because what we stock is leather.
We are certain you understand that when buying a leather product it is important 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 a very old craft with lots of tradition and a fair amount of specialist terminology. The leather industry though, sometimes, uses these terminologies incorrectly 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.
What is cowhide leather?
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, (eg. dairy farming.) We determine this by ensuring that the largest proportion of profit does not come from the processing of the animal skin, but either from its meat or from 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 whilst 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 amazing but did you know a single cow doesn’t produce just a single hide of leather, it can often produce 2 or even sometimes 3 hides! You may ask, “How does it do this?!?” Well, firstly let me reassure you that it’s not by a process of removing the skin whilst the animal is alive and letting 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.
Essentially 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 fibers that are thinner and more flexible and as we move up to the grain these fibers 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 off to make it look smoother.
Types of leather
When we look at leather there are 5 common grades of leather:
- Full Grains
- Top Grains
- Genuine or Split Leathers
- Bonded and Recycled Leathers
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 surely heard of. These two types of leather are referred to as grain leathers.
Among the grain leathers, we can find 3 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 the bonded leather. This is the lowest grade of leather. It is not really leather but rather, just like the name suggests, leather scraps and bits put together using a filler and layered with a 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 easily.
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:
- Classic Leather
- Pastel Leather
- Fashion/modern Leathers
- Waxy Spickle Leather
- Patent Leather
- Premium Leather
- Bridle Leather
Classics, Pastels and Modern Leathers
Our classic, pastel and modern leathers are essentially the same type of leather but are simply categorised 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 huge 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 greatly 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 a really poor quality finish on the flesh side, these are sometimes very ‘fluffy’ (like a badly finished suede) and of a poor grade material; again dishonest makers will try to hide this by covering it with a 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.
Waxy Spickle Leather
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 whilst also serving to protect the leather and making it very durable and easy to clean.
Our Premium leathers are a very different from the rest of our leather ranges and feature a pull-up finish (often referred to as an oiled leather) that helps represent the natural grain of leather whilst trying to keep the finish and surface relatively uniform.
The premium leather has a thickness of 2.8mm ~ 3mm (8-ounces) and this added thickness is provided from the layer towards the epidermis thus giving it qualities of a top grain leather. Therefore our Premium leathers are thicker and stronger than our usual leathers.
The Premium leather range differs from full grains because the blemished outer surface (around 0.6mm) has been cut away to leave a relatively smooth and unmarked skin. The remainder of the hide is then buffed, polished and dyed using a semi-aniline tanning method. Finally, we complete the last stage of the tanning process here in our own workshops, using a secret mix of oils and balsams. Once the hides are oiled then we massage it around the hide and work each one individually to reveal some of the natural textures that are present in the skin, making each and every hide very unique.
It’s an especially uncommon process in this day and age to treat a real leather in this manner, but we feel the final finish helps attain the beautiful looks of full/top grain leather whilst making the finish more ‘predictable’ with less variation from batch to batch. The pigmentation of the Premium leather suffers less from natural ‘tanning’ by the sun and holds it’s original colour very well when compared to our Top Grain / Bridle Leathers.
Please note we don’t have any Ready-Made bags made from Bridle leather. This leather is too precious for us to try and guess what our clients would like us to make for them. Therefore, we only keep raw hides of bridle leather in stock and our Bridle leather is only used upon special request.
All our Bridle leathers are all produced here in England using traditional techniques that date back to 400 AD.
They are either produced by J&E Sedgewick, J&FJ Baker or Thomas Ware & Sons Ltd and come in a wide variety of colours but all of them are generally muted or natural tones due to the vegetable dying process that is used to tan the hides.
The Bridle leathers are impregnated with waxes, similar to our waxy spickles, to help protect them against the elements. The flesh side is then curried and treated just as much as the grain side to provide a beautifully smooth reverse. The leather is treated this way to ensure the saddle sits against the horse comfortably, obviously, this isn’t as important when making bags and accessories, but a well-finished reverse is a good indication of a high-quality leather.
English Bridle leather is often regarded as the Highest Quality Leather in the world, and the makers we use are regarded as the best producers in the world.
English Bridle can vary in weight but is typically between 3mm ~ 3.5mm in weight (9-ounces) and produces bags that are so durable, that when they are well looked after, then generally they have to be included in a persons last-will and testament as they are heirloom products. The downside to this durability of this heavy-weight leather is that bags are often quite heavy when constructed using it.