What is Polyurethane (PU) Leather?
You’re looking for a shoe that is smooth and durable, and feels great on your feet. Perhaps a shoe coated in Polyurethane, abbreviated as PU, is for you. But what exactly is PU?
Polyurethane is a polymer, or synthetic resin. PU is desirable because of its strength, durability, water resistance, and because it generally dries as a transparent, taking on whatever color it is dipped in or whatever it’s brushed on. It also tends to be scratch-resistant.
But, you may be wondering, what does this varnishing material have to do with shoes?
PU is most commonly connected in the shoe world to PU leather. PU leather is split leather, or an animal hide that has been split into thinner sheets than top-grain leather is, and then dipped into the PU resin to create a thicker, water-resistant, and more durable material. This PU leather is what is generally seen on shoes, although regular PU may be brushed onto a rubber or EVA surface to make it tougher, or PU may be molded into plastic sheets to be used on the outsoles of shoes, especially running shoes and sandals.
Although PU leather generally has a hide base, it is categorized as a synthetic because it has been altered by the polyurethane. Some PU leathers, called vegan leathers, do not have any animal hide products at all, but instead are made of fabric brushed with polyurethane made to look like genuine leather.
There are some definite upsides that PU leathers have that top-grain leathers do not. First of all is the cost. Genuine top-grain animal-hide leather can be prohibitively expensive because of the amount of labor and time it takes to complete the finished product. Using PU leather maintains the look and feel of leather while keeping costs down.
Secondly, because of the PU varnish, polyurethane leather is more waterproof than top-grain leather, which is perfect for sandals, flip flops, slides, or other shoes that might be brought on adventures that involve water.
It’s also lighter than genuine leather. Think of a 100% leather boot. It’s usually tough and very heavy. For a sportier shoe, there’s a great advantage to having PU leather, and that’s the weight (or rather, lack thereof). PU leather is very light, so when a sandal or other shoe is made with PU leather, it’ll be easier to walk in, travel with, and hop into when you need to get moving quickly.
PU leather looks and feels great on shoes, but many other products take advantage of PU leather. For example, wallets and purses often use PU leather, as do office chairs and other office supplies, backpacks, journal covers, and low-cost car interiors.
Still, PU leather arguably looks and feels best on footwear, as it is one of the only products in which the PU leather, which feels like top-grain leather, comes into contact with your skin. PU leather takes the stress off, because you can rest assured that you didn’t have to pay an exorbitant amount for it, and because you can clean it with water---something that simply isn’t an option for top-grain hide. Because it is water-safe, you can take the caution you’d normally have to take with leather and throw it to the wind. Want to head to the beach with your PU leather sandals? Go for it! The polyurethane can take it.
Make sure to check out the sandals available with PU leather options on AlohaShoes.com to get a sense of what PU leather looks like on sandals and slippers. Chances are you won’t be disappointed, and the pricepoint for these products can’t be beat.