Choosing my leathers
When I had to choose the right leather for my project I was starting my journey from scratch. As I did not had much of an idea I was first looking just for the right colour and the right “feel” in my hands. By going through different shops that were selling leathers I noticed, that it was harder than expected to find the right leather for my brand.
The reason was, that I was only interested by those leathers, that had still a natural touch on them. That would feel like a real product in my hands. These leathers were all vegetable tanned leathers. But most of the other leathers are in fact chrome-tanned products. So what is the difference between these two.
Chrome tanned leather
Chrome tanned leathers are mostly used today in fashion. They are produced in days and are therefore much cheaper than the vegetable tanned leathers. The use of chromium salts makes this process possible, but this salts are sadly also bad for the environment and even for humans. The skins come out of the process as light blue and pale. So they need to be dyed and painted to receive the final look. This leathers can often be identified by a blue colour inside the leather and a bad chemical smell. Because of its chemical production and dyeing they have a more “plastic” feel and do not change much due to the environmental effects like humidity, sun and water. Products made with chrome tanned leathers usually do not get much of a patina over time. This leathers are considerably weaker and might break easier than there equivalent from vegetable tanned leather. Most products you will find today on the market are being produced with chrome tanned leathers.
Vegetable tanned leather
Vegetable tanned leathers are being produced in big drums and natural ingredients. This process is the traditional method and take up to 4 weeks, therefore this leathers are much more cost intensive. Only the most prestigious brands today are using this leathers still. The natural appearance of this leather have a similar colour as the human skin and comes straight out of the drums in this colour. Vegetable tanned leathers usually only have a very subtle natural smell. The leathers are vulnerable to sun and water exposure and will develop a natural patina over time. They are more resistant and stronger than chrome tanned products.
The layers of the hides
The only choice I could make to get natural leather was the vegetable tanned leather. But this leather is harder to find, as today around 95% of all produced leathers are chrome tanned. So I was looking for the 5% niche. But still in this niche there are differences. So while I was thinking, that a leather is simply a piece of skin with a different thickness, I had to recognise, that even that was not true. The skin of the cow is often being split up, to make more profit out of it. Leather can be up to 3.5 mm thick and being sliced up in different parts. So the leathers, that I could use are being categorised as the following:
Full grain leather
This is the top layer of the skin. It is the strongest and most flexible part of the skin. The natural appearance of the leather is visible. So you can spot the pores, veins and even small bites from insects on it. The surface is a bit more porous than the other layers and develop a nice patina quickly. This part of the leather is the most exclusive you can purchase.
For the top grain leather, the very first layer is being removed. This leaves the leather still with a sufficient strength but often the missing grain have to be plated artificially afterwards. This part is not as strong and durable as the full grain leather, but still an considerable option. It is mostly used to create a more homogenous look.
Thats the part of the leather, when the whole top layer have been removed. It doesn’t have any grain at all and is very fragile. There are cases, when the use of this layer is possible, for an example as a lining, when it is not exposed to stress. The stamp genuine leather can be found very often on fashion products, but is more likely a sign of poor quality.
Like particle board shouldn’t be really considered as wood, this is an artificial product of scraps of leather bonded together, eventually stamped with a grain plate and finally sprayed with colour.
Though not all leathers can be used as full grain, because of their poor quality, like 85% of them, I went for the full grain leathers. But even though full grain vegetable tanned leather seemed to be already a challenge. I was not looking for leather that was full of stains and other odds. To get a clean look of my final products I also had to move away from the 4th grade I was finding in the local stores and go for the 1th and 2th grade leathers. Only those had such a clean surface, that I could make my products out of it.
Coming to this stage I recognised still differences in the leathers I was getting as samples. The grain and the colour of the leather was quite different from one to another. So while I thought cow is cow, I was wrong. Even the race of the cow and the age of the animal change the final look of the product.
And the tannery?
And even though I was feeling like i set up all possible variables, the colour of the natural vegetable tanned full grain Novillo hides in 1.6-1.8 mm turned out to be different. So choosing the right tannery to get the mild tone necessary for my sun pattern was finally my last step for finding the right tannery.