Things You Never Knew About Leather

Most of us have at least one item of leather in our wardrobe. Even if tightly-fitting leather trousers or a biker’s jacket aren’t quite your style, leather shoes, belts or handbags are common items. We pull on our leather shoes without thinking about it, but where does leather come from and how is it made?

Animal Skins

For as long as man has been on the planet hunting animals, we have used their skins. In prehistoric times the skins were used for clothing and warmth, and over time we discovered the processes and methods for tanning the leather and preserving it to make it stronger. Leather is boiled in hot water or wax, treated with chemicals or coloured with dyes before it is cut out and stitched into leather riding gloves, a fancy handbag or a pair of functional boots. Leather is waterproof to a certain extent and once treated with polish it keeps your feet warm, dry and allows them to breathe.


There are three main processes in turning a raw animal skin into leather. First, the skin must be prepared by getting rid of the hair, bleaching it or getting rid of any grease and dirt. Then the hide is tanned to preserve it using chemicals, and finally the leather is “crusted”, which means it is thinned to a usable thickness, coloured, buffed up and polished, if required.

License: Creative Commons image source

Is it Ethical?

Many vegetarians choose to avoid leather products, and there are nowadays good imitation plastics and PVCs which can be used for footwear and clothing. Manufacture of leather produces a large amount of waste and pollution, and this has caused concerns in countries which don’t have particularly stringent environmental controls. Leather lasts though, and it is definitely more ethical to buy one pair of boots which last 20 years than to buy a new pair every season.

Types of Leather

Most of the leather we use here in the UK comes from cows which have been bred for their meat. Their skins are a valuable by-product of meat farming and are used to produce belts, bags or footwear. For items where softness and flexibility is a consideration, such as leather riding gloves which have to allow the hands to bend and move, lamb leather or deerskin is sometimes used instead of standard leather. Kangaroo leather is sometimes used to make biking leathers as is very lightweight and doesn’t scratch easily. Fashion designers have recently started using ostrich leather is high ticket items as it has a very distinctive, bumpy surface to it. Alligator skin was very popular in the past for handbags, and elkskin is popular with the North American market.


Well before leather jackets and tight trousers, craftsmen used leather to bind their books. At a time where books were expensive and precious, an elaborate leather binding protected the book and decorated it too. Nowadays very few books are bound in leather, and the skill of bookbinding is very much a dying art.
Morag P
About the Author:

Morag P is a prolific blogger, offering content on subjects as diverse as technology and family issues. Read more about Morag Peers at her Google+ page.

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