By I L L Y K
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare questioned in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. A lot, if you ask any buyer of leather goods. Add the word ‘genuine’ before any word, and the trust in it increases automatically. But that trust only dips after using that same genuine leather for some time.
Despite its name, there are serious concerns about the quality of genuine leather. Still, genuine leather goods occupy a significant place in the leather industry. But the more you question what genuine leather is, the more it will surprise you. Manufacturing genuine leather and the quality will make you think twice before buying it again.
When you buy a pair of shoes, it is important that it is made of quality leather and the shoemaking is of the highest caliber. As you will find out, genuine leather shoes cannot guarantee either the quality or the craft.
What exactly is genuine leather?
To begin with, genuine leather is not the best quality leather available. In fact, the word genuine doesn’t certify the quality of the leather. There are various qualities of leather, all of which can be called genuine leather. This is because the product is made from leather, of a certain quality. For example, a wristwatch can be a premium quality Swiss watch or a flea market imitation watch. Both are wristwatches.
Similarly, we see affordable shoes made of genuine leather all over the market. Now, the process of quality shoemakingis expensive. Be it the cost of the leather, the cost of the premium stitching method or the designing. But when you find genuine leather shoes at a very normal price, you have to be cautious.
An appropriate term for such regular genuine leather shoes would be bonded leather shoes. Bonded leather is when bits and pieces of leather are mixed with fillers, after which it undergoes various refining processes. Thanks to these processes, bonded leather shoes possess the look and feel of real leather. However, real leather is only a small part of these genuine leather shoes.
Therefore affordable genuine leather shoes are placed rather low in the leather quality hierarchy.
Genuine leather in the leather hierarchy
Among the different grades of leather are,
Full-grain –The gold standard of leather quality is full-grain leather. As the name suggests, the grain in this leather is kept intact. As a result, the fibre in the leather is more firm. The presence of grain adds to the breathability of the shoe. Full-grain shoes are not prone to moisture and are far more durable. Full-grain leather doesn’t undergo any processing, therefore it doesn’t wear even with regular use. A full-grain leather shoe develops a patina over time, giving it a classic look.
Escaro Royale uses full-grain Argentinian leather for making its premium quality leather shoes, be it Oxfords, Derbys, Brogues or boots.
Top-grain –Top-grain leather is the layer of leather below the full-grain. It is also quite durable and is not prone to wear and tear. Its surface undergoes a sanding process, which makes it thinner and reduces the breathability. On the positive side, its stains are easier to handle.
Corrected-grain and split –When top-grain is sanded and buffed, it loses its grains along with flaws and blemishes. Artificial grains are then added to it to make it corrected-grain leather. After the top-grain is separated, what remains is split leather.
Examples of split leather are suede and nubuck. Corrected-grain, suede and nubuck are all real leathers. However, their durability and look fall below full-grain and top-grain leather.
Unlike these types of leather, bonded leather is man made. The bits of leather leftover after separating the full-grain, top-grain and split leather layers are collected for this purpose. After elaborate processes on these leather pieces, the bonded leather comes to existence.
The making of genuine leather
Once you go through the inexpensive genuine leather making process, you can decide if genuine leather is real.
Let’s find out what is genuine leather made of. When tanneries cut out patterns from the leather hides, some small pieces and scraps are discarded as leftovers. The makers of the regularly sold genuine leather assemble these uneven pieces and ground them to shreds. This mashed leather is then bonded together with the help of adhesives, often latex binders. The output is stamped into a sheet which becomes the leather ‘backing’.
The ground particles of leather affixed to the backing are all the leather you get in a regular genuine leather shoe. Because on top of this backing, polyurethane or vinyl layer is applied and artificial grains are stamped into it. The stamping and embossing give it the appearance of real leather.
But with only 10-20% leather in it, genuine leather is far from what it claims to be.
What genuine leather lacks…
Clearly, what genuine leather really lacks to a great extent is leather itself. Real leather is a natural material. Shoes made of real leather are better in handling wear and tear and have elasticity. A regular genuine leather shoe wears off much faster. It is non elastic, so you will see creases in your shoes sooner. As the vinyl or polyurethane layer peels off from the surface, the backing also gets exposed.