Understanding more about Leather

When we think of leather goods we always associate it with luxury, class and price. This statement is true, and yet, untrue.


Due to our human current researches and technologies, leathers are now categories in varies grades and price levels that the expensive sets can be 10 times more expensive, compared with similar looking sets found in some heartland shops. It can be difficult for the uninitiated to tell the difference.

Leather is also one of the more misunderstood furniture items. At the retail level, more than 50% of the complaints and claims are related to leather. It is a furniture item most exploited by unscrupulous retailers, to the detriment of ignorant consumers. At other times it is the customers’ unfulfilled misconceived expectations.

To begin to understand leather, it is important to know more about where it comes from and how it is being processed.



The cow is not the only animal that yields leather though cow hide is often assumed when we talk of leather.

Leather can also come from animals like:

  • Birds
  • Buffalo
  • Crocodile
  • Fish & Eel
  • Horse
  • Kangaroo
  • Pig
  • Sheep
Premium leather jackets and luxury coats are made from sheepskin. They yield the most exquisite soft leather that money can buy. some expensive handbags use crocodile skin and top grade cowhide, while some quality shoes are made from kangaroo skin.


The process of getting animal skin from its raw state to the finish product involves about 20 stages.

These include:

  • Hair and flesh removal
  • Soaking
  • Curing
  • Embossing
  • Tanning with various chemicals
  • Milling and buffing


- Full Anilene;

Generally accepted as the top grade. It undergoes the most processes during tanning, which makes it very soft with an exquisite natural feel and is not waterproof. It retains the natural blemishes of the cowhide.

Failing to understand such properties as quality, most consumers shun this grade and manufacturers rarely use full anilene leather these days owing to claims for these “defects”.

- Semi Anilene;

A grade below full anilene, this grade can be quite soft and still give that nice touch, especially the very good grades. It may look and feel like full anilene.

The difference is a layer of polyurethane finish that is sprayed to protect and make it water resistant. The natural blemishes are not camouflaged.

- Corrected Cowhide;

Hides that cannot make the grade of either anilene leather owing to having too many blemishes are processed differently.

The scratches and blemishes are sanded away and the hides go through rollers to emboss cowhide like grains to hide the blemishes and give the hides the natural look. Polyurethane is sprayed on to make it highly water resistant and added protection against scratches and rough handling.

Most average quality sofas are made from corrected cowhide. Car seats upholstered in leather usually use corrected cowhide.

- By-Cast and Splits;

A piece of hide is sliced to make two types of leather. The top layer with the collagen (protein fibre) that gives the skin strength and resilience is used for better leather products, while the bottom layer is converted to Splits and By-cast leather.

These types of hide have very low resilience to stretching and are easily torn under high stress or heavy weight. The leather is processed like corrected cowhide with embossing simulating the natural grains of the animal and used for making the lower grade sofas.

The by-cast type is not embossed but sanded very smooth before being sprayed with a heavy layer of polyurethane finish to toughen it and make it water proof.

- Nubuck;

When the hide is split into two layers, the upper layer is used to make nubuck. The leather is brushed till the “skin” fibres give a velvety lush feel. It is not waterproof and stains cannot be removed.

- Suede;

The lower layer of the split hide is treated like nubuck above. Gloves, jackets and shoes are made from suede. The difference is that it is less resilient to stretching because the protein fibres are absent.

Note: The expensive branded hangbags found in high-end shops uses the same leathers described above. The difference lies in the brand name and workmanship.


Frames are mostly made from timber. Durability and sturdiness of the frames depend on the type of timber used. Timber should be kiln dried and the construction method has bearing on durability.

To support the cushion seats, various methods are used:

- Different types of assembly systems using different springs

- Elastic webbing interwoven and stretched and tacked to the frame

The cushions can be filled with a choice of materials such as down feathers, polyurethane foam of varying quality, polyester fiber fills, etc. These factors together with the frame material and construction affect the eventual cost of the sofa.


As the sofa is completely upholstered by either leather or fabric, one cannot see what is inside and this affords opportunities for inferior items to pass off as quality items.

These include:

- Use of cheap or improperly dried timber for the frames

- Use of plywood and chipboard frames

- Construction method is by nails and screws without proper joints

- Cushion support is just a piece of plank or timber strips underneath the polyurethane foam

- Seats, arm rests and back use very low grade/low density foam

- Passing off splits and poor quality leather as quality leather

- Use of PVC mixed with leather, known as “half leather”

After reading the above, you can now understand the wide discrepancy of prices in the leather furniture market.

Sources taken from SFIC “Essential Furniture Knowledge”

Written by

CLASS ACENDO is a specialist in window fashion, customised upholstery & wallcovering. We offer a wide range of fabrics and design solutions for your home or office.