Italy is known as a global leader in sustainability when it comes to the leather and bag making industry.
We worked with several different artisans and proud Italian boutique owners to discuss what a "leather bag" can really mean in all facets.
Did you know that even if a bag is "leather" is DOES NOT necessarily mean it is "high-quality" leather. Grain quality matters!
1. Types of leather: Calfskin, cowhide, buffalo, nubuck, suede, pebble leather.
- Calfskin is often the softest as it is made from a young cow-hide.
- Cowhide can often mean many different things as the type of quality cow-hide can vary from full-grain to low. We will be discussing this in more detail!
- Buffalo - This is often more rare and not used as much in Italy anymore. There are definitely many that will claim a bag is buffalo leather because it appears harder and more durable - this may not necessarily mean it is real buffalo leather.
- Nubuck - This type of leather may often feel like suede but is actually thicker, heavier and made of premium full grain leather - buffed out. It is often more expensive.
- Suede - This type of leather is actually of the lowest quality leather, buffed out with no grain. Both Nubuck and Suede still have a soft feel to them.
- Pebble Leather - This is one of the lowest quality leathers and is often used a lot especially in the markets in Italy not owned by real Italian boutique owners. This leather can be made of pig, low quality leather masked with lots of plastic coatings or even faux leather. Pebble leather often looks like little pebbles in the leather.
2. To get into the details without getting two graphic, the skin layer of the cow determines how high-quality the actual leather will be. The outer-most layer will be of the highest quality and the more inner the layers, the lower quality the leather will be.
3. High-quality leather DOES NOT necessarily mean it is going to be scratch-resistant or water-proof! Full-grain is of the highest quality leather and often means premium in the design world. However, unfortunately, not even all designer brands use premium leather when producing their famed bags, and many can get away with this because of their brand name. Full grain with imperfections often can tell you that it is of the highest quality because coatings were not needed to keep the leather intact, and it means it is the outer-most surface of the hide being used.
- But, what if my leather bag is made to be scratch-resistant/water-proof? While this may be a positive for you, it can also mean that within the production of the bag, it was made of a lower-quality leather as well as topped with a coating (sometimes plastic). *This does not mean that it is fake.* It just means that the bag may be a lower-quality leather bag with the trade-off of better protection against harsher conditions.
- Why would a lower-quality leather be used to make my bag more protected? Well - if the leather is going to be mostly coated with plastic and other types of treatments to make a harder surface, and therefore a weather-resistant outcome, the leather will be less seen and surfaced. So, you would not be able to tell as much difference whether it was low or high-quality leather under the surface layer of protection. This of course, lowers costs and saves high-quality leather for the products meant to be untreated/coated.
4. Imperfections of leather can also represent high-quality as it has not been altered and can be part of the out-layer of a hide. The imperfections mean less artificial production.
5. Sometimes, patterned/embossed/printed art on leather can be used as a facade to imitate different types of leather grains. THIS is where faux leather can come into play. It can be incredibly difficult to determine this without a trained eye, however.
6. The "Made in Italy" label does not always mean what you think it means! Before a leather bag actually is turned into a leather bag is goes through many production processes. Sourcing the leather is one, tanning the leather is another, and then the actual design and manufacturing of the bag is also one. All of these processes can be done in different countries and if the final step is done in Italy, sometimes the "Made in Italy" label is slapped right on.
While determining high-quality leather can take some time and a trained eye, these are definitely key points to keep in mind when looking for your next leather bag!
Figus Designer - Milan, ItalyA.D. Firenze - Florence, Italy Roberto - Florence, Italy