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What Makes Leather "High Quality"?

October 05, 2018

What Makes Leather "High Quality"?

Imagine for a moment you’re sitting down to enjoy a steak. What are you picturing? Chances are, you’re imagining a ribeye, or maybe a filet mignon, cooked perfectly. What’s more, you’re probably imagining your steak is of the highest quality grade --- especially if you’re buying it from a restaurant. Why would you pay for anything less?

In the way there are good and bad grades of steak, there are good and bad grades of leather. If you’re about to spend money on a new leather duffel bag or handbag, you want to make sure it’s the best quality. Otherwise, you could be dealing with peeling leather that’s falling apart in just a few months.

When you’re trying to determine if the leather you’re about to buy is worth the price, there are four factors to consider: Thickness, grain/ grade, finish, and construction.

  1. Leather Thickness

When leather makers measure thickness, they do so in ounces. Every ounce of leather is 1/64 of an inch thick. To put that in perspective, leather the thickness of a nickel is about 4.9 ounces. In an ideal world, the thickness would be the same throughout a piece of leather. However, there are always thinner and thicker parts, so it’s generally given in a range, such as 5-6 ounces.

Every article made with leather has a different ideal range. For instance, a leather belt would probably range from 7-10 ounces. However, a thin wallet would be made from 3-4 ounce leather.

  1. Grains/Grades of Leather

In general, there are five different grades of leather. Three of them are just fine, depending on the aesthetic you’re going for. However, if you want a leather product that will last a long time, avoid the last two types.

The best types of leather:

Full-grain leather uses the entire thickness of the hide, and doesn’t buff out any imperfections. This gives the piece a rustic look, and provides the most durability. Often used in leather duffle bags and satchels.

Top-grain leather is similar to full grain, but the imperfections are removed. As such, it’s thinner and easier to use, and usually has a finish on it to make it more stain-resistant. Often used in high-end handbags and shoes.

Suede is made from split leather, meaning the top-grain rawhide is removed and leaves the soft “drop split.” It’s a softer leather product, but less durable and more susceptible to stains. Often used for fashion accessories like shoes.

Leather to avoid:

“Genuine” leather is a low-grade leather that’s dyed and given a fake grain. This “corrected grain” leather isn’t very durable, and will often flake and peel. Often used in place of top-grain leather in cheaply-made fashion products and upholstery.

Bonded leather is made from leftover scraps of leather, shredded then brought together with glue. You can think of it as the “hot dog of the leather world.” Often used in the same way as “genuine” leather.

  1. Finish

There are plenty of different types of finishes that can be applied to leather, from acrylic to wax to oils. Each of these produces a different appearance and feel to the leather. While every type of finish acts differently, there are some that are better than others.

For instance, an acrylic finish will make the leather waterproof, but can also make it feel like “genuine” leather, even if it’s high-end. On the other hand, a wax finish provides durability and makes the weather waterproof, while leaving the leather feeling natural.

Of course, you can go with an unfinished leather, which develops a natural protective patina over time. Many full-leather goods are unfinished.

  1. Construction

To put it simply: The fewer seams used to construct an article out of leather, the better. When manufacturers use multiple pieces of leather sewn together, that article is more likely to come apart. That’s because each seam is a stress point, and not as strong as the leather itself.

When seams are needed, it’s important that the highest quality stitching is used. Saddle stitching has been trusted for centuries because it provides the strongest seam. What’s more, the thread should be waxed linen or, even better, polyester for the most durable seam.

Only Buy Leather from a Trusted Source

Sellers of cheap leather can get away with a lot of trickery when they sell their shoddy products; in fact, bonded leather is allowed to be called “real leather.” If you want leather that will stand the test of time, your best bet is full-grain or top-grain leather, unless you want something softer, in which case you’ll want to get real suede.

At Go Forth Goods, we use only the best cuts of leather. Each item is hand-stitched to ensure the highest quality. Contact us today to learn more about how we make our leather duffle bags, wallets, watch straps and other items!


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