Recently, I have been hosting the factory tours, all visitors seemed to survive, in fact, as is very often the case, they said "well you learn something new every day", a comment that lead to one group suggesting that my blog would be a great place to "educate" folk!!
After a great deal of mirth, mainly debating my inability to teach unless it involved brandishing a school cane, much discipline (and leather attire) ! I asked them to suggest a topic that would be of interest.
So here you are, with an effort to keep it clean, all innuendo has been banished, the following is an overview on "Which leather is best?"
Which leather is best for which products ?
Sadly, there are no definitive answers as different leathers are better for different requirements or functions, plus fashion is such an arbitrary industry where many different looks, finishes and trends prevail, no one leather is BEST, but I have decided to tell you about the skins we are either using or see being used frequently in our industry at the moment.
Please note I am just talking about leathers here - no suedes, hair on, sheepskin or exotics covered.
Handbags - For our bags we use cowhide leather, the main reason is strength and consistency, we want a skin that is soft and luxurious to the touch, yet strong and rigid enough to securely carry everything from a lippy, purse & phone to 5lbs of King Edwards.
The cowhide we use has enough structure to keep it's shape, but not too firm or boardy, there is nothing worse than a bag that cuts into your shoulder, arm or thigh .
Tensile strength is a crucial factor as this ensures that the handles or straps don't stretch & become long, thin and flimsy or the bag get a saggy bottom !
All these features combine to make our hand bag leathers super tactile and oh yes, your most frequently requested "must have" = light weight.
Fashion Clothing:- Owen Barry don't make leather jackets etc. at the moment, but the most popular skin being used for fashion clothing is Lamb or Sheep Nappa as it has a soft rounded tactile feel, it is fine and light weight, the natural elasticity of the skin allows it to drape comfortably, but also it can hug the contours of the body.
Nowadays you can get even get a stretch napa which has a layer of elastane attached so it replicates the fit of stretch denim, meaning your black leather rock chick jeans will never get a saggy bottom !
Gloves - The very best gloves call for a very specific skin, it is a specialist hair-sheep that produces hair not wool.
This hair-sheep pelt is usually much thinner and far less bulky than other leathers, this fineness in no way reduces the strength - it is thin but amazingly strong.
One characteristic of gloving leather is that is has to expand as the hand is placed inside the glove, but it must "return" when the hand is withdrawn- a glove that has been "table cut" (the proper old fashioned way) from a true cabretta leather will expand and return when tugged lengthwise from finger tips to cuffs, and never have a baggy or misshapen fit.
Lifestyle / Interiors - again we only use cow leather - its got to be.
Strength is everything here - I have seen a 20 stone man flop into one of our beanbags like a trampolining hippo, so tensile strength is number one, followed by softness and "clean ability" - don't ask !! Only one skin can economically give you that, cowhide leather - well that and buffalo, but as we only use bi product of the food industry, then buffalo is off the agenda, well at least until Lidl start stocking it!
Those are some of the main product areas, as you can see sheep/lamb & cow leather are our preferred skins.
Goat and Pig have had no mention, but had I written about shoes & boots, SLG's (small leather goods), industrial & sports equipment, or of course, kinky underwear - then those skins could have come into their own - perhaps next time ?
Hope that was useful ? If you have any questions about leathers/skins, techniques or anything else about our industry - please don't hesitate to ask, I can cover it in another blog.
Signing off on leather education = A would be Miss Jean Brodie minus saggy bottom (I wish)!