Leather looks good, feels great, performs as no man-made product can, and lasts a lifetime. The more you learn about leather, the more you will understand its many advantages.
Leather is a by-product of the meat-packing industry. Cattle have never been raised for their hides alone. In fact, if not for the leather industry, this remarkable resource would go to waste. Leather is one of the most durable, environmentally-sound, value-conscious upholstery materials available. Leather stands up to wear-and-tear that would ravage other upholstery materials, it defies fashion trends that render fabrics obsolete, its processing has minimal impact on the environment. In every respect, leather is the natural choice.
The Natural Beauty Marks of Leather:
Leather is the fastest growing upholstery material used in the United States today because of its strength and pleasant feel. Only genuine leather carries natural markings unique to each hide. These are nature's beauty marks on leather and your guarantee that 100% leather has been used in our furniture. These hallmarks give leather its distinction and elegance, as well as proof positive that your furniture was crafted with genuine leather.
The most difficult thing about buying leather furniture is assessing its quality. Unless you really know leather, it is very difficult to look at a piece of furniture and be able to tell if the leather is of a high quality.
- Types of Leather:
- Pure Aniline Leather: Leather tanned and aniline dyed with no finished coat
- Full Aniline Leather: Tanned, aniline dyed and finished with a transparent seal coat.
- Aniline Pus Leather: Tanned, aniline dyed and finished with a seal coat, color base and top coat.
- Spray-Finished/Pigmented Leather: Leather sprayed with a seal coat, colored base and top coat for a uniform finish, must be buffed and embossed.
- Pull-Up: Full top-grain leathers aniline dyed and finished with special oils or waxes to add unique softness and color inconsistency with age.
What is not leather?
There are many types of leather items sold and described as leather, when in actual fact they are imitations. Some of the more common ones are described below.
Bonded Leather Fibre
'Hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact... If the tanned hide is disintegrated mechanically and/or chemically into fibrous particles, mall pieces or powders and then, with or without a binding agent is made into sheets, such sheets are not leather'.
It is possible to see the incorporation of several material types within this bonded leather structure as different colour types.
- Uniform cutting area
- Not leather
- Poor flexibility
- Not durable
- Little strength
- Looks cheap
'A product where the finish thickness does not exceed 30% but is in excess of 0.15mm' The darker region toward the grain side of the leather contains the actual coating, which can be constructed with various chemical materials, such as a polyurethane mix. As the finish thickness exceeds 0.15mm, it cannot be termed genuine leather.
- Consistent surface
- Lacks natural look
- Not porous
- Physical performance, flex etc (low)
The main features of laminated leathers are that they are a composite of two or more layers, where the laminate has been affixed to the flesh side. Also a difference between this leather type and a coated leather is that the laminate accounts for greater than 30% of the leathers overall thickness.
- Consistent surface
- Some flexibility and strength
- Colour and light fastness good
- Lacks natural look
- Not porous
- Physical performance not as good (tends to crack)
There are alternatives that don't attempt to imitate leather and there are substitutes which are designed to imitate leather. These substitutes are legal if sold as such, but become fakes when they are passed off as leather.
Another product sometimes falsely described as leather is made by compacting leather fibres with a binding agent to hold them together. Because the fibres are stuck together rather than interwoven the product lacks the flexibility and durability of real leather. Legally this material must be described as 'bonded leather fibre'.
You'd be surprised the first time you see a full hide. Not only are they much larger than you think, they vary much more than you'd expect too. Leather from different parts of the animal varies in its characteristics, and this has to be taken into account when using leather in products. The hide thickness varies all over the animal, and to get it to the right thickness it is usually split on a special cutting machine or buffed to an even thickness. The main parts of the hide are shown in the diagram below Shoulder - the shoulder is thick and strong but tends to crease easily as this part of the hide is affected by movements of the head Butt - the fibres in this part of the hide are tightly packed and hence the strongest part of the hide Belly - this part of the hide is quite thin and has a much looser fibre structure than the back, and often stretches under stress. Axillae - these are like the human armpits - they move a lot - so the fibre structure is quite loose, making it even more prone to loosening than the belly areas.
From Hide to Hair
Different parts of a hide have different properties in terms of strength, flexibility and durability. This makes some parts of a hide more suitable for use in sofa manufacturing than others.
For a material that is so versatile, stylish and practical you could be fooled into thinking it is an extremely complicated material...far from it! There are basically just three main materials from which hides and skins are made :
- Water 60-65%
- Protein 25-30%
- Fats 5-10%
The protein is mainly collagen (found in many cosmetics) and it is this collagen that is transformed into leather by the tanning process. In good shape... Raw hides and skins have four main parts - an epidermis, grain, corium and flesh - as shown in the diagram below :- Two of these layers - the epidermis (which is a thin protective layer of cells during the life of an animal) and fleshy remains - are removed during tanning by a process called liming. This leaves just the grain and the corium, the interesting parts!
The grain layer is made of collagen and elastin protein fibres (found in many moisturisers and facial creams), and its structure varies quite a bit depending on the age, breed and lifestyle of the animal. The grain carries many distinctive marks such as insect bites, growth marks and wound scars giving the leather a unique appearance. The corium is packed with collagen protein fibres, arranged in larger bundles and interwoven to give the structure great strength, excellent elasticity and durability. The thickness of the corium increases with age which is why calfskins are thinner, smoother and softer than the hides of mature animals. Hides from cows are smoother, thinner and softer than the hides of mature male bull hides which are thick, tough, course grained and very strong.
Thick hides are often too thick for their end use and so they sometimes have to be split layerwise through the corium to give what we call a ‘grain split' - used for grain leather - and a 'flesh split', used mainly for suede leather. Another little trick is to apply an artificial grain layer to the flesh split to make it look like grain leather! However the strength of these so called 'finished split' leathers is reduced since the corium lacks the strength of the corium found in the grain layer.
Quality Assurance Testing
Quality leather producers routinely test the durability of each batch of leather with these six tests. Although the testing takes time and is expensive, quality leather producers consider it money well spent.