All leathers are not created equal. That we can say with certainty. But many other things you read or hear about leather is far less certain. Leaning into our mission of “making products that are used and loved for as long as possible” means we have invested time, money and plenty of human-hours into sourcing the best leathers we can find from the best tanneries as rated by the Leather Working Group. And we’re forever learning more and more… So, here’s a little insight into the world of leather, as well as the leathers we use – and why we use them – to try and clear up some of those uncertainties.
HANG ON. GENUINE ISN’T GENUINE?
To the untrained eye, the terms below are almost interchangeable. In reality, there’s a big difference.
Full grain leather
The top part of the hide, full grain leather holds its shape the best, is the strongest and most durable. It is generally the most expensive part of the hide. This is because any imperfections are visible, so if you want a ‘blemish free’ leather you buy hides from blemish-free stock.
Top grain leather
Top grain leather is actually full grain that has been buffed back of any imperfections. It’s still high quality but isn’t quite as strong or durable as full grain. It is a bit more elastic in how it shapes to use. Depending on what you’re using it for, top grain can be more suitable than full grain. We use a lot of full-grain leather, but where it suits the product better (for characteristics such as weight, handfeel and flexibility), we choose top grain.
We prioritize the leather most suited to the product we’re making. A lot of the time it’s full grain. Other times, top grain. And sometimes, a combination of the two. But we never use anything less.
Normally when you see the term ‘genuine leather’ it’s code for ‘the cheapest underside of the leather we could buy’. It is reasonable enough for some things, but not for carry goods.
If you’ve noticed we tend not to use the terms full grain or top grain in our descriptions any more, this is simply because we always strive to be as precise and accurate in the language we use, and we can’t say we use one type of leather, 100% of the time. Instead, we prioritize the leather most suited to the product we’re making. A lot of the time it’s full grain. Other times, top grain. And sometimes, a combination of the two. But we never use anything less.
TANNING. WITH VEGETABLES OR CHROME?
The basic perception out there is ‘vegetable tanned = good, chrome tanned = bad’. But, like most basic perceptions, the answer is more complex than that.
Vegetable-tanned leather means that the leather is treated with vegetable-based tannins to alter the structure of a hide. It produces leathers that look natural, gain personality over time and develop a rich patina. The leathers can also be very stiff. Plus, the process uses a lot more water and electricity than other types of tanning. It’s actually harder for tanneries who do vegetable tanning to get a gold rating for the industry’s environmental standards group – LWG – because of this.
Chrome-tanned leather means that the leather is treated with Chrome III – a mineral-derived compound that makes softer leather that’s more durable and stays looking new for longer. The downside is that tanning this way under the wrong conditions can generate the very toxic Chrome VI, which is harmful to tanners and can also poison wastewater generated in the tanning process. However, under the right conditions, this kind of tanning is considered on par with vegetable tanning in terms of toxicity – and the result is a longer lasting leather.
Best of both
Previously, we were describing our leathers as vegetable-tanned, because they were. And they still are for the majority. However, to make them soft enough to create the kind of wallet you want to have in your hand and pocket for many years to come, a chrome-tanned component is needed in the early stages of the process. If you see a wallet with a soft handfeel on the market claiming to be vegetable tanned, there is in all likelihood a chrome component to it (albeit a small one).
Because we only source leather from gold-rated LWG tanneries, we are confident that the combination tanning processes we use is the right balance for both the product and the environment. This is why the term ‘environmentally-certified’ came to replace ‘vegetable-tanned’ in our descriptions.
THERE'S MORE TO THE STORY
We hope this has brought a deeper understanding of the leathers we use, and we plan to share more from our work with the Leather Working Group, the Animal Welfare Group and associated organizations as our involvement develops further.