The Ultimate Leather Durability Guide
The Ultimate Leather Durability Guide
Humans invented leather long, long ago. Archeologists recently discovered the oldest known example of vegetable tanning, a perfectly preserved leather shoe dating back more than 5,500 years. Leather is known to have been used by ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks as far back as 5,000 for sandals, bottles, saddles and military equipment. Leather and hides were likely used by early humans for shelter and clothing.
Like the calendar, wheel or clock, leather was something that changed the way the world worked forever – and it remains as intrinsic to society today as it did thousands of years after it was first put to use. It’s a material that has somehow always managed to boast a rich history and bright future – multifaceted, stylish and, above all, enduring.
This guide covers the uses of leather and the types you’ll come across.
Why do we love leather?
Humans have always loved versatile, long-wearing materials – and leather is about as adaptable and durable as they come. From its initial use as a means of protection from the elements, leather has evolved into a material that can be soft and supple, like a fine leather bag or driving glove, or as hard and durable as an NFL football or a Western saddle.
Leather proved itself not just durable and warm, but also comfortable, resilient and fashionable. We love leather because it gives us almost everything we need in a material – and looks damn good while fulfilling its purpose.
Some of the main uses of leather include:
- Shoes – as it can be shaped with ease and offers maximum protection and comfort.
- Gloves – due to its ability to insulate even when made thin and flexible.
- Sports – once used for soccer balls and still used for baseballs, baseball gloves and American footballs, leather has a long history with American sport.
- Jackets – leather grew in popularity with flight jackets and bikers for its warm, wind/waterproof properties – even when hurtling along at high speeds.
- Furniture – its strength, suppleness and beautiful appearance has made leather a popular choice for home furniture for decades.
- Bags – whether a stylish briefcase or an elegant ladies’ handbag, leather is the material of choice for fashion.
- Automobiles – by making cars classier and more comfortable, leather became a staple of the modern luxury vehicle market
What types of leather are out there?
On its surge through the chapters of human history, leather has morphed into multiple versions of itself.
The development of different production processes has led to a wide range of leather types appearing on the market – and it’s important to recognize the subtle differences between them all in order to care for them properly.
We’ve listed some of the most prominent and important below:
Full-grain leather is the best quality leather with a minimum of bites and blemishes. The hair is removed, and it is tanned and finished to bring out the natural beauty in leather. It’s also stronger than most leathers and tends to last longer.
Full grain and top grain are basically the same. Leather experts will sand and buff the surface to take a way imperfections. This might sound strange, but it actually gives the leather a more consistent colour.
Leather has traditionally been made from different chemicals and minerals. Veg-tanned leathers are tanned from tannins extracted from bark and other plant-based products. These special formulations are used to cure and change the finished colour of leather. Oil tanning is another traditional way to preserve, color and alter the appearance of leather.
Embossed leather is any type of leather that’s been stamped or marked with branding. Usually this is subtle engraving – especially on clothing. It’s also known as ‘printed leather’.
Antiqued or distressed
Antiqued or distressed leather is purposely dyed so that it takes on an aged appearance. This is a more desirable look for leather in many instances – especially for furniture, watch straps and classic car seats.
Perhaps one of the most well-known types of leather (especially in footwear), suede is a variant that’s been chemically or mechanically brushed and buffed to give the leather a nap, resulting in a softer, more pliable surface.
Aniline or semi-aniline
Aniline finish is essentially a clear finish that protects leather, while allowing the grain surface to show. Semi-aniline is a tinted finish similar to a wood stain, that allows the underlying surface to show through.