Leather is a strong, durable and a flexible material obtained from the tanning of various animal hides. The most common animal hides used for the production of leather are cattle, sheep, goats and equine animals. ‘Tanning’ refers to the chemical or physical treatment of the skin to make it harder, more durable and more workable. The leather industry is thousands of years old, and leather has been used historically for the production of many goods including weapons and armour. Today, leather is used for a wide variety of consumer goods such as clothes such as leather skirts and jackets, shoes, handbags, and other specialised equipment for recreational activities such as horse riding and rock climbing. The leather industry often comes under heavy criticism for its rampant animal cruelty and the inherent need for slaughtering animals for the production of leather. This article describes in detail the various types of leather and their applications.
The main types of leather can be identified as full-grain leather, split grain leather, suede leather, bonded leather, and faux leather. These each have unique properties, making them desirable over others for certain applications. The grade of the leather is generally decided while tanning or during the finishing of the leather fabric as the imperfections or splitting of the leather is one of the primary indicators of leather grade.
Full Grain Leather
This is the highest quality leather available and is therefore the most expensive. It is characterised by almost no imperfections in the skin of the leather and can be finished with various chemicals to be more durable such that it can last generations. This type of leather is used for high-end consumer goods such as premium wallets, belts and jackets.
Split Grain Leather
When the thick hide of an animal is split along the middle to increase the surface area of usable leather. In this process, the top layer is known as the top-grain leather and the bottom layer is known as split-grain leather. It should be noted that while full-grain leather is almost always top-grain leather, the inverse is not necessarily true. Since the splitting of the hide removes the “skin” texture of the leather, split grain leathers often contain artificially created creases and grooves to imitate the quality of natural top grain leather. It can be coated and painted to mimic the appearance of full grain leather or buffed to create suede leather.
Buffing split grain leather on both sides make them soft. This leather is used for clothing and shoes as the smoothness makes the leatherwear more comfortable against human skin. It is characterised by its softness and breathability. However, it is expensive and requires some maintenance to retain its appearance.
Faux leather is not a type of leather but rather an alternative, as it is generally entirely synthetic and used as an alternative to leather, which makes use of the skin of animals. This is often promoted as an eco-friendly and safe alternative to leather products.