Is Genuine Leather Genuine? Not All Leathers Are Created Equal
Leather is used to make various products and accessories we make use of, mainly due to its promising quality of strength and durability. But are there grades to leather? Can any kind be used to make just anything? What exactly is genuine leather and is it really genuine? You need the answers to these questions in order to be able to make the best quality choice of leather furniture the next time you purchase one. Let's have a quick look at an overview of the leather material together.
Leather is obtained from the hide of cattle. A cow is quite a big animal and a large area of cowhide can be obtained from just one. The hide originally is very thick and has to be cut into thinner layers before it can be used to make leather products. In this case, they are made into Chesterfield sofa, Leather Sofa, Leather Armchairs and Leather Trunks.
There are two layers that jointly make up the hide and they are the grain and the corium. In the corium, there are thinner layers of collagen fibers which have an elastic nature, but get thicker as they approach the grain region. Here, the fibers are arranged tightly close to one another and are more rigid in nature. As time goes by, the corium becomes thicker and thus, a full-grown cow would have a much thicker, rougher, and harder skin hide compared to that of a young calf.
FULL GRAIN LEATHER
The outer part of the grain is what we feel when we touch a cow. This part in its original form is referred to as a full grain. It is exposed to the environment and because of this, it can have marks and impressions from scars, insect bites, or brands. As a result of these, the outermost part of the grain is usually coarse and with so many irregularities that have to be made level and smooth by buffing. When leather undergoes this buffing treatment, it is referred to as a top grain. Although, full-grain leather is rough and spotted, because it is more durable and stronger than top grain leather, it is more expensive and demanded in the market. However, whether top-grain or full-grain, both are jointly referred to as grain leather.
GRAIN LEATHER TYPES
Grain leathers are further grouped into three classes which include aniline leather, semi-aniline leather, and protected leather. Soluble dyes are applied to the surface of aniline leathers while processing them and they are not coated or pigmented in order for them not to lose their texture and blemishes. As a result of this, they have the most natural leather appearance and form, but are prone to getting stained, faded, and scratched. Semi-aniline leathers, on the other hand, are processed in a similar manner as most bridle leathers, with coatings that cover up the markings and make their surfaces more regular and protected from getting scratches or stains. While protected leathers have non-leather pigments and coatings applied to their surfaces to fully protect them.
The part at the base of the leather, which at the corium or grain junction, is cut off from the grain, has a lot of names ascribed to it and this is a major source of confusion for a lot of people. Many call this base part of the leather genuine leather, but at the same time, genuine leather is used to refer to real leather, in differentiating it from artificially made leather. Some other names this bottom part of the leather is called are split leather, coated leather, painted leather, corrected leather, embossed leather and many more. Here, we would simply use split leather in referring to it. All protected split leathers are labeled as Genuine Leather all over the world, with half of the hide being synthetic, do you still preserve them as Genuine Leather?
FINISHED SPLIT LEATHER
After cutting out the split leather, it can still be sliced into thinner portions and used for several other things. Most of the time, the surface is coated with a polymer pigment and embossed to make it look like grain leather. When this is done, it is oftentimes named a finished split. However, grain leathers have far higher strength and durability than finished splits.
Split leather is also used to make suede, processed to have a napped surface, with a downy soft texture. Suede and nubuck are most times wrongly taken for one another because nubuck's texture is also similarly napped. However, nubuck is a grain leather and thus, has higher strength and durability, compared to suede. That notwithstanding, the soft texture of suede also makes it suitable for making certain products.
Bonded leather is not leather per se, as it is just the scraps and pieces of shredded leather, accumulated and reformed with a filler, and supported by embossing it with a polyurethane coating. It can easily fall apart, thus it is regarded as the lowest grade of leather and is very cheap to acquire. Bonded leather is used in most cut-price leather furniture and products, and even in some book bindings. Other names it is referred to as are blended leather or reconstituted leather.
Faux Leather is not even leather even though it had the word leather in it. It is simply another word for synthetic leather, PVC leather or PU leather. The based of the material is made of fabric finished off with polyurethane coating that makes it look exactly like a bonded leather. Other than ultra low price point, Faux Leather does not have any benefit of a genuine leather and they will eventually break up in matters of months!
HOW CAN YOU IDENTIFY REAL GRAIN LEATHER?
You can distinguish real grain leather from those made to look like it, such as bonded or split leather embossed to have a similar appearance as grain leather, in a number of ways. If on examining the leather, if it looks perfect and level, it probably has been embossed. Also, only real grain leather shows a pull-up effect, that is, a slight difference in color when it is folded or bent. Another difference is that leathers with pigments or polyurethane coatings are non-porous and therefore leather conditioners will hardly get absorbed into them, unlike grain leathers.
Some will offer a fire test on the leather. Unfortunately, they had been done wrongly all these time! Simply by apply a lighter fire over the surface of the leather (shifting side to side) does not burn the leather, they doesn’t even feel hot at all! To a fire test on the leather, you need to burn the leather from the back or side of the leather where the grains are exposed. The fury grains will burn like natural hair if they are genuine leather. If they are synthetic, the grains will burn like melting plastic producing a chocking foul smell.
Now you know the various kinds of leather and how to identify them. Apparently, not all leathers are created equal and they all have different grades depending on their surface textures and characteristics. Also, take note that many of these terms are not consistently used and are often mixed up with one another which can be very confusing. Genuine leather is mostly used to refer to split leather, the bottom part of grain leather with low quality. However, from the context of the word, it is also easily used to describe real leather in comparison with its fake counterpart. So is genuine leather genuine? Yes and no. The perspective from which it is termed is what would determine if it's describing full grain leather or split leather.