Washable paper leather is advertised as a substitute for leather, as well as PU faux leather. The manufacture states that it's greener than vinyl and of course more animal friendly compared to leather. It is a cellulose-based product with a small amount of synthetic latex. According to Merriam-Webster, cellulose comes from plant wall cells. Additionally, the pulp used to manufacture the washable paper leather is FSC certified, which means that the pulp met the requirements of the Forest Stewardship Council.
Is it a substitute for leather? Yes and no. It doesn't feel like any leather that we've ever worked with. It doesn't handle like any leather we've ever used. It doesn't have the same "soft-touch" as most bovine leather.
But does it look like leather? You know what, it kind of does, at least for those who don't work with leather day in and day out like we do. We only showed our handmade washable paper leather wallet samples to a few people and at first sight they thought it looked like leather.
As you can see, I was able to make a washable paper "leather" bifold wallet with the material and using nearly the same techniques I would if I was making it with vegetable tanned leather. From what I've seen, people have been able to make large totes, bags, dopp kits, etc with the material.
Essentially, to the untrained eye, it looks like leather. It can also be used to make wallets, bags, totes, etc. While it doesn't work or feel like leather, in my opinion, I think washable paper leather is a legitimate substitute to leather...in the same way that plastic, canvas, nylon and other materials can be substituted for leather in making wallets, bags, etc.
For the craft person who defines a "leather substitute" as something that looks and feels like leather, without actually being made from flesh, then you'll be disappointed. Washable paper isn't the perfect clone of leather; not even close.
But, if you accept it for what it is, a cruelty free product that actually kind of looks like leather, then you'll probably love it as much as I do. If everything goes to plan, then I will not be making any new designs with real leather in the future. I'll only use washable paper and other new vegan, cruelty free leather substitute materials accessible to small makers.
On a side note, I found it way easier to make a bifold wallet with the washable paper than vegetable tanned leather because of the more rigid structure of the washable paper. Of course, you're trading off suppleness, but I believe that you can put it in the washing machine and it'll actually feel more supple like leather.