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Leather Guide

Our leather guide is here to give you some important information about leather to help you to make informed decisions. Here we will share some of the essential basics including details about the different types of leather and also how they are produced, allowing you to be sure you are buying exactly what you expect to.

The relationship between humans and leather has been developed over the past 30,000 years, and there are many aspects to leather production of which you may be unaware and there is also a lot of unique terminology. These terminologies are however sometimes misunderstood by both manufactures and customers alike and being aware of the correct information will help you to make the best decisions and ask the right questions to enable you to know exactly what it is you are purchasing.

What is cowhide leather?

As I am sure many of you will be aware, all of our products are made using “100% Cowhide Leather”. It would be a fair question therefore to ask “what exactly is Cowhide Leather?”. Cowhide is the natural skin of the cow, one of the most common bovine livestock on the planet, this is then processed or tanned into what is known as Cowhide Leather. We only use leathers that are produced as a by-product of the meat or dairy industry and never use leather from animals that are purely farmed for their skins. We research the companies we use carefully to ensure that the leathers that they supply are fundamentally a waste material, with the most significant part of the profit from the animal being from meat or dairy during its life-cycle. This is also the reason that we do not use more exotic leathers, where the animals are bred just for their skins.

Large, older cows are ideal for producing leather as they have a thick skin layer and are farmed extensively, making the leather easily available. Young cows produce soft skins with very few blemishes or natural markings, but we choose not to use these as the typical life expectancy for these animals is only 5 to 7 months. We only use skins from older animals due to their much longer life expectancy of 6 to 8 years and we always prefer to use dairy cattle as they, in our opinion, receive a much higher quality of life.

An interesting fact that you may not know is that one cow often produces as many as two or three leather hides. This is not some barbaric practice of removing an animal's skin whilst it is alive and letting it regrow, that is simply an ill-informed urban myth. When a skin is processed it is almost always split down into different layers, with each layer having different properties and uses.

The main layers of the cow skin used for leather can be divided into two main categories, the corium and the grain. The bottom layer, or corium, has thinner fibers which are more flexible and less tightly packed, and this is the layer that becomes thicker as the cow gets older. As we move towards the surface of the skin, the grain, the fibers become thicker and much more tightly packed adding great strength to the leather. The very surface of the grain leather is often prone to bites, blemishes or other natural markings (more details of this can be found in the Leather section of our Care Guide), and as a result, this layer is often sanded and buffed to give it a smoother appearance.

Types of Leather

The corium and the Grain layers are further split or processed into 5 common grades of leather:

  • Full Grain
  • Top Grain
  • Genuine or Split Leather
  • Suede
  • Bonded and Recycled Leather

There are two grades of leather typically produced from the grain layer. Full grain leather is produced without any surface sanding or correction with the full grain intact, as a result this often has visible marks, bites or blemishes. Bridle leather is often a full grain leather which you have probably heard of or come across. Top grain is the leather produced when full grain leather is sanded, buffed or corrected to remove any marks and imperfections.

There are three further subcategories for grain leathers, depending upon how they are treated during processing. These are Protected, Aniline and Semi-Aniline. Protected leathers are treated with a top coat to protect the surface which is usually printed, bonded or sprayed on, this layer must be less than 0.15 mm (less than 1/120th inch) thick in order for the end product to still be classed as leather under UK legislation. The process to produce Aniline leather uses soluble dyes which gives the leather the most natural feel, look and texture. These aniline leathers however tend to be quite susceptible to fading and scratching and are also easily stained. Semi-Aniline leathers are produced by treating the skins with pigments. This process can help to even out the surface, fill any minor imperfections and conceal many of the natural markings, whilst also adding an extra layer of protection to the leather. All of the leather we use for our standard products can be considered to be protected leather.

The lower layers of the leather are known by many names and this can cause confusion for the customer. Some of the terms that you will be familiar with are genuine leather, split leather and suede. Split leather and genuine is usually coated and embossed to give it a more natural leather look. These leathers are not as strong or durable as grain leather.

The final category is bonded leather. This is not really leather as such, but as you may have guessed, it is ground up leather scraps and off-cuts bonded together will glues, resins and fillers before being embossed to give it a leather-like appearance. This is the lowest grade of leathers and it often doesn’t really feel or look like leather at all.

Our Leather

As previously mentioned, all of the leathers we use are made with top grain leather, however there are some subtle differences in the finish. We stock the following leathers

  • Classic Leather
  • Fashion/modern Leather
  • Pastel Leather
  • Waxy Spickle Leather
  • Patent Leather
  • Bridle Leather

There are two grades of leather typically produced from the grain layer. Full grain leather is produced without any surface sanding or correction with the full grain intact, as a result this often has visible marks, bites or blemishes.

Bridle leather is often a full grain leather which you have probably heard of or come across. Top grain is the leather produced when full grain leather is sanded, buffed or corrected to remove any marks and imperfections.

There are three further subcategories for grain leathers, depending upon how they are treated during processing. These are Protected, Aniline and Semi-Aniline. Protected leathers are treated with a top coat to protect the surface which is usually printed, bonded or sprayed on, this layer must be less than 0.15 mm (less than 1/120th inch) thick in order for the end product to still be classed as leather under UK legislation. The process to produce Aniline leather uses soluble dyes which gives the leather the most natural feel, look and texture. These aniline leathers however tend to be quite susceptible to fading and scratching and are also easily stained. Semi-Aniline leathers are produced by treating the skins with pigments. This process can help to even out the surface, fill any minor imperfections and conceal many of the natural markings, whilst also adding an extra layer of protection to the leather. All of the leather we use for our standard products can be considered to be protected leather.

The lower layers of the leather are known by many names and this can cause confusion for the customer. Some of the terms that you will be familiar with are genuine leather, split leather and suede. Split leather and genuine is usually coated and embossed to give it a more natural leather look. These leathers are not as strong or durable as grain leather.

The final category is bonded leather. This is not really leather as such, but as you may have guessed, it is ground up leather scraps and off-cuts bonded together will glues, resins and fillers before being embossed to give it a leather-like appearance. This is the lowest grade of leathers and it often doesn’t really feel or look like leather at all.

Classics, Modern and Pastel Leathers

These leathers are effectively the same, and are simply categorized according to their color palette. These leathers have a protective pigment layer added to the surface of the leather allowing us to offer a range of stunning, vivid colors. The average thickness of the skins is between 2.6 to 2.8 mm which would traditionally classify it as 7 ounce leather. These days the industry measures leather by thickness rather than weight as moisture levels can significantly affect the weight of a hide.

The reverse side of the leather, known in the trade as the flesh side, is waxed and buffered to give a smooth and even appearance and feel. Companies who use lower quality or fake leathers to produce their goods often cover the reverse of their leather to hide the fact that it is cheap or fake.

Cheap leathers also often have a very fluffy texture on the flesh side (like a really low quality suede) which is difficult to finish and a sure sign of an inferior leather. This type of leather is often cut from the belly, which gives a much weaker leather, and some manufactures try to hide this lower quality by covering the back with fabric.

Waxy Spickle Leather

Our Waxy Spickle range of leathers use the same base leather as the Classics, but we have worked with our tanneries and found a way to impregnate traditional waxes into the grain of the leather which helps to provide a protective and water-resistant coating. This development gives the leather a much greater protection against the elements and higher resistance to everyday wear and tear.

Patent Leather

The Patent range is comprised of a pigmented leather, similar to the classics, with a high gloss finish applied on top. The gloss layer, whilst adding that classic luxury look of patent leather, also adds a higher resistance to cracking due to its unique formulation and makes for a durable, easily cleaned leather.

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