I thought it was time to write a short blog about leather to clarify some basic points about this beautiful material. My intention is to enlighten and inform readers that all leather is not created equal, not even from the animals from which it is taken. I’ll make this article easy to read and understand. A special thanks to Saddleback Leather for their gracious input.
Where does leather come from? Cows, Deer, Pigs, Lambs, Sheep and I hate to say this…Horses.
Basically there are 4 types of leather:
FULL GRAIN which is the “cream of the crop”, the best money can buy. It comes from the top layer of the hide which should display the natural markings and grain characteristics from the animal of which it was taken…hence the name Full grain. This leather has not been buffed or sanded. The natural surface of full grain leather gets better with use. It’s simply beautiful.
TOP GRAIN is the second highest grade. It is sanded and buffed to get rid of scars and scrapes. It is strong and durable and especially good for trims on leather products made with full grain leather to keep the costs down. For example, lining the back of a leather couch.
SPLIT LEATHER comes from the bottom half of the hide and doesn’t have any grain. Split Leather lends itself to be finished in a multitude of finishes, colours and textures such as shiny surfaces commonly known as patent leather, suede, coloured and patterned surfaces. This type of leather is also good for trims but not used for heavy stress points in a product. I personally like this leather as it lends itself to many interesting finishes and textures. It does not have the strength of top and full grain leather.
BONDED LEATHER are the bits and pieces that are glued, pressed or stitched together and rolled out into sheets. It’s a mystery as to what else they’re scraping off the floor to make this type of leather. Usually this leather is made into cheap belts that are merchandised and sold with jeans. Bonded leather is also used to make patchwork handbags and inexpensive apparel, journal covers. It accommodates a specific price point and cracks and splits quickly.
Leather you may have purchased or seen at one time or another…
ANTIQUE GRAIN: the surface resembles an antique finish. Looks worn and weathered.
NUBUCK: the surface has a velvety finish or a nap. Nubuck can be quite heavy.
PULL UP LEATHER: you can smell the oil on this type of leather. When this leather is “pulled up” from the back or stretched, it lightens in colour. Absolutely beautiful leather!
SUEDE: a split leather which has been scraped to produce a nap. Suede is not recommended for heavy stress wear. Suede lends itself well to different types of finishes such as metallic and vibrant colours. It’s used for handbags, shoes, apparel and trims.
EMBOSSED Leather: leather that has an artificial grain pattern. Most of these leathers are splits. Some finishes can be alligator, floral, soft patterns, denim finishes, metallic etc.
PATENT LEATHER: a glossy varnished surface. Used for belts, shoes and handbags.
The grade of leather, type of construction and hardware used is what determines the price of a leather product. A $1500.00 leather handbag is the not the same quality as a $250.00 handbag. Hardware such as clasps, buckles, handbag frames, D-rings are indicators of the quality of the leather product such as handbags and shoes. A few other things to watch for: patchwork leather is poor quality as all the leather pieces that fall on the floor are scraped up and sewn together, poor quality zippers that get stuck and split open, hardware that is stamped (non cast) such as metal buckles, flimsy and lightweight stamped handbag closures and watch for the stitching… the longer the stitch the cheaper is it, loose threads, glue marks exposed or the body of the bag creases and buckles because the lining is too tight and not cut properly. These are just a few points to consider when determining the quality of an leather item such as a handbag. Usually buying an expensive leather item is an investment and you are paying for all important aspects of the leather, where it is manufactured, how it’s made (by craftsmen) the design and quality hardware.It’s like a piece of art and has holds its value over time. Another point to consider is when a cheap leather product is purchased from an overseas supplier, the leather may be taken from animals which are considered abuses (against animals) in the Western world.
Also keep in mind that when you purchase an item made overseas, you’re keeping their economy alive and profitable, not ours.