Leather is a material which is produced by tanning hides of animals preserving their natural fibre structure. This structure is the basis for the high tearing and tensile resistance of leather. Its softness and elasticity depend on the type of hides, the tanning and finishing and are the basis for the durability of leather bags.
Only a few types of animals are raised for the sake of their hides. Normally these are a byproduct of the meat industry and would have to be disposed if they were not transformed by tanning into a valuable material. This fact and the longevity are the main aspects why handbags, backpacks and business cases are sustainable products.
Leather can be distinguished according to
For our leather bags we consider all aspects of sustainability. Therefore, we don’t use skins of endangered species like wild living crocodiles, snakes or other protected species. Our leather is made out of the skin of cattle raised for their meat. Their skins are a by-product of the meat production which would be considered as waste. By tanning the hides are transformed into a valuable material serving many purposes.
Classifying leather according to its final use
Most leathers can be used for a number of products. So, a leather for clothes can also be used for soft bags or shoes, but generally certain features are specially adjusted according to the final product.
Following categories can be distinguished
- Leather for bags
- Leather for clothes
- Leather for furniture
- Leather for shoes
- Leather for belts and saddles
Leather for bags
Generally, the leather used for ladybags, business bags or small leather goods is made out of the skins of cows or calves. The tanning depends both on the quality of the skins and on the type of product to be made. For an exclusive shoulderbag only top-grade hides can be used. Then the natural structure of the skin should remain visible. This is the case if the finish is done with transparent anilin colours. So only selected hides with a very even look as the hides of young animals or calves can be chosen but using a top selection will also increase the price of the bags.
If the selection of the hides is less good the leather can be embossed or dyed with pigment colours. The print will cover the irregularities or defects and make the leather look more even.
Pigment colours and prints change the touch of the leather. It loses the nice, warm feeling you appreciate when you touch a bag made out of leather with an anilin finish.
Leather can also be covered with a coating. For the lower section of hides – the socalled split – such coating is often used to produce a very homogenous and even surface. But such a leather will lose its natural characteristics and become comparable to artificial leather.
Leather for clothes
For clothes the leather must be soft and smooth. The thickness of the leather is only 0.8 – 1mm, so the skins of sheep can also be used. This kind of leather is called Nappa.
For clothes the finish of the leather should be water repellent, and the colour should not come off when the jacket is used. Therefore, the leather should be dyed through in a drum so that the original colour cannot be scratched away easily.
To make the leather very soft it will be milled in rotating drums.
Leather for furniture
The comfort of a leather chair or a seat inside a car depends on the nice warm and comfortable feeling when you sit down for a longer time. This will depend on the finish and the vapour permeability of the leather.
Leather for furniture of car seats should be water repellent and easy to clean. These properties can be only achieved using a protective finish. So, the task of the tanner is to compromise between the wish for comfort and the needs of maintenance.
Car seats therefore often have perforated sections with a higher air permeability.
Leather for shoes
The biggest percentage of leather is used for the production of shoes.
According to the part of the shoe three different types of leather are used:
- The upper leather
- Lining leather
- Sole leather.
Shoes should protect the feet and keep them warm. The upper leather should have enough flexibility to allow the movement of the feet. The leather used for lining should be soft and thin. For the lining therefore sheep leather may be used. On the contrary the leather used for the sole must be durable and strong so that the shoe can be used for a long time. The comfort of the leather shoe will depend on the vapour permeability and water absorption of the leather. These characteristics are decisive advantages artificial leather does not have.
Bridle leather is a vegetable leather with a thickness of 2 – 3mm used for belts, horse accessories and saddles.
Bridle leather is very strong and was used for many technical purposes such as driving belts.
Leather from different animals
Most of the leather for bags has been made from the skins of cows or calves.
You also might be interested in this article: Leather colours and prints
Cow leather for bags is normally either vegetable or chrome tanned. Tanners often use a combination of different tanning agents to achieve the features the product requires. The possibilities of dyeing and printing allow to adjust the look to any fashion trend.
Calf is the leather you get from animals which are less than one year old. The structure of the skin is the same as that of older animals, but much finer. Therefore, the hides have a very even look and a high elasticity. Due to the high price it is used only for luxury bags.
Suede may be the leather made of the skin of deer. But also cow leather may be called Suede if the surface has been buffed.
Suede leather has a sporty look and a velvety feeling.
The skin of pigs has a very typical structure. Pigskin is often used as lining for briefcases.
Goat and Sheepskin
Due to the thickness of the skin of goats and sheep the leather can be used for very soft bags or as lining. The bag production is also concentrated in countries where the animals are kept.
Ostrich, crocodile and other exotic skins
We do not use skins of these animals because most of them are endangered species.
For more information about the tanning of hides of different categories of animals see Fuchs, K. and M., Derichs, L.: Faszination Leder, 2nd edition, Frankfurt 2019.
Leather categories according to the method of tanning
Leather can be tanned in pitches or in barrels, and it can be tanned with vegetable or chrome tanning agents.
For further details about the tanning of leather see also our article "Tanning – how our leather is tanned".
Vegetable tanned leather
Up to the end of the 19th century normally vegetable agents were used for tanning which were produced from wood, barks or fruits. Hides and tanning agents were kept in barrels filled with water and kept for weeks so that the agents could slowls penetrate into the structure o the hides.
The time for this process later was reduced using rotating drums which allowed to intensify the penetration of the tanning agents.
The advantage of vegetable tanning is the fact that the amount of environmental deteriorating substances is relativly small.
The majority of leather today is tanned with chrome agents which allow to shorten the tanning process. By milling the leather can become very soft.
Today quite often mineral, synthetic and vegetable agents are combined to achieve certain characteristics of a leather according to the products it will be used for. For a handbag the leather should be soft, for a business bag it should be more stiff.
The broth used for chrome tanning has to be disposed or neutralised very carefully to avoid any environmental damage. (See Reich, Günther: Ökologische Aspekte bestimmter Gerbverfahren, Forschungsgemeinschaft Leder, 2009).
- Beuth Verlag Technische Regel RAL 060 A2:2012-03 Abgrenzung des Begriffs Leder gegenüber anderen Materialien – RAL Vereinbarung
- Fuchs, K. and M., Derichs, L.: Faszination Leder, 2nd edition, Frankfurt 2019
- Hans Hegenauer: Fachkunde für Leder verarbeitende Berufe, 9th edition, Essen 2012
- Reich, Günther: Ökologische Aspekte bestimmter Gerbverfahren, Herausgeber Forschungsgemeinschaft Leder 2009