Why are we sharing this with you?
One of Smoke N’ Mirrors’ core values is being open and honest with our customers because we care about your satisfaction and happiness. Many other stores will sell you products that are destined to fall apart quickly, just so they can take your money.
We want you to understand all about what makes our products such high quality, and why they stand far apart from other brands. You can feel assured that after reading this article you will be able to make an educated decision about buying quality leather products, know more about what goes into them, and never get tricked by another store again.
1) What is the best type of leather?
During the manufacturing of leather, hides are often cut into layers to reduce the overall thickness. There are three classifications of these layers: genuine leather, top grain, and full grain.
Genuine leather is the lowest quality of the three because it is usually made of scrap pieces of higher quality leather bonded together and painted to give it a uniform finished look.
It is typically used for making cheap products like department store belts or bags as it is not made to last. While it is still technically made of real leather, it is not worth much and should be avoided at all costs.
Many stores will try to deceive you by selling products that are labelled as genuine leather, making it seem like they are high quality products. The reality here is that these cheap items will degrade and fall apart very quickly with use.
Top grain leather is medium grade quality and is often used by designer brands to make purses or small items like wallets.
This cut of leather is made from the top layer of the hide and is sanded or buffed to remove any natural blemishes from the surface. Then a fake grain is stamped onto the surface and it is treated and colored to give it a completely uniform appearance.
This results in a not-so durable, almost plastic-like product that ends up looking old and worn after time because it does not age well with use.
Designer brands that use this type of leather don’t usually care about the longevity of their products. In fact, they would rather make products with this leather because while they look high quality at first, they will only need to be replaced after a few years of use.
Meaning that if you buy bags made from this leather, you will end up spending hundreds or even thousands of euros to keep replacing them every few years once they wear down and end up looking shabby.
Full grain is widely recognized as the highest quality of leather and is often used for heavy-duty items like shoes, belts, briefcases, and so much more.
It is made of the entire grain of leather, including all of the imperfections like natural scars and branding. The small areas with imperfections are normally discarded, and only the flawless sections are used- which makes this cut even more expensive.
Full grain is extremely durable and only looks better with use over time because it develops a beautiful patina. (A patina is the soft sheen that appears on leather changing the color slightly over time- similar to the way jeans change as they wear in).
When properly taken care of, full grain leather products will last a lifetime, making the higher cost of full grain so worth it. Rather than buying a purse made of lower quality leather and replacing it every few years, you can buy a purse made of full grain leather and love it for the rest of your life!
Smoke N’ Mirrors exclusively uses full grain leather because it provides the best quality that lasts for a lifetime.
2) What do these terms really mean?
There are a lot of different terms to describe different types of leather, some of which can sound deceiving.
Bonded leather is actually leather dust made from scraps mixed with vinyl or other bonding materials.
Patent leather is real leather treated with chemicals and a plastic finish to give it a glossy appearance.
Corrected grain leather is real leather that originally had flaws and imperfections on the surface. These flaws are then sanded or buffed off and the leather is finished with synthetic materials, giving it a more plastic but uniform feel.
Smoke N' Mirrors uses none of these types of leather because they are either poor quality or they use harsh chemicals.
3) What determines the price of leather?
When buying leather from a manufacturer, there are many factors that can affect the price of leather but these are usually the main focuses:
What animal it comes from- leather coming from exotic animals like snakes, crocodiles, ostriches, etc are the most expensive because they are the most rare. Leather coming from sheep or bison is slightly less expensive than the exotic animals, followed by pigs and then cows.
Is it vegetable tanned or chrome tanned- Vegetable tanned leathers are much more expensive than chrome tanned. This is because veg-tan leathers take months to produce with only natural materials like tree bark and leaves, while chrome tanned leathers take days to produce with harsh chemicals.
Is it top grain or full grain- Full grain is more expensive because it is higher quality. Plus leather is sold by its weight in ounces, the thicker the leather (closer to 10 oz) the more expensive it is, and the thinner the leather (closer to 1 oz) the less expensive it is.
Which manufacturer it comes from- buying leather from a sweat shop vs from a trusted company will affect the cost. The trusted company will likely have higher prices for a higher quality leather, while the sweat shop will likely have lower prices for a lower quality leather.
When buying a finished leather product from a store, these factors can also affect the price of the product in addition to the factors above:
Is it made by hand or made in a factory- Only skilled artisans can make professional leather products by hand- which is a very time consuming process, making this method more expensive than a machine running through thousands of leather products per day.
How skilled/knowledgeable the leather craftsman is- it takes many years if not decades to become a master of leather craft. A master leather worker will create much more professional products than an apprentice, and will also charge higher prices accordingly.
How much care and detail is in the final product- Attention to details, like burnishing the edges of leather so it won't fray over time or carving artistic patterns into the leather, takes valuable time and will add to the final cost of the product.
How reputable the store is- the more well known a brand name is, the more expensive their products can be. This is because they are trusted to sell quality products and have a history of good customer relations, meaning they have earned their price.
IT IS IMPORTANT to make sure that the price of a leather product matches all 8 of these factors. That way you are not just paying a high price for a designer name without having the top quality leather and attention to details in the product to make it last a lifetime.
4) Why leather is more ethical than plant-based materials
“To believe that we do no harm by abstaining from animal products is to tell ourselves a lie.” -Melissa Kwasny
Leather made from farm animals like cows, pigs, sheep, and bison are typically a byproduct of the meat and dairy industries. So the skins of the animals used to produce meat are then used to make leather; this greatly reduces the amount of waste products after they are consumed.
However, other animals like snakes, ostriches, or alligators are not as commonly eaten and are usually slaughtered primarily for their skins.
Smoke N’ Mirrors exclusively uses cow, pig, sheep and bison leather because they are more ethical and are the best options for creating durable products.
If chrome tanning is used to produce leather, it can be damaging to the environment because of the chemicals used in the process and how the manufacturers discard the chemical waste.
But if vegetable tanning is used instead, the process is much more natural and is not damaging to the environment as it uses organic materials like tree bark instead of chemicals. Vegetable tanning dates all the way back to 6000 BC and the final leather product is even biodegradable.
Smoke N’ Mirrors exclusively uses vegetable tanned leathers because it produces a better quality and more ethical leather.
Natural materials (like cotton) and synthetic materials (like polyester) are modern options that make up a majority of the textiles produced worldwide. Although these materials do not use animal products, they still require an enormous amount of resources to be made and end up causing widespread pollution through waterways, soil, and air.
For example, it takes roughly 2,000 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans. Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon are extremely damaging to the environment because they rely on petrochemicals, which are made by burning fossil fuels, and end up contributing to acid rain and degrading the planet further.
Full grain leather is so durable that it can easily last for many decades and even lifetimes of use, unlike other materials such as cotton or polyester that break down quickly and need to be thrown away and repurchased after only a few years.
Think about how many pairs of jeans you have owned in your life so far. At 2,000 gallons of water to make each of these pairs of jeans, how many gallons of water have been wasted on just the jeans you have bought already?
Of course this doesn’t mean we should only wear leather products for the rest of our lives, but it is important to realize how the products we buy affect the world around us differently.
5) Vegan leathers vs animal based leathers
While there are vegan leathers available, some of these are actually more damaging to the environment than leather made from animals. Vegan leather can be made from a variety of materials like plastic synthetics ("pleather") or natural materials like cork; although very few vegan leathers are actually made from natural materials.
The most frequently used materials used to make vegan leather are plastic based, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). These non-biodegradable plastic leathers require using fossil fuels, chemicals, non-natural dyes, and excessive amounts of water in order to be created, which is clearly taxing for the environment.
These materials are not recyclable into new pleather products and cannot break down completely. Yet, just like all other plastics, PU and PVC disintegrate into tiny microplastics once they are discarded, which ends up polluting our planet further.
Many people buy pleather items because they are much cheaper than quality leather products. But of course this comes with the cost of severely damaging the environment as well as consuming cheap products that have a short lifespan and will need to be replaced quickly.
Animal based leather can be considered less damaging to the environment than vegan leather because it requires far less chemicals and plastics to be created, and real leather is far more durable so it can be used for many decades as compared to only a year or so for vegan leather.
If you want to avoid using animal products at all costs, then plant based leather could be a solution for you. However, if you are looking for an all around ecologically friendly option that will also last a lifetime of use, then vegetable tanned leather made from cow, pig, sheep or bison is the right choice.
Thank you for reading
I hope this answers a lot of questions for you and leaves you more informed about different types of leather and what makes some leather products higher quality than others. It is only natural if you have more questions or concerns, as the information provided here is just the basics on this topic.
If you would like to know more about the history of leather, how it is made, or where it stands ethically, feel free to email me at Liz.Chasse@Smoke-N-Mirrors.net or check out our other articles to read more about other leather topics: