature a flattering high cut vamp, with classic penny loafer strap detailing. Soft and supple in textured lipstick pink patent leather and finished with a low block heel, piano is equally at home paired… read more

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