How many times have we seen the advertisement claiming “Genuine leather” Or “Quality Leather”. Just what is Genuine Leather, or Quality Leather, how do I know I didn’t get ripped off?
First, what is leather. Leather simply stated is the skin of an animal. So as long as the material is made from the skin of an animal, they can claim “Genuine Leather”. Quality leather is a different story. When you finish reading this, you will be able to look at a leather garment and tell immediately if it is quality or not.
You may or may not have noticed that the flea markets, grocery stores, drug stores, and warehouse department stores have been selling the “Genuine Leather” Coats, Jackets, backpacks and luggage. They are of a patchwork design, and usually lined. These are typically made of lambskin leather and being sold for unreal cheap prices. There is nothing wrong with lambskin leather. In fact it is the leather of choice for any leather that is worn close to the skin. The lining too is a benefit if it is used for comfort or insulation. The patchwork design is the first indication that this is poor quality leather. The patchwork design is because they swept the scraps off the floor from the manufacture of other garments, fed them through a machine to sew the scraps together, created another sheet of leather and made more garments. The leather itself could made of various grades.
Let’s talk about grades of leather. There are 3 primary grades of leather:
Grade 1 or “full-Grain” clear, supple, and clean, is consistent in color, has the highest yield of over 90% and the surface is smoothest.
Grade 2 is less consistent in color, has a yield of 78% and the surface is slightly imperfect.
Grade 3 is a blotchy and very inconsistent in color, has a yield of 40% and the surface is very imperfect and will feel stiff, partly from the excessive coating needed to hide imperfections.
These grades are standard no mater what type of animal the leather came from. There are a lot of different types of animals that are used for leather. Everything from lamb to cow, and alligator to Ostrich. The two most popular for use in garments are lamb and cow. For the sake of this article we will discuss these two.
The softest, thinnest, most supple skin. A Buttery texture and finely grained. Stretches well and tends to reshape after wearing – has a type of memory. Drapes well, flows, and has good movement – very form fitting.
Higher-end leather-wear. Classy and more fashionable look.
LAMB TOUCH COW or COW NAPPA
Thin, Soft and supple – close in look and feel to lamb but is not lamb. A Smoother finish and finer texture to cow hide. Lightweight – has good movement and draping ability.
Sportswear and outerwear. Dressed-up, fashionable look. Coats skirts, pants, and vests.
Very tough wearing and durable. Heaviest of the cowhides. Very noticeable texture skin and grainy.
Mostly outerwear – especially jackets. Weekend casual, ready-to-wear.
Ok, now we know the different grades, and types of leather, how do we know we got the good stuff? First, use your eyes. A very good way to tell if you’re purchasing a garment of HIGH-quality leather is to look at the seams and needle marks. If they seem to be a different color than the garment itself this could mean that the garment is dyed on the surface only – surface-dyed as opposed to aniline-dyed leather (dyed on both sides).
Surface-dyed leather is much different to aniline-dyed leather because surface-dying is like adding a coat of paint to wood. It merely covers up the wood’s natural surface and defects. Aniline-dyed leather is like adding varnish to wood, varnish allows the woods natural beauty to shine through by penetrating the surface instead of covering it up. The natural beauty of high-quality leather is visible through a sheer, rich aniline dye.
Check the items for overall color and craftsmanship. While all skins contain some natural marks, there should not be any large unsightly blemishes on the piece you are inspecting. A good manufacturer of leather apparel will not use leather of 2nd or 3rd grade.
Next, use your nose. The garment should smell like leather, not chemicals. And while we are on the subject of chemicals, you want leather that has not been treated with Azo Dye. Azo Dye is toxic and has been linked to many skin reactions.
And lastly, feel it. Is it soft to the touch, is it smooth. It should be free of any bumps and it should flex easily. It should not be stiff and hard to bend.
Be sure to read my next article on how to care for your leather garments.