What is good leather quality?
Leather is a natural durable and flexible material created by tanning animal rawhides and skins. The most common raw material is cattle hide. It can be produced at manufacturing scales ranging from artisan to modern industrial scale.
Leather is used to make a variety of articles, including footwear, automobile seats, clothing, bags, book bindings, fashion accessories, and furniture. It is produced in a wide variety of types and styles and decorated by a wide range of techniques. The earliest record of leather artifacts dates back to 2200 BC.
What is good leather quality?
It is easy to identify the vast differences in skin quality that exist from one species to another. Leather is not always equal in quality. Gender, age, nutrition, feeding and general care all affect an animal’s skin. Also there may be differences within a skin of one animal. Below we explain how some of these factors can affect skin quality.
Differences in quality of cow leather (but also applies to other species):
- Age: The quality of hides from older animals is generally poorer than that of younger animals.
- Gender: Female hides have a denser fibre structure and a finer grain structure.
- Gender specific activities: The stability of the skin’s fibre structure deteriorates the more often a male animal mates and, for a female, the number of times she gives birth. Castrated oxen tend to have a finer skin structure.
- Nutrition: Fresh forage promotes better quality skin.
- Animal husbandry: The skin of animals kept on open pastures has a superior texture.
- Climate: A harsh and cold climate promotes a good skin quality.
Leather is used for many different applications. As car leather, for shoes, for leather straps and belts, for leather suits or buttery soft leather gloves. Diverse demands are placed on leather, depending on its use. Furniture leather should be easy to maintain, while being soft and warm. Shoe leather should be robust, waterproofed, soft, heat-retaining and breathable. Car leather should be easy to maintain and should be impervious to heat, cold and wear.
However it’s used, leather should be durable and easy to clean. It should not tear, bleach, smell unpleasant or contain pollutants. These are the essential “leather qualities” or “leather properties”.
However, leather can’t be soft, robust and easy to clean and maintain all at the same time. Neither can it be paper thin and soft and also tear-proof.
In particular, the sensitivity of especially high quality leather, such as the soft aniline leather of a luxury leather jacket, of exotic leather or of an expensive set of furniture is often misjudged. Because the object was so expensive customers therefore expect that it would be very easy to clean and maintain the leather. But quite the opposite is true. Valuable leathers are as sensitive as silk. With regular use the beauty diminishes rapidly, while incorrect cleaning can even ruin the material.
Car leather is considered to be particularly robust. Most of the vehicle manufacturers require more than 40 quality criteria that must be fulfilled. Stringent wear tests must be passed. It must be resistant to suntan lotion and bug spray. Many chemicals are not allowed to be used and the leather emission level is tested. As a result, the leather is extremely durable, but no longer soft and warm to the touch.
The tanner and the producer of a leather object therefore should establish their own, verifiable quality parameters, depending on the desired properties of leather. These parameters should take into account the animal species and the rawhide. Differences in the quality of the individual sections of a skin, including the possibility of skin damage when cutting, must also be considered. Only a limited quantity of skins can be worked upon at any given time during the manufacturing process of leather and all of them do not behave the same in each run. Often the tanner will need to make minor changes during the process, which can lead to deviations from one batch to another. Differences can be detected depending on the quality control limits set.
Apart from the production quality, the longevity of leather depends on certain other factors too. An important element for long-lasting pleasure of a a leather object is the handling of it. If leather is regularly cleaned and maintained and not excessively overused and if the basic rules in dealing with leather are respected, you will prolong the enjoyment of this durable and robust material.
Standards of quality leather
There are countless national and international standards to determine the quality of leather. Also, the labelling of leather products is regulated by national and international standards. Additionally, many leather manufacturing and processing companies have extra internal standards and requirements.
Overall, the standards set for the quality of leather are correct and necessary. But they are also filled with a lot of grey areas, loopholes and weaknesses.
In Europe, confusing rules exist on labelling of split leather. In some cases, the type of leather must be declared and in some cases not. In Germany for instance, coated split leather is used in vehicles, without the obligation to inform the customer. An end user cannot differentiate between the two. When the surface of split leather is embossed with a grain structure it is virtually impossible to tell the difference. In such cases, the standards must do more to ensure transparency, so the customer knows exactly what type of leather they are getting.
Standards are often referred to when seeking a verifiable solution or to reach verdicts in legal disputes. However, they are inconsistent, ambiguous and open to interpretation. They do not mention when one particular rule or standard should take priority over the other. An end consumer must be able to find out the quality of the material and be able to compare prices and qualities. The leather standards and norms must do more to protect the end consumer by ensuring dealers and manufacturers provide clear, transparent information.