February 21, 2022 5 min read

Some of the most stylish clothing that we wear these days is down to primitive mankind activities. Our ancestors hunted down animals in a bid for survival - food, and clothing in particular. Fast forward to 2022, and leather derived from animals is more than just a means to protect us from the elements of nature. As per recent data, almost half of all the leather produced today is used to make footwear. And about 25% of the total leather production contributes to the clothing industry. While we love sporting leather jackets, little do we know the amount of hard work that goes into leather production. Not just that - not many people are aware that leather comes in more than just one type. For the average jacket lover, a leather jacket is a leather jacket. But the most ardent jacket enthusiasts are aware that there are different types of leather, and each type has its specialty. Some leather types are known for their warmth and comfort, some for being lighter than others, while some exude style quotient like no other material. And each type of leather is used for a wide range of production. The ancient Egyptians are often credited with the invention of leather gloves. While the Sumerians used leather to make long leather dresses. The uses of leather are not just limited to apparel. Phoenicians used leather to construct water pipes.

Are there any other types of leather apart from cow leather?

Yes. The meat industry is huge. And hence, it is no surprise that cow leather is the most common type of leather. A lot of it is purely down to its availability. However, leather production is not entirely dependent on cows. Animals such as sheep, deer, horses, pigs, and more, also contribute towards mainstream leather items. The production of some premium items relies on animals such as alligators, frogs, snakes, and a bunch of sea animals including fish. While leather derived from each animal goes through different tanning processes, its quality and traits are down to several factors related to production. These factors vary from the climate conditions to the type of diet of these animals. The individual quality of each of these animal leather types also determines their usage. For example, cow leather is considerably thicker than sheep leather. Hence, it is a favorite for heavy-duty items. Sheep leather on the other hand is much lighter, which makes it a good choice for premium jackets and hand gloves. 

What is full-grain leather?

Full-grain leather is derived from the top layer of an animal's hide. In layman's terms, full-grain leather goes into the tanning process as soon as the animal hair is removed. This ensures that its oil-absorbing property and all original characteristics are retained. It's one of the key factors that makes full-grain leather the strongest and most durable leather type. Another noteworthy point is its thickness. There's no artificial buffing to remove any marks, making it the thickest leather type in the market. Full-grain leather items might be a bit heavy on your pocket but they are well and truly worth it. These items age like fine wine. There's a very good chance that your full-grain leather bag or footwear looks as good as new about a decade or two later.

What is nubuck leather?

Nubuck leather is one of the most durable leather types in the market. It is created from the outside of animal hide, making it extremely strong and durable. The top grain material is sanded or buffed, giving it a luxurious, velvet-like surface. Its characteristics are similar to aniline leather. Nubuck leather is extremely soft to touch and scratches easily. Another way to identify nubuck leather is through its reaction to water. Just a few droplets of water are enough to darken nubuck leather, albeit temporarily. It reverts to its original color once it dries. Ever since nubuck shoes made their first appearance in the 1930s, thanks to the Duke of Windsor, they've been a popular premium item among leather enthusiasts.

What is suede leather?

Like its pronunciation, the term suede (pronounced as sweid or swayed) does have a Swedish connection to it. But its inspiration comes from the elegance of the land of France. Its name was derived from the popular French term "gants de Suede", which translates to "gloves from Sweden". Suede leather is made from the underside of animal skin, making it softer and much more subtle than other leather types. It's got a fuzzy, napped finish to it, making it a great choice for shoes, fabrics, and jackets. Due to its nature and characteristics, it's not as durable as other types of leather. Also, due to open pores - because of its textured nature - suede leather is prone to absorbing liquids and deteriorating a lot quicker. Despite its considerably fragile traits, it remains a popular choice among leather lovers. Suede leather has also been a source of popular culture inspiration over the years. Remember "Blue Suede Shoes" penned by Carl Perkins and covered by Elvis Presley? Of course, you do.

What is top-grain leather?

Despite sounding somewhat similar, top grain leather and full-grain leather are two different types of leather. Contrary to its name, it is not derived from the top-most layer of the animal hide. Top grain leather is derived from the second layer of the hide. However, there's a reason it's called top grain leather. It's called so because it's the topmost layer that's sanded, buffed, or shaved off. While top-grain leather is far from fragile, it's considerably thinner and more pliable compared to full-grain leather. It's also not as heavy on your pockets as full-grain leather.

What is faux leather?

The name explains the meaning of faux leather. Also known as synthetic leather, it is a material intended as a substitute for real leather. A big favorite among the Hollywood elites, particularly those who have adopted the Vegan lifestyle, it is also referred to as vegan leather in some parts of mainstream media. The usage of synthetic leather became prevalent in 19th century Germany and gained its widest usage during the World War II era. While there are many ways to manufacture faux leather, the most common manufacturing process includes applying a polyurethane coating over the base fabric. This is followed by adding a textured finish after a color coat has been added. While some people claim that it's a great substitute for real leather, some studies suggest that faux leather is detrimental to the environment because of its production process that includes variants of plastics and a large number of chemicals that are non-renewable.