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We are certain you understand that when buying a leather product it is essential to be well aware of what type of leather you are buying and this guide is here to teach you the basics, to help you understand the different types of leathers and the way they are produced so you can make an informed decision when choosing products made from leather.
Humankind’s relationship with leather has been developed over a period of around 30,000 years. It is an ancient craft with lots of tradition and a fair amount of specialist terminology. The leather industry though, sometimes, misuses these terminologies and as a consumer knowing about these terminologies and the different types of leather will help you to buy the highest quality leather products and ask questions so that you know exactly what you are purchasing.
For those of you who have paid attention, on our products we say “100% Cowhide Leather”. So you may ask “What exactly is cowhide leather?” It is quite common as bovine farming is one of the most common livestock on our planet. As the name suggests, it is leather produced by the skin of the cow. All the leather we use is a by-product of the dairy or meat industry.
We never work with leathers from animals that are farmed purely for their skins. We only use animal leathers that are by-products of other industries, (e.g. dairy farming.) We determine this by ensuring that the most significant proportion of profit does not come from the processing of the animal skin, but either from its meat or its produce during its life-cycle. We feel that the animal skin must fundamentally be a waste material; otherwise, we would not use it.
Cows are ideal for our uses because it is big and has a thick layer of skin to work with and is farmed extensively making the leather common-place and readily available. Very young cows produce small, thin and soft skins with very few blemishes while older animals have larger skins, which are generally thicker but often have a lot more natural markings.
We use skins from older animals, most often we prefer dairy cattle over other types of cattle, due to the higher quality of life they receive (in our opinion) and their much longer life expectancy, which is approximately 6-8 years, as opposed to 5-7 months.
You may find this fact surprising but did you know a single cow doesn’t produce just a single hide of leather, it can often produce 2 or even sometimes three hides! You may ask, “How does it do this?” Well, firstly let me reassure you that it’s not by process of removing the skin while the animal is alive and allowing it regrow, that is an urban myth perpetuated by the ill-informed. The whole skin of the animal is not used, but it is cut down into different layers, which gives us the different types of leather and are used for different things.
Mainly the skin of the cow, which is used for making the leather, can be divided into two main parts – the corium and the grain. The corium the bottom layers of the skin has fibres that are thinner and more flexible, and as we move up to the grain, these fibres become thicker and tighter. The corium also becomes thicker as the cow ages. The top layers of the grain face outwards towards the hair and this layer is commonly found with blemishes, tick bites and other natural markings (Refer to our Leather section of the care guide for more information). This means that the very top layer of the grain is usually buffed of to make it look smoother.
When we look at leather there are 5 common grades of leather:
When the leather is buffed or corrected in a way to get rid of the natural skin marking, it is called top grain. Full grain leather is when the whole grain is intact and could have natural skin marking. An example of a full grain leather is Bridle Leather, which you have undoubtedly heard of. These two types of leather are referred to as grain leathers.
Among the grain leathers, we can find three main categories of leather, depending on how they are processed.
Aniline leathers are processed using soluble dyes and therefore are the most natural looking and maintain their natural texture. Also, they are the most susceptible to scratching, fading and staining. Semi-aniline leathers (like most bridle leathers) are treated with pigments. This process helps to conceal most of the natural markings on the leather and gives the leather a more uniform layer. Additionally, this pigment provides added protection to the leather. Protected leathers have a non-leather coating sprayed, attached or printed on the leather. All of the leather used by us can be considered as protected leather.
Interesting fact: If the protected/pigmented layer is thicker than 0.15 mm then, according to the consumer protection legislation, it cannot be sold as leather in the UK.
The bottom part of the leather is known by many names and can get very confusing to the consumer. It goes by split leather, genuine leather, suede, napa leather, printed leather, etc. Split leather is usually coated and embossed to give it a more natural leather-like look. Split leather is not very strong nor as durable as the grain leathers.
Finally, we have bonded leather. This is the lowest grade of leather. It is not leather but rather, just like the name suggests, leather scraps and bits put together using a filler and layered with polyurethane and embossed to give a leather-like look. This type of leather is commonly found in leather accessories and are not very durable and breaks off very quickly.
As mentioned in the types of leather, all our leathers are made with top grain leather apart from our premium leather, which is a little different. We carry the following types of leather:
Our classic, pastel and modern leathers are mostly the same type of leather but are categorised merely according to their colour palette.
We use protected grain leather to produce these beautiful colours. The protective layer is achieved by adding a pigment to the surface of the leather, which also allows us to offer a vast variety of different colours.
These leathers have a thickness of between 2.6 ~ 2.8mm. Traditionally the thickness of leather would have been measured in ounces per square foot, and our classic leather would be graded as 7-ounces. Nowadays, we measure leather by its actual thickness because the moisture content of the leather can significantly affect its weight.
The reverse of the leather (traditionally called the flesh side), has been buffed and waxed to give it a smooth and even touch. Many companies who produce bags using fake leathers will cover the weave on the reverse of their coated materials to try and make them feel more luxurious, but often they are just trying to hide the fact that it’s not real or cheap leather. You will also find that cheap leathers generally have an inferior quality finish on the flesh side, these are sometimes very ‘fluffy’ (like a poorly finished suede) and of an inferior grade material; again dishonest makers will try to hide this by covering it with fabric. These poor quality leathers are often cut from the belly and are often weak and can be torn with just a strong pair of hands.
Our Waxy Spickle leather is very similar to our Classic leather except that we have worked with our tanneries and found a way to impregnate the grain of the leather with a protective and water-resistant wax. We have also worked on further developing the protective coating so that it is more durable and can also be impregnated with the same wax. These developments give the leather greater protection against the elements and general day-to-day wear and tear.
Currently, we have been trailing this process and have received such positive input from our customers that we are planning to introduce a similar technique to the Classic, Pastel and Modern ranges of leathers.
Our Patent features a high gloss finish which sits on top of the pigmented colour layer. This gloss layer is unlikely to split or crack due to its unique formulation. This gives the leather a unique luxury look while also serving to protect the leather and making it very durable and easy to clean.