What Are the Different Types of Leather That Exist Today? | People have worn animals skins since the dawn of time, but the Egyptians first discovered how to tan leather around 7,000 years ago.
Back in the day, leather was a handy, albeit hard-won, benefit of eating meat, and what you saw was what you got. Nowadays, leather is still a by-product of the meat industry, but it’s also become a sought-after and expensive commodity.
That’s why it’s important to know the different types of leather before you go shopping for your next pair of shoes or a purse.
Grades of Leather
Since leather comes from a living creature, no two pieces of leather are the same. There are some ways to ensure you get the best bang for your buck when buying leather, though.
Unless you know the difference between the grades of leather, you could easily end up paying top dollar for substandard leather. Here’s how to tell the difference:
Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather available. It comes from the outer layer of the hide and has densely packed fibers and fine grain.
This type of leather usually has small natural imperfections that make each piece unique. Full-grain leather without imperfections is extremely rare.
With full-grain leather, tanners remove only the hair from the hide during the tanning process. The result is a highly durable material suitable for hard-wearing use.
Full-grain leather is the best leather for high-end saddlery, footwear, and upholstery.
Top-grain leather is similar to full-grain leather since it comes from the top layer of the hide. The difference is that this layer’s sanded or buffed to remove any imperfections.
The result is leather that’s easily shaped and dyed. This type of leather is popular for wristwatch straps, wallets, handbags, and book casings.
Genuine leather comes from any layer of the hide and is also sanded or buffed to perfection. It’s used for a wide range of things like clothing, footwear, belts, and other accessories.
This type of leather comes from the lower levels of the hide. It’s called split-grain because it’s the bottom layer that’s left after manufacturers remove (split) the more desirable top sections from the hide.
Split grain isn’t as strong as the other types of leather, but it’s flexible and soft. That means it’s suitable for far more embossing and coloring options.
Suede, which is a popular material for shoes, also comes from split-grain leather.
This type of leather comes from various leather scraps bonded together with polyurethane or latex. The amount of leather in each piece varies considerably, so there’s no guarantee of quality.
Some manufacturers use bonded leather as filler or to create couches and other furniture.
Types of Leather Styles
Wait there’s more. Manufacturers can enhance these basic types of leather even more during the leather tanning process to create appealing textures and looks.
These are the most popular leather styles:
This is high-quality leather with rich natural color variations. It’s produced via natural oil tannage.
Tanners produce Navigator leather by infusing the hide with oil to give it a smooth, rich hand feel.
You can rub out any scratches easily and the natural color variations that occur with wear only enhance the appeal of this type of leather.
Harness leather is largely untreated with oils. It’s extremely tough and developed natural color variations over time.
Nappa or Smooth
Tanners dye Nappa leather with water-soluble colorants that resist discoloration from light. This leather is super smooth with a minimal grain texture.
Pebble grain is a feature of both double-face luxe leather and natural leather. It creates a unique appearance and is also scratch-resistant.
Nubuck comes from top-grain calfskin, which is extremely resilient. This leather is naturally thick and tough, so the outer layer’s refined and buffed to create a velvety-soft finish.
Natural leather stays in its organic state, it’s not dyed before going to market, like most other leathers. This type of leather develops an appealing worn look over time.
Signature leather is also undyed, but it’s buffed to a smooth shine that gradually mattes over time. This type of leather is rich and supple.
The strong emphasis on ethical practices regarding animals has led to the rise of several other types of kinder leather. These are:
Vegan leather comprises plastic and plant materials and has no animal derivatives. So, while it’s kind to animals, it’s not sustainable at all and might even produce harmful emissions.
Apart from the animal aspects, variety is one of the major benefits of vegan leather. Plastic is a versatile material, so it offers infinite design opportunities.
Ethically Sourced Leather
Ethically sourced leather differs from vegan leather in several respects. Firstly, there’s no plastic involved in creating this leather. It’s the same as genuine leather, except it comes from animals that have died naturally and not at the slaughterhouse.
This makes ethically sourced leather more expensive than the mass-produced variety. It’s up to you whether you think this is a small price to pay for a clear conscience.
Enhance Your Look With Leather
Whichever types of leather you prefer, there’s no doubt that accessories made from this material can add elegance and flair to any outfit.
Leather’s a versatile option for shoes and handbags. You can easily match many outfits to one leather item, making it worth the substantial upfront cost of this durable material.
Browse our blog for more lifestyle tips and information on the latest business and travel trends.