What is Leather and where does it come from?
Leather products are found in all parts of the world. For some, owning leather products is regarded as a status symbol— the more exotic the animal hide used, the more expensive it is. However, most people do think of quality when they think of leather. It makes you wonder what exactly makes it so expensive? How is it made?
Leather is the final product of tanning rawhide of an animal to make it flexible, yet durable for various uses. Leather is commonly made from cattle skins. The best quality you can get is called Full Grain Leather, we use this in our Crazy Horse Leather. It may also be made from skins of other animals including exotic ones such as kangaroos, pythons, crocodiles, stingrays, and many more.
In this day and age, leather production is a huge industry with many industrial hubs worldwide. Not only does the industry boost a country’s economy, but also provides jobs for millions of people around the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, China is undoubtedly the highest producer of leather. In fact, China’s leather industry produces nearly a whopping 4 billion square feet of leather annually— that’s approximately 72 million adult cows! Brazil is next in the list with a production of 1.7 billion square feet of leather annually, followed by Italy (3rd), Russia (4th), and India (5th). For your reference, USA ranks 8th in the list, which produces approximately 6.7 million square feet annually.
What are the origins of Leather?
Leather is easily one of the most useful and one of the earliest discoveries of man. Historical tests confirm that the use of such material could be traced from 2,000,000 years ago. Leather was used by our ancestors as a protective covering against elements such as heat, cold, rain, and other hazards present in the environment. Our ancestors hunted wild animals for food, then subsequently made use of the animal hide as footwear, clothing, and even shelter. Similarly, at present, hides used to make leather are a by-product of the meat and dairy industries. This is because animals are primarily raised for their meat, wool, and not for their hide. There have been alternatives to to leather, such as PU Leather or vegan leather that have been touted as an eco-friendly alternative. However, many times these alternatives can have a much harsher effect on the environment due to the chemicals used and also they tend to not last very long.
Archaeologists were also able to discover artifacts and wall paintings in Egyptian tombs dating back to 5,000 B.C. which illustrates the different uses of leather such as footwear, gloves, bottles, cerements for wrapping and burying the dead, as well as military equipment. Around 500 B.C the ancient Greeks even developed tanning formulas utilizing tree barks and plants soaked in water to be used for the preservation of leather— this gave birth to the production of vegetable tanned leather which is still widely produced during modern times. In fact, this is the process we use.
During the middle ages, leather became the preferred choice of covering of coaches, upholstery of chairs, saddles, and bookbinding. Due to its durability, leather has been the ideal material as cover because it was easy to maintain and does not easily absorb foul odor.
Modern technology has allowed further advancement in the leather industry. More efficient and cost-effective methods have been discovered to produce leather without compromising good quality. Technology has paved the way for the development of chemical formulas and state of the art processing methods to improve the durability and aesthetics of leather.
What is the process of making leather?
Have you ever wondered how leather is transformed or where does leather come from to be turned into your favorite bags, shoes, clothing, upholstery cover, and other things? It first goes through a very lengthy and meticulous process before it reaches to shops and finally to your hands. The process of making leather has not changed much over the years, but the presence of modern technology has indeed helped the industry produce such quality material at a more efficient means. The steps below are the key stages of production:
Curing. Although hides of any other animal are also used to make, cattle hide is the most common material used as it is the most abundant material available. Rawhide, the material used for leather, is a by-product of the meat and dairy industry from various parts of the world. After procuring the rawhide, it is immediately treated with salt to avoid bacteria formation and prevent it from decomposing.
Soaking. Once the hides are cured and brought to the tannery, they are soaked in water for several hours to remove the salt and dirt. At the same time, this is to also reabsorb the moisture lost from curing.
Liming. The hides are then soaked in lime in the process called liming where unwanted hairs and proteins are chemically dissolved and opens up the fiber structure. This swells the material considerably.
Fleshing. Some flesh may still be present in the hide, hence they are removed in this stage. The material is placed in a machine with huge blades and a revolving cylinder in order to remove the remaining flesh. At the same time, this process regularizes the thickness of the material and flattening it.
Trimming. During this stage, useless materials are cut off from the rawhide to give them a better shape.
Splitting. After the material is trimmed, it is then cut horizontally to separate the external layer and the lower layer called the top-grain and split-grain respectively.
Tanning. This stage is the most crucial and most important. In this stage the hides are placed in a large drum filled with tanning agents that are responsible for transforming protein from the hide into a durable and flexible material, allowing the material to be more resistant to endure repeated cycles of wetting and drying. After this, the hide is transferred into a machine that squeezes excess moisture. Afterwhich, the material is sorted according to their grade and destination depending on its use.
Re-tanning. The hide undergoes another tanning process to fully prepare for its intended use.
Dyeing. Tanners then apply dye to the material to further enhance the material’s natural beauty! A variety of shades are produced to suit trends in fashion. However, this step could also be skipped if desired. Subsequently, the leather is stretched and oils are also applied to seep into the material, making it more flexible and lubricated.
Finishing. This is the last step of the process of leather making. During this stage, the final set of chemicals are applied to create a protective surface over the material. A final grading or quality check of the material is then conducted before dispatch to customers!
.....and voila! This is where leather comes from. After a lengthy and meticulous process, leather is transformed into your shoes, bags, clothing, and more! Knowing the entire process of making it, makes you appreciate your leather accessories more. The time and effort put into every piece bag before it reaches your hands, makes it more valuable and worth it to purchase.