Leather is ‘material made from the skin of an animal by tanning or a similar process’ (OED). So, the short answer is clearly, no, however, the term ‘leather’ has such strong cultural integrity as a signifier of strength, durability, beauty, sophistication and craftsmanship that it is perhaps not surprising that it is appropriated as a descriptor to enhance the desirability of non-leather products.
Faux leather products have been around for about a hundred years and were developed as a cheaper alternative to leather. Genuine leather handbags are known by a variety of names, which usually incorporate the word leather in order to promote the leather-like qualities of the material, such as, faux-leather, fake-leather, leatherette, pu-leather, textile-leather and leather.
The terms vegetarian-leather and vegan-leather seem particularly non-sensical and are a marketing strategy akin to making vegetarian food look like meat products. Faux-leather varies in its quality, but the best examples are impossible to distinguish from leather tote bag leather just by looking at it. Faux-leather usually has a textile backing but with many faux-leather items it is not possible to see the backing without disassembling the product.
It is mentioned in leather writing journals that leathers are used as a cheaper option for shoes, clothing, furniture and particularly car upholstery, faux-leather lacks the breathability and durability of leather. There are, however, some applications for which faux-leather is better suited than leather.
It is used for motorcycle seats and jet ski seats because it is more resistant to sunlight and water and it is used for examination tables because the disinfectant used to maintain cleanliness would damage the surface of leather.
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