Knowing Your Leather Before You Buy: A Guide

By Lotuff Leather

Not all leather is created equal. Upon first glance, that might not seem to be the case-- isn’t leather just leather? The truth of the matter is that there’s a reason why some leather goods cost more, look better, and last longer than others. It all has to do with the hierarchy of leather quality grades, because it’s those grades — not the prestigious label stamped on the front — that make the difference between a bag that holds out for a year and an investment piece that lasts a lifetime. 

Full-grain chestnut leather

The most essential thing to know is that full-grain leather is the gold standard. This is the only kind of leather we have ever (and will ever) use to make a Lotuff bag, as it’s leather of the highest grade possible and is by far the best for longevity and strength. A full-grain hide is one that hasn’t been tampered with in any way: it’s leather at its natural best, with intrinsic fortitude and an ability to develop a gorgeous patina as the years pass. As Business Insider says: “If you invest in an item made with full-grain leather, you will probably have that item for the rest of your life if you take care of it properly.” Bridle leather also falls into this category. The only variation is the extra step of suffusing the hide with wax and greases before tanning. This process gives it that smooth and solid appearance. 

Full-grain leather hides at the Lotuff Leather design studio

Not many companies choose to use uncorrected hides for the reason that they’re more labor-intensive. Since they keep all their imperfections, it’s a long process to choose the best-looking hides and then cut around any marks or blemishes that might still be present. Some companies actually choose to skip this step and will keep the blemishes, but this is something we refuse to do. The time and care taken in the cutting stage result in a bag that is always lovingly made and as close to perfection as it gets. 

A step below this is top-grain leather, which was once full-grain leather but has had its topmost layer sanded away and a fake grain stamped in its place. Doing so eliminates the need to bother with weeding out the leather’s imperfections. Unfortunately, by stripping away that layer, a bag made with top-grain leather will never patina and instead takes on a plastic-y appearance that will look worse over time and with use.

Following top-grain, then, is “genuine leather,” a somewhat misleading term that isn’t exactly what it seems despite technically being true. This is the base layer of a leather hide — what lies right above the suede underside — that has been painted and stamped to give the appearance of being more luxurious than it actually is. As would be expected, this means the quality is low because the leather been damaged and robbed of its natural protection. It might look okay for a few months, but paint can’t do what real leather can, and this will become apparent sooner rather than later. 

Finally, there’s bonded leather, whose name is basically a tell-all. Scraps of otherwise unusable leather, such as pieces with marks or of uneven thickness, are ground into a pulp, glued together, and, once again, stamped with a grain pattern. Products made with bonded leather are highly replaceable and subject to cracking or breaking, making them largely unsuitable for lifetime use.

Full-grain leather hide

The bottom line: full-grain leather is the only kind that’s innately guaranteed to wear and age well. It’s the real thing, irreplaceable and unable to be synthetically replicated, and that’s why any leather goods company worthy of the name should commit itself to making every single item in their line with full-grain and nothing else.

 

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