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Why is Bonded Leather Still Being Sold?

By Jeff Frank


Why is bonded leather still being sold? I have owned several chairs, sofas, etc. made with bonded leather. Over 50% deteriorated within a couple of years. 

Dec. 18, 2020


Over the past five years I have written more than a dozen articles warning against the use of bonded leather.

The good news is that many residential furniture retailers and manufacturers are finally dropping bonded leather from their product lines..

Over the past year, many of the mills that make faux leathers have been coming out with cheaper composite synthetics that combine polyurethane and polyester (and sometimes vinyl.) Sometimes a little cotton (1 – 2%) is added.

  • There are many different combinations. I have seen these new faux leathers with as much as 98% polyester and as little as 15%.
  • In the past, faux leathers with high percentages of polyester did not look and feel very similar to real leather. Apparently new fabric technology is overcoming that problem.
  • In general, the higher the polyester content the less expensive the faux leather will be.

Bonded leathers only entered the marketplace in large numbers (and cheaper versions) about 10 years ago.

  • They were a response to a very strong (and universal) consumer reluctance to buy leather-like sofas that were 100% synthetic, combined with a love of good (expensive) real leather.
    • Vinyls did not look or feel close to “real leather.”
    • Many 100% polyurethane faux leathers looked and felt more like the real thing, but they were more expensive, and customers still associated them with “vinyl” furniture.
  • Retailers were able to market bonded leather as being “partially real leather” and that  was enough to overcome the psychological barriers that had previously prevented the public from buying significant quantities of cheap “leather-look” furniture.

At this point, too many people have read or heard about the problems associated with bonded leather. As a result, the public seems to be finally ready to accept 100% synthetic faux leathers.

  • Although the new composites do not have any long term history yet, it is hard to imagine that they could be any worse than the bonded leathers they are replacing.
  • Polyester technology  has come a long way over the past decade.
    • Cheap, durable 100% polyester fabrics can now mimic cotton, linen, wool, silk and many other textures.
    • It is not a big surprise that polyester can now do a good imitation of leather.

The transfer of residential furniture from bonded leathers to composite synthetics is well underway, especially for seating manufactured in the U.S.

  • There is still a lot of existing bonded leather in the marketplace, especially among imported seating.
  • I expect bonded leathers to be almost completely gone from residential furniture within 5 years.

For office seating, bonded leather is still king. I have not yet seen any significant movement away from bonded leathers for low cost (mostly imported) office chairs.

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