A Closer Look at Leather

shopping - Saigon/HCMC: Sept. 29, 2016

Anupa, who has worked with leather for the best part of 14 years, specialises in sourcing, tanning and making her leather bags and accessories.

Her work goes all the way up the supply chain making her unique in her attitude to creating a luxury leather brand. She sat down with #iAMHCMC to give her know-how on this much-loved material.

4,000 Years of Leather 

One of the most interesting facts about leather is that it has experienced widespread popularity since 3000 BC. During the Roman Empire, it was widely known that sails used on boats were made of leather. Other common uses included household furniture, tents, weapons, and body armour. Approximately 1000 years later, leather started being worn by fashionable Egyptians; originally it was recorded that men wore leather before women. In the 17th century, having the walls of your home covered with stylish leather was the rage in Florence and Venice, Italy. By the early 19th century, wooden golf balls were replaced with leather ones.

It All Comes Back to the Cow

Leather is quite special - it has the ability to maintain and absorb humidity, and provides proper ventilation. Leather also has the unique ability to regulate temperature, which can insulate us against the cold but also ventilates excessive heat effectively.

Look at your belt, your shoes, your bag - you’re probably wearing at least one or two leather items at a given time. When we talk about leather, we begin at the source: the cow (or whatever animal) that gave us its skin. How was the animal treated? If you imagine someone being whipped and beaten, you can guess how skin can change under stress and cruelty. When a baby is born, a mother has stretch marks. Animal leather is no different, and everything from a calf being born to sickness shows up on end product.

When Anupa creates a leather product, there are several factors she considers:

- Where the raw leather skins come from (purchasing from meat farms where cattle is raised for food consumption is key).

- What makes leather usable in the manufacturing process comes down to the mechanical and chemical treatments used during tanning. The main factors to consider are: texture, durability, comfort, grain, maintenance, water resistance, weight, strength, scratch resistance, pliability, and softness.

- And the final part is the appearance. There are dozens and dozens of shades of black, whilst white is the hardest colour to tan. So creating the final colour, which is part of tanning process, is a big decision to make.

Big Brands: Not Your Enemy

With so many steps, one can imagine how much time and effort is put into producing quality leather; we can thank companies like Nike and Adidas who have undertaken extensive R&D to advance the tanning process and what we can do with leather. Some may dismiss these big brands, thinking they manufacture for a buck and sell for a hundred. But thanks to them (and mounting pressure to improve R&D) we now have found more effective ways of tanning animal skin.

Now we get to the final stage of the process, which is using the best materials to finish the leather product. Thread plays an integral part of the quality of the finished product. If a bag uses good thread, and is stitched properly, weight will be distributed appropriately, no matter how many things are crammed into your bag. This keeps your back and shoulders safe and makes the bag last.

Getting the Perfect Tan

So how do you know your leather bag is quality? To ensure the best tanning practises have been used, testing in a lab is the true way to really know if your leather meets standards.

Ultimately, the consumer isn’t expected to know the tanning process - they just see the bags on the shelf, with no idea if the shop went to the extent necessary to ensure the quality of the leather. So trusting the brand owners (designers) to make sure quality materials is what you can expect.

Anupa stresses the fact that buying copies of genuine leather items is bad practice and doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting a quality product. It also disrespects the producers who are behind the R&D of the modern leather process. Buying quality leather also ensures the product will last - and this is one item we want staying with us for a while.