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Leather Quality 101

Have you ever bought a leather belt or bag that looked great on the shelf, only to have the leather crack or tear too soon after you bought it?  It makes you wonder if there is a way to tell the good leather from the sub-par.  Today’s post will explore two aspects of leather quality: the type of leather and the tanning process, in the hope that as an informed shopper you can avoid products that will just let you down later.

The four types of leather

This is the biggest determiner of a leather’s quality.  The type of leather tells you how it was processed and what part of the hide it’s made from.

Full Grain and Top Grain– If you’re looking for the best of quality, you’re going to want Full Grain leather, with the runner-up being Top Grain.  Both are made from the top layer of skin, with full grain having the top layer fully intact.  These leathers are more durable, and full grain in particular maintains the natural uniqueness of the hide of the animal, and ages more beautifully over time.

Genuine Leather – This doesn’t simply mean that the leather is “real” and not imitation: it has specific meaning for the quality of the leather.  Genuine leather is made from the bottom layer of the hide, called the “corium.”  It can be smooth or rough, it’s less durable than leather with grain, and it doesn’t carry with it all the irregularities and natural beauty of the hide.  Suede is a common example of genuine leather.

Bonded Leather–This is the one you want to avoid.  It’s made by pressing together all the bits and pieces of leather and just refinishing the product.


In short, you’re going to want to find companies who use leather that was tanned long enough.  Once a hide is processed, it is tumbled in a tanning drum with oils, preservatives, and coloring in order to give the leather its look, but also its durability.  Some tanners save money by not tanning the hide for as long as it should be.  You’ll actually be able to see an almost blue color to the inside of the leather when you look at a cross-section: the oils and preservatives didn’t penetrate deep enough.  Because of this some manufacturers cheat by painting the edges of the leather or sewing the edges inward.  You’ll begin to see the difference after a while, though, in the product’s durability. It will begin wearing and tearing much sooner than the piece of leather that was properly tanned.

It can take a little know-how to be able to spot good leather when you see it.  But one perspective is that if a company is using high quality leather, they’ll be proud enough to tell you.  Those who have little to say about their leather probably have a reason.

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