Leather is a coveted item for it’s luxurious and durable finish and also one of the most counterfeited. If you have been wanting to buy that leather jacket or boots, but are wondering whether your high investment is going to be worth it in the long run, or are worried about not getting ripped off with fake leather, then this is your guide to everything you need to know about leather.
How is leather made?
Real leather is obtained from animals, and mostly from cows around the world as it is most easily available as a by-product of meat and dairy industry. China, Italy, India, Brazil, Korea and Russia are the top 6 countries producing tanned leather and from them, other manufacturers obtain the hides and send to other countries for processing, like to Italy renowned for its tanning methods. Then it can be shipped again to some other place for manufacturing the item. Some other types of leather used like sheep skin, lamb skin, etc. can be read about here.
Tanning is the process of making the animal hide usable by removing hair, making it soft and getting rid of the smell. So, once the hide is obtained from the animal, it is cleaned, tanned, then treated with dyes, softening agents and things like wax to lend waterproof properties depending on the final use. The finished leather material then goes to the manufacturer. For more information on how leather is made and some high standards of European countries in raising animals perfect for making leather goods, read here.
Why is leather expensive?
To obtain leather from an animal means raising the animal to an age and size large enough to get substantial amount of leather out of it. This means obtaining the land to raise animals, feeding them and making sure they don’t get sick and don’t get any scars on the body. This all costs a good amount of money and is reflected in the price of the raw material making it more costlier then most raw materials out there. Leather then needs proper chemicals to treat it to become usable and tools to work with a hard and heavy material. From there, add the costs of manufacturing, and most high end leather goods will be hand made to an extent, and the high markups of brand labels, and you get a not so cheap leather item in the end. But there are different grades of leather and you can certainly find something to fit your bill.
Is leather waterproof?
Leather is water resistant to an extent, so being stuck in a light rain will not spoil your item, but prolonged or repeated exposure to water can stain the leather, fade the upper dye or stretch the material. It is therefore wise to make the leather waterproof by using a waterproofing spray so that it doesn’t absorb the liquid. Also, make sure to pat dry your leather item with a towel as soon as you return back home. Coating with a light layer of beeswax or vaseline is what many people do, but if it’s your first time start by doing a patch test on a hidden corner. The wax should be allowed to dry for about an hour or so, and than removed gently with a cloth.
Are leather jackets warm?
A leather jacket can be your second skin and will keep you warm. However, it is not entirely suitable for a very cold weather on its own without a layer under it. In general, the best way to dress for cold temperatures is by layering to trap the body’s heat and insulate well against external elements, so your leather jacket will most likely need a separate layer in between the jacket and shirt. It is a good idea to invest in a leather jacket with an inner lining of wool or thick quilt if wearing it in cold temperature is going to be your major use.
What are the different types of leather?
In the world of leather, there are four of its types – Full Grain, Top Grain, Genuine and Bonded; with full-grain being the upper portion of the skin and the most expensive. When the upper layer is sanded and resurfaced, we get top-grain. It is less expensive and less durable then full-grain, but still of fairly good quality. The lower layer of the skin is what is genuine leather or suede mostly is. This is a less desirable layer because it is low on strength and hence a lot less durable. The least desirable quality is of the bonded leather, which is just scraps of various leather pieces joined or stitched together to often a fabric. An item made of bonded leather can start cracking very early on. Read more detail about different types of leather.
How to identify real vs fake leather?
Now that you know the different types of leather, it is important to know how to spot fake leather. Though the link talks about more detailed points, for the sake of brevity below are a few quick and important pointers –
- Real leather will have small pores and will wrinkle where pressed (resembling the properties of skin) whereas fake leather will often have a smooth taut surface.
- Real leather will absorb a drop water put on top whereas fake leather will not.
- If you perform a small flame test (only possible for furniture and large items and not clothes), then real leather will burn with a slight char like smell whereas fake leather will catch a small fire like plastic.
How to clean real leather?
Contrary to popular belief, it is fairly easy and straightforward to clean leather at home. Whatever accessory you own, bag, shoes, furniture, etc. start by dusting with a clean cloth, followed by a wipe with a mixture of mild dish soap and warm water. Pay attention to not use excess water and avoid water dripping on the surface as sometimes that can stain the leather too. Next wipe off with a clean damp cloth to remove the soap. Finally, pat it dry. After cleaning, you should follow with a leather conditioner as that will prevent the leather from drying and cracking. More here on cleaning an ink stain or an oil stain from leather.
Can real leather peel or crack?
If looked after properly, leather can last you a lifetime. Otherwise, it can crack, peel and stain. A full-grain or top-grain leather itself will most likely not crack but the top coat provided to dye the leather a certain color or give a texture can start cracking with time. Leather can certainly darken overtime though with use as it absorbs more moisture or sweat. Use dedicated leather products to periodically clean and condition the leather and your item should last ages. Just like real skin, leather needs to be nourished or else it can dry up and start showing cracks.
Where to buy real leather?
A high price doesn’t mean you are getting high quality leather. Make sure you know the different leather types mentioned above and can spot the real and fake one, so you can set your expectation accordingly. Do ask the seller about the type of leather, as often times the tag will mention 100% leather even though only parts of it will be made of real leather. Having said that, you can buy leather at almost any big store. Brands usually carry more of fake leather items and designers will carry most of real leather stuff. Depending on the label it can cost anywhere from a few thousands to a few tens of thousands. Many cities like Kanpur, Agra, Chennai, Jalandhar etc. that are the leather hubs of India will have local leather stores which can make you a real leather jacket for cheap.