You’re shopping for a new leather bag, and you keep seeing labels like “high-quality,” “genuine,” and “true” leather. At first glance, all of these may seem good, right? Wrong. There are several types of leather, each with different looks, uses, and compositions. And just because it’s “genuine” leather, does not mean it’s the highest quality leather available. This comprehensive guide will clear your confusion; we'll explore each type of leather in detail, explaining the subtle distinctions in origin, characteristics, and applications. Ready to shop for authentic leather goods? Let’s dive in.
What are the main types of leather?
Ranging from highest quality to lowest, the five primary grades of leather are full grain, top grain, genuine, bonded, and faux. Used in everything from purses & shoes to furniture & footballs, each of these types has unique origins, characteristics, and benefits compared to other materials. But if you’re looking for a high-quality leather handbag, full grain is the only type you should be interested in; let’s take a look at each of these further in depth.
Full Grain Leather
Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather available, prized for its durability and natural appearance. It comes from the grain, the outermost layer of the hide. Compared to other types of leather, it is the least processed; it’s not sanded or buffed to remove “imperfections.” This means that every piece of full grain leather is unique, with its own textures & markings.
All leathers age as they’re exposed to the elements, but full grain ages the best, developing a beautiful patina that adds to its uniqueness. And because it’s the outermost layer of the hide, which protects the cow from sun, rain, and wind, it’s also the strongest & most durable type of leather, which is why it's a top choice for so many leather goods & designers.
At Latico Leathers, every accessory from our crossbody bags to handmade wallets is designed with full grain leather. Each piece embodies a bohemian aesthetic, breezy attitude, and independent spirit that not only lasts, but gets better with age. Our full-grain leather is sustainably-sourced from the byproducts of the meat & dairy industry, and only from cows that are pasture-raised in stable climates. The lack of environmental stress preserves the tight knit fibers in the grain, adding to its softness & durability. Each Latico bag is handmade with love by artisans in South America and India, and every bump, wrinkle, and scratch on the leather makes your bag more unique than the rest.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather is the second highest quality of leather, and is made from the upper layer of the hide. In terms of durability & strength, it’s similar to full grain leather. However, it must undergo a light sanding process to remove imperfections. The result is a more uniform, less marked look; this also significantly reduces the leather’s ability to develop a patina with age.
With enough sanding, top grain can become soft & smooth to the touch, aside from a bit of stiffness. The finished material is a popular material for jackets, belts, and upholstery.
Genuine leather is inherently a misleading industry term; many people believe that “genuine” translates to authentic, high-quality leather. However, genuine leather, also known as split grain, is made from the second & third layers of the hide. As a result, the production process is even more intensive than top grain leather, as these layers have the loosest, weakest fibers.
In order to achieve a true leather appearance, genuine leather is layered with synthetic materials and top-coats of wax, then stamped with artificial texture to mimic the look of full & top grain leather. Even after an intensive production process, most genuine leathers look like plastic. In some cases, several layers of split hide are glued together with their edges smoothed to save on costs.
What is suede?
Suede is a type of genuine or split grain leather that has a fuzzy, napped finish. It’s commonly used in shoes, jackets, and furniture. It’s smooth, flexible, and delicate, as the protective top grain has been removed. Suede is considered authentic leather, though it’s significantly less durable than full grain leather.
Bonded leather is made by bonding leftover leather scraps together with plastic or latex. Also known as reconstituted leather, it’s less durable than full & top grain leathers, but has a more refined, consistent texture as a result of the construction process. Bonded leather often looks & feels like high-quality leather, but it lacks the ability to age and will likely wear down far sooner. It’s mostly commonly used in small fashion accessories and bookbinding.
Faux leather is not real leather, but rather a material designed to mimic the look and feel of it without using animal hide. True faux leather is vegan, and is also referred to as synthetic or imitation leather. It’s usually made from polyurethane or vinyl, materials that are inexpensive and easy to clean, a plus for anyone shopping or designing on a budget.
Despite not being real leather, faux & vegan leathers have a few unique advantages: they’re available in a wide range of colors and they’re easy to source & work with. But again, it’s not real leather, so it does not age or last like full grain leathers.
Now that we've journeyed through the world of leather types, you're equipped with the knowledge to choose the right leather bag for you. If you’re looking for high-quality, unique, and durable leather, full grain reigns supreme. And just like you, it evolves gracefully with age as long as you take care of it, developing a beautiful patina that separates it from the rest.