There have been some short lived fashions of distressed leather jackets and of buffalo hide furniture with natural damage in the past but they never lasted long enough to become generally accepted. It was never really promoted on a large scale either. But ‘imperfect leather’ should be considered as beautiful and as acceptable as imperfect wood! There is a job to be done here and I think that the CICB in Brazil is also now addressing it by reaching out to consumers as part of its ‘Lei do Couro’ (Leather Law) campaign!

For the Brazilians there is an obvious interest when you consider the raw materials they have. However, I have nothing against that. They know their hides are not the best but they also know nobody in the world has more hides than they do. With a growing shortage of hides to satisfy leather demand in the future, it would be a very good idea if consumers would buy leather that is of less than perfect quality. With quality I mean the aesthetic side of it, not the technical side, which should always be fine.

Lower grades

With only a few top quality hides and skins in the world and far more lower grades it is about time we (the tanning industry) find a ready acceptance with consumers for ‘imperfect leather’ if indeed we want to capitalise on all the raw material as much as we can. Hence the promotion from those such as JBS Couros can only be admired and should be followed by others around the world. We should look at what we have (raw hides/skins of which we cannot really change the quality) and then market them the best we can.

For some time the industry has been working very hard to produce the perfect leather without even the smallest defect. The dream product! Millions of hours and dollars have been spent to reach that level and we have succeeded. It exists. But the textile and synthetic industries have done their research and inventions also and are now capable of imitating perfect leather. Even the smell! For many years there have been leather garments, footwear, handbags, belts, etc on sale of which it is damn hard to see whether they are made of real leather or not. My wife bought a €45 jacket and when being honest, one can only say it looks really nice. It is a real threat to the leather industry.

I presume, but correct me if not (that is why this article is also in the ILM blog and you can react), that is a lot easier for the synthetic material industry to imitate perfect leather than to imitate leathers with all the natural defects! To produce smooth, faultless and perfect fabrics without exceptions for thousands of square metres is as easy for them as making plastic bags! Now let them try to make the same with irregular defects so that finally no two end products are exactly the same – which is what we expect of a natural product.

I know of a (niche) market where people will agree with me. The market for classic or vintage motorcycles. No person wears more leather than the motorcycle clan. Many people (including me – a big vintage bike fan) try their best to make the leather jacket and biker wear look used, worn and revel in the natural as well as manmade defects.

These bikers will go to extraordinary lengths to make their leathers look old and distressed and brands such as Helston can sell jackets at $600 a piece and real vintage jackets sell at thousands of dollars each.

Why don’t tanners make this kind of leather straight away and sell it to the leather biker jacket makers and others with the defects on show?

My example might be niche or extreme, but it is real! And I only write this to show that there are plenty people out there who have no problem with non-perfect leathers. That is the real message of this blog. It is up to the leather product makers and their designers to introduce it and then we shall probably have a much bigger market for non-perfect leather and the hides and skins, which are now put aside as low grade, could find new markets! 

This is a subject up for discussion, your opinion is most welcome.

Ron Sauer