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Buying Leather : Tips and tricks when you're buying leather

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Don't get caught out: There are a lot of tricks out there that mass produced leather goods manufacturers use to make you think you're buying quality goods!

Tip #1 - Don't get sucked in by branding

Those immaculate bags lined up on a shelf in a high end store......beware!

Yes, there are a lot of fine leather goods producers out there but there are a lot of tricksters!

Some bags which look like leather and cost £2000 are, in fact, just painted canvas covered in logos and they're not even leather. So STOP. Ask yourself does it smell like leather, move like leather, feel like leather? If it doesn't shout out leather straight away, walk away.

Tip #2 - Made with real leather

Even if a tiny portion of the bag or wallet is made with leather stores can say it's "Made with Real Leather". Some wallet even just have leather labels and the rest is printed plastic made to look like leather.

They can use the phrase "Made with leather" when in fact it's just leather dust glued together with a polyurethane binder (bonded leather) and plated flat. The fibres are then rolled together and backed onto a paper with adhesive.

They get even tricker .... they can plate it with a leather texture to add that well loved leather look to your bag, making your job even harder.

If any leather bag costs less than £40 you really do need to stop and think, is this quality leather or dust! No one wants their £2000 bag breaking down and releasing the bonding chemicals, cracking or peeling do they?

Bonded leather is made up of scrap leather and polyurethane.

Tip #3 - Buy Full Grain

Essentially there are two layers of leather to gen up on for now.

Full grain (upper most surface) is the highest quality leather and the most expensive because they haven't removed the top surface of the leather, which is the strongest layer. It WILL have imperfections.

Full grain leather will have bug bite marks, scratches and scars where the animal has lived and had a good scratch on a tree. A lot of manufacturers don't like this because their bags won't look uniform on the shelf and if they were to cut around it, they'd leave a lot of waste.

Equally in our perfect society, buyers think that this imperfect surface means that the leather is of a poor quality - when in fact it's totally the opposite. Character = quality and strength.

Next up and below Full Grain you get Top Grain (snuffled or corrected grain) and genuine leather - these have had the top layer removed to make it prettier and more uniform. Manufacturers like working with this cheaper hide, because ....erm's cheaper and as mentioned above they can emboss textures and patterns into the leather to make it, bizarrely, look like leather again, but more importantly ... uniform. Don't get me wrong, it's not terrible leather it's just not as durable or authentic as Full Grain leather. If you're paying full grain prices, make sure you get full grain!

Tip #4 - Strap and belt stitching

If you see machine stitching running on both sides of a strap or a belt..... take heed!

This 'decoration' is often disguising a strengthener inside because the leather is either poor quality or not even leather at all. Either that, or they've glued two very thin sheets of leather either side of some cork, bonded leather or fabric. That way they can call it real leather but only the outer surfaces are indeed that.

And yes, I've cut open a "genuine leather" belt from a well-know high street store to find fabric inside.

Tip #5 - Painted edges

Are the edges painted with rubberised plastic? This is the cheapest way to get a good finish, and by cheap in the leather world that generally means quickest. As above, it is also is a super slick way at disguising the fact your solid, one piece leather belt .... is in fact multiple layers and only 20% leather. Not all plastic edges mean doom though but it's a pretty good starting point to eliminate the tat out there.

Real leather, and I mean real here, can be burnished by friction. Burnishing with beeswax is the traditional way to smooth an edge, adding an element of waterproofing to the edge as well. It will not look as immaculate as a painted edge but then a burnished edge has nothing to hide and is celebrating the fact it's 100% leather.

Tip #6 - Faux and the environment

My final tip.

OK so I get that people want to have an alternative option but if you think faux is better for the then environment then you'll need to do some research first.

In a very small nutshell, faux leather comes in a range of alternatives, bamboo, pineapples, apples, leaves, mushrooms BUT they're pretty much bonded with polyurethane, aka PLASTIC (PU biodegradability 20-200 years).

As far as my research goes, cork is the most sustainable of the faux leather options.

If you want to buy something which is biodegradable and natural buy real leather (0.05-45 years biodegradability) or cotton (1-5 months). For faux - go cork as it's antimicrobial, anti-allergenic and unlike plastic and other materials, cork is naturally both water and stain resistant.


So shop knowledgeably folks

Hopefully this has been a useful blog post so you can shop wisely and avoid the pitfalls many high streets love to put out there for their own financial benefit. If you've any questions on something you've seen do drop me a message and I'll do my best to answer. Take care and have an excellent weekend.

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