As a result of my ILM comment article last week, “Things tanners need to do to make great leather in 2016“, I’ve had a lively conversation with correspondents on the topic of how long articles should last and how leather compares with specific materials. What is interesting is that, when you examine the end of life of nearly every article you could think of, it is rarely the leather that fails but rather the stitching, zips or other components.

One area that has always worried me is the short life of membranes in footwear. I have a lot of boots and frequently keep them ten to fifteen years, occasionally more. As a child, I liked the job of putting on the dubbin regularly. Nowadays, we have membranes and dubbin is not required, but it is always the membrane that fails first on a walking boot. One good colleague from the sector told me last week that a Gore-Tex membrane will last for 100 days of solid use (180 days of moderate use, which is effectively 3 years for a weekend walker). I usually get a little longer than that but always I know that leather boots will far outlast the membrane, and I think this is wrong.

Certainly, we do wear through sole leather but in most footwear leather soles can be replaced, often multiple times. Certain items in bridles and reins must stay strong and should be replaced to be sure a break does not occur while in use but, otherwise, leather will usually last years or decades, especially if well selected for the purpose. Some furniture leathers with pigmented finishes can become “tired” looking after some years and are hard to refresh because of the way the finish wears, but it rarely fails unless deliberately torn or cut.

Consequently, when we think of how long an article made of leather is going to last we should be sure to spend time with the designer to ensure the leather is compatible, and help decide on appropriate threads and components. Most leather articles should be capable of repairing to look like new and, only in the most exceptional circumstances, should there be a short unhappy journey from shop to landfill.

Mike Redwood

12th January 2016

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