Synthetic Leather vs. Natural Leather in Gloves: How Do They Compare?

The rise of synthetic leather over the past century has created a more cost-efficient, sustainable, and reliable material for glove manufacturing.

Offering a wide range of sought-after features such as durability, malleability, and water resistance, natural leather has long been the preferred material for footwear, handbags, gloves, and more. However, the rise of synthetic leather over the past century has created a more cost-efficient, sustainable, and reliable material for glove manufacturing. Since 2010, AX® Materials has been a pioneer and industry leader in sustainable materials for the glove market.

History of Synthetic Leather

Synthetic leather came to prominence as a result of natural leather rationing during the onset of World War II. One of the first incarnations of synthetic leather was Presstoff – a specially layered paper pulp embossed to look like leather, but it simply couldn’t hold up to moisture or have the ability to flex very well. It was eventually replaced by the more durable Naugahyde, a vinyl-coated fabric created by the U.S. Rubber Company in 1914. Although these early synthetic materials began to gain a foothold over natural leather, they presented large sustainability issues such as the utilization of harsh chemicals. 

From upholstery to clothing, synthetic leather has been put to the test in several different industries. For the glove industry, manufacturers were previously using synthetic materials originally designed for footwear. However, consider the dexterity required in using your hands vs. your feet – the performance needs for shoes and gloves are vastly different. This is why many glove manufacturers turned back to using natural leather.

In 2010, AX® Materials changed the game. As the first line of synthetic materials made specifically for gloves, AX® produced remarkable results while maintaining a focus on sustainability.

A rack of material swatches displayed in front of a poster with the text "build a better glove."

Synthetic Leather vs. Natural Leather: Overview

What differentiates synthetic leather most from natural leather is that no animal products are used in its design. AX® Materials is committed to sustainable sourcing and cruelty-free synthetic materials.

Synthetic Leather  

Most synthetic leathers are made from either polyester or nylon and combined with polymers, such as: 

Polyurethane (PU):

This polymer is used to laminate polyester or nylon. It’s a thin material that offers durability, a good grip, and a water-repellent surface. It also gives the appearance of grain leather.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC):

This polymer is mixed with polyester or nylon into a non-woven material. It is soft and durable with high breathability and provides a split leather appearance. 

All AX® Materials are comprised of synthetically engineered fibers that work harder and last longer while offering more breathability and flexibility than natural leather. By combining these fibers with high-density yarns in a custom knitting process, the optimal balance of strength, softness, and dexterity is achieved. 

Built to outperform, AX® Materials offers high abrasion options to get the job done, no matter the conditions. The Taber abrasion scores of AX® Materials can reach up to 4x of leading glove materials and ensures top-notch durability. 

Natural Leather

Natural Leather is made from the hide of an animal. The primary animals used for the glove industry are cows, goats, and pigs. Leather is produced by processing chemicals in specialized units known as tanneries. Since raw hides are susceptible to decomposition, the natural fibers have to be treated. Through the tanning process, the hide’s protein structure is permanently changed. The full processing of leather allows it to be highly durable and used for a wide range of applications.

Challenges with Natural Leather

Because natural leather is an animal-based product, the aesthetics and quality will vary based on the type of animal used, as well as its living conditions. This makes the inconsistency of leather a big challenge for glove manufacturers since one animal hide can have different performance qualities than the next. Also, the price of natural leather varies based on the type of animal’s availability and quality, which can wreak havoc on manufacturing costs due to its unpredictability. 

Natural leather also has significant negative impacts on the environment. The most common tanning method is chrome tanning. The hide is placed in a chromium salt bath — which is highly toxic. When the chromium waste is discarded, it is often dumped. Dumping is commonplace in regions without strong environmental protection standards, which also happen to be the primary regions where leather is tanned. This dumping can destroy aquatic ecosystems and negatively impact human health.

The slaughtering and abuse of animals has also been condemned by animal rights organizations. Animal skin is considered to be a significant economic co-product of the meatpacking industry, but it’s no secret that these animals suffer agonizing living conditions.

According to PETA, each year, “the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals and tans their skins and hides. Many of these animals endure all the horrors of factory farming—including extreme crowding and confinement, deprivation, and unanesthetized castration, branding, and tail-docking—as well as cruel treatment during transport and slaughter.”

Along with animal abuse, the demand for animal materials also brings the increased destruction of the environment. The farming of land to produce leather from cattle accounts for up to 80% of deforestation in the Amazon. As the “lungs of the Earth,” the survival of life simply can’t sustain this decimation of land.

With natural leather’s combination of practical and ethical concerns, the demand for synthetic leather has skyrocketed. As of 2015, the artificial leather market was estimated at more than $50 billion.

A row of brown leather material swatches hanging on a rack.
Leather tanning process

Advantages of Synthetic Leather

Synthetic leather is highly pliable and versatile. The best synthetic materials can be designed, modified, and implemented into the exact requirements of a product. One of the most durable and versatile sets of synthetic leather materials is AX® Suede. With a wide variety of thicknesses, it’s ideal for everything from outdoor sports to workwear. 

By designing the most durable materials, AX® Materials bypasses the frequent repair and replacement of products. Cheaper, less durable products are naturally prone to frequent breakages, so repair or replacement expenses can quickly ramp up. Needing to produce more replacement materials is not only more expensive, but further impacts the environment.

Since synthetic leather is consistently manufactured, glove makers can expect the same quality in every roll and production batch. This lends itself to stabilized manufacturing costs, consistency in the supply chain, and overall efficiency in glove production.

With superior synthetic fibers, AX® Materials offers first-class replacements for all forms of natural leather.

5 Unique Features of AX® Materials

  • Comfortable: Engineered for the needs of gloves to offer breathable innovations with moisture management.
  • Lightweight: Designed to go further, work harder, and climb higher. The unique fiber blends make a naturally stronger material, which allows for thinner and more comfortable fabrics.
  • Sustainable: Eco-friendly and recycled materials that don’t sacrifice performance.
  • PFC-free: Water-repellent treatments are available that eliminate the use of perfluorocarbons (PFCs), AKA “forever chemicals” that contribute to greenhouse gases. These PFC-free water-repellent treatments provide reliable protection against the elements.
  • Touchscreen Compatible: AX® Connect uses organic compounds in its construction to mimic the conductivity of human skin tissue, allowing for reliable interaction with smartphones, tablets, and other touchscreen technologies. 

AX® Materials provides durable, performance-based materials that help manufacturers build a better glove. Customers of AX® Materials require and depend on durability to ensure their products perform, but also benefit from sustainable sourcing for the environment as well.

3 Environmental Benefits of Synthetic Leather

Significant Reduction in Environmental Impact

One of the most impressive benefits of synthetic leather is its significantly reduced environmental impact. When compared to natural leather, synthetic leather has the ability to:

  • Lower carbon emissions
  • Lower water usage
  • Reduce water run-off
  • Apply fewer chemicals in production
  • Increase durability for long-term use

AX® Materials are made with a vastly reduced environmental impact compared to cow leather: 3X lower global warming potential, 4X less chemistry in manufacturing, 14X less water used in manufacturing, and 22X lower nutrient pollution in the water.

Bar graph comparing the environmental impacts of AX Suede 1.05mm and cow leather, including global warming, eutrophication, water scarcity, resource depletion, and chemistry, with numerical values.

Note: These results were calculated using the HIGG MSI 3.3. They were calculated by AX® Materials and are not third-party verified. AX® Suede NovoSplit 1.05mm values are referenced.

Reduced Dye Process 

Synthetic leather is a lot easier to dye. Natural leather comes in the color of the animal’s hide and has to go through an extensive dye process to change that. That means more and more chemicals. Synthetic leather requires much less maintenance and can be easily dyed to fit color needs and requirements. AX® Materials’ solution dyed and pigment yarns are more colorfast, use less water, and produce less CO2 than traditionally dyed fabrics. 

Reuse & Recycle 

Post-consumer recycled polyester from water bottles and post-industrial recycled nylon from unused manufacturing materials can be recycled and used to make new products, such as gloves.

AX® Materials is a leading recycler for both post-consumer recycled polyester and post-industrial recycled nylon. All AX® recycled materials are RCS-certified, which is a holistic standard certified by the Textile Exchange that verifies the precise recycled content of a material.

A pair of tan gloves made from synthetic suede leather resting on a white surface.

Why Synthetic Leather is the Best Option for Glove Materials

Synthetic leather is the best choice for glove materials because of its high durability, versatility, and sustainability. Specifically crafted and designed to meet the needs of gloves, these efficient and long-lasting materials are a cut above the rest. 

Synthetic leather is highly durable yet more flexible and versatile than natural leather. This allows gloves to be strong while preventing bulk, making them comfortable to wear over long periods. 

Designed with a combination of polyester knits with continuous filament fiber construction and specialty high-density yarns, AX® Materials’ synthetic leather offers the ultimate choice in softness, dexterity, and strength. With high resistance to abrasion and high dexterity, synthetic leather from AX® Materials is built to outperform natural leather. Learn more about these best-in-class synthetic leather glove materials and browse the many varieties available.

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