How Is Leather Made?

How Is Leather Made?

So you’re thinking about buying luggage made from leather but don’t quite know whether it is for you and whether it’ll last and how is leather made?

We’ll explain how it’s made and what to look out for when shopping for leather bags.

So let’s start at the beginning: We can’t quite get around the fact that leather is from animal skin, such as cow hide, goat, buffalo and exotic leathers such as snake skin and alligator.

Most of the leather items are made from cow hide. Being a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, it is readily available, and it is also considered one of the most durable leathers.

It is much heavier than other leathers, which means it’s much sturdier and the preferred choice for most things made of leather.

What Are The Different Grades Of Leather?

There are four different grades of leather. The best quality leather is called full-grain leather.

Full-grain leather is the most popular kind of leather as it is the best quality, most durable and looks the best. It has no or very few flaws, but also has not had any naturally occurring marks or imperfections removed. It stands out because of its luxurious and smooth surface.

Its durability is because the grain is fully intact (in other leathers part of it or all of it has been removed or sanded). Full-grain leather develops a patina, a thin layer which gives it an aesthetic look and protects it from wear and corrosion.

Top-grain leather is the second-best quality of leather and still in the high-end category when looking for leather products. It is the most common type of leather available. Because its layer has been cut away it is more pliable and thinner compared to full-grain leather.

It is also less breathable and seems cooler because of having been sanded and coated, but at the same time has a better stain resistance and is less expensive.

Genuine leather is the lowest quality in terms of real leather. It is a leftover product of high-end leather products. Genuine leather products have a less pleasing look or feel compared to the higher quality leather products, but they are very affordable option.

Corrected-grain leather or lesser-known grain has been corrected and fixed for better functionality and aesthetics. Artificial grains are embossed on the top and dressed-out with different dyes and stains. There aren’t any imperfections and the grain looks very even.

How does tanning work and what is the best method?

Tanning means the process of taking animal skins and hides and by treating them making them into leather.

Before the tanning process can begin, the skins and hides are unhaired, degreased, desalted and then soaked in water for about 6 hours up to 2 days.

There are two very common methods to tanning. One of them is called chrome tanning and the other vegetable tanning. Sometimes both of them are combined. Chrome tanning involves using the chemical chromium and vegetable tanning uses tree bark and tannin.

Tanning will permanently change the protein structure of the animal skin and by doing so it makes it more durable and less susceptible to decomposing.

But let’s just have the experts tell you, or even better, show you how it’s done. Watch this very informative video below, made by the Saddleback Leather Co., who are known for their high-quality full-grain leather luggage.

How can you tell real leather from fake leather?

Real leather is able to absorb moisture. So, to test whether you have the real deal or fake leather in front of you, just use a small amount of water to drop it on the item. If it’s real, the water will be absorbed in a very short matter of time. If it’s fake though, it won’t be absorbed and just builds a puddle on top.

Another way to know is when the grain looks very symmetrical or uniform. If it all looks exactly the same shape and size there’s a good chance it’s fake or of the lowest quality as explained above.

Another good indicator is price. Real leather and especially full-grain leather usually doesn’t come cheap.

What Is The Best Leather?

Full-grain leather is the best leather, followed by top-grain leather, then genuine leather and finally corrected-grain leather.

Full-grain leather is the best looking, most durable and most expensive of the real leathers.

Top-grain is a bit thinner, more stain-resistant and a bit less expensive compared to full-grain leather.

Genuine leather is the most affordable among the real leathers, but doesn’t look or feel as nice as the more expensive options.

Where Does The Best Leather Come From?

Currently the countries producing the most tanned leather are China, Italy, India, Brazil, Korea and Russia. Italy has been known for its tanning methods and it is said that the best leather is Italian leather.

The reason that Italian leather is so famous is that the manufacturers are using high quality leather, the best tanning methods and the best craftsmen to produce their leather products which are many times hand-made.

Having said this, when you’re looking to buy anything made of leather it is most important to look for great quality leather such as full-grain leather or top-grain leather.

There are some really high-quality leather manufacturers around the world, not just in Italy (just look at the Saddleback Leather Co.).

Where Can You Buy Great Quality Leather Luggage?

We have put together some of the best leather luggage options for you.

Check out this post and learn about how high-quality leather luggage is made.

I hope you enjoyed this informative post. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. I’ll get back to you soon.

10 Replies to “How Is Leather Made?”

  1. Excellent overview as to the basic rudiments that constitutes leather and various things to look out for that makes leather a quality one. The simple trick of discovering quality leather with droplet of water absorption is great and I will surely try it out when I go to make my next jacket purchase. Thanks for the interesting article.

  2. Leather is a great material, it can really last for many many years. It is made from animal skin. Like you said the most used animal skin is the cow, and it is also one of the most used animals in our daily life. Because cow gives us milk, meat, and leather. 

    I am just glad that the whole animal is useful to us because I can remember the days where people were hunting animals only for the skin and the rest of the animals were wasted. 

    Thanks for explaining the whole process of how leather is made and how to tell the differences in quality. I was looking for some leather products online and wanted to know what I’m getting into beforehand.

  3. Hi Petra,

    I am impressed; this article is so useful! Thank you!

    I just wanted to buy a real leather bag for my sister as it is her birthday soon and I didn’t know how to see if it’s fake or real leather. Well, I don’t think the salesman will let me put water on the bag:) But I’ll look the shape. Do you think we can tell if it’s leather just by the smell? I’ve read somewhere that real leather has a strong odor.

    Thank you for the excellent post!

    1. I’m not too sure whether we can rely on the smell as other materials can have a strong smell too… Maybe just stick to the manufacturer’s who deal in the best quality leather so you know what you get. 

      One of them is Saddleback Leather Co.

  4. Wow this is great information!! I honestly thought genuine leather was the real thing and the best of the best, but your explanation totally makes sense! It is interesting that the best quality leather has imperfections, but I love that a top quality leather bag or suitcase will be one of a kind because each animal skin is unique. 

    I see that Italian leather is the cream of the crop so once I can afford a bag, that is what’s I will go for. 

    I was wondering, however, about manufacturing. As a buyer should I be concerned about purchasing leather products from countries with child labor issues? Is there a resource for top leather companies who have ethical manufacturing practices? Maybe you could write an article if there isn’t. 

    Thanks again for a great read! 

  5. This is the first time that I learned about different leather types. To he honest, I thought that items being labeled as genuine leather is what a buyer should look for. I never knew about Full grain or Top grain as the best quality materials for bags, shoes, belts etc. 

    It’s amazing how too much work is put through just to make a full grain leather. No wonder why it is so expensive but I think it’s a great investment to have bags or accessories in full or top grain because of its high quality and durability. 

    Thanks for sharing us how to differentiate leather types and how to check its authenticity. It will always be in fashion so I think it’s very wise to know how to distinguish high and low quality leather.  

    1. You and me both! I didn’t know about the distinction either. I would’ve looked for genuine leather too because it just sounds like the proper thing. But now we know better 🙂

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