Leather is one of the oldest human discoveries in history. Primitive humans used to hunt animals for meat and use their skins to make clothes, shoes, and even tents. To this day, natural leather is considered one of the finest and most luxurious materials that humans have learned to use. It comes in many types, textures, colors, and qualities. Despite its long existence, some people don’t know much about it in depth except for the fact that it comes from animals. However, there are other types of synthetic leather that do not contain any natural elements, and synthetic materials are used to produce them with similar properties.
Where does leather come from?
Leather is a natural material obtained by processing raw animal hides using chemical or natural extracts in specialized processing units called tanneries. Raw leather is susceptible to decay and cannot be used without first processing and changing its fibers. The tanning process permanently changes the structure of the leather protein and converts it into a durable and flexible product suitable for a variety of everyday applications, not just clothing.
Types of leather
Natural leather varies depending on the type of animal from which the leather is extracted, the tanning process applied to the leather itself, and the source of procurement. The color and characteristics of leather may vary depending on the materials used in the tanning process. Common ingredients in vegetable tanning include tree barks and leaves, while chemical tanning relies on chromium and other chemicals. The tanning process can take up to 60 days or more to produce usable leather.
However, the most important classification for determining the highest quality leather depends on which part of the animal’s hide is being prepared. The dorsal area of the animal is known for its strong properties, unlike the abdominal or lower area of the animal.
These are the hides that are removed from the animal after hunting or slaughter, and they vary in types based on the characteristics associated with the nature of the leather. Usually, these characteristics are attributed to the same animal from which the leather was removed, such as toughness, softness, shine, smoothness, hairiness, lightness, and heaviness. There are many natural types of leather that are often named according to the market they are sold in or according to the tanneries. Here are some of the most common natural types of leather in Arab markets:
- Veg-Tanned Leather: This is a type of leather tanned using plant-based materials, such as the bark of certain trees like acacia. Cowhides are commonly used to give the leather a thicker type, while goats and sheep are used for thinner types. This leather is versatile and suitable for various uses. It is soft, heat resistant, and has a high dye absorption capacity.
- Chrome-Tanned Leather: This is one of the most common types available in the markets due to its affordability. It is chemically tanned using chromium, in contrast to plant-based tanning. It is known for its softness and comes in various grades. However, it requires specific precautions during the manufacturing process.
- Lamb Leather: This is a high-quality leather made from the hides of young cattle and calves. It possesses similar characteristics to cow leather but is more expensive. It has a very soft texture and high flexibility.
- Buffalo Leather: It is a common and distinctive type of natural leather made from buffalo hides. It requires more expertise in tanning, making it more expensive than cow leather. It usually has visible patterns due to its pores, giving it a luxurious touch.
- Cowhide Leather: It is the most common type in Arab markets, made from natural cow hides. It is reasonably priced and known for its thickness, strength, and lower susceptibility to cracking compared to other types. It is characterized by its yellowish color.
- Suede Leather: Suede leather is considered a luxurious type of leather with a very soft texture. It easily absorbs water unlike other leathers. It is well-known for its light brown color, although it is also available in other colors. It is made from the hides of chamois, a species of goat inhabiting the mountains of Europe.
- Sheepskin Leather: It is a thin, flexible type of leather with a luxurious texture made from sheep hides. It has a shiny, smooth appearance.
- Goat Leather: It is a type of leather available in small sizes, with a very thin thickness, so it is usually used for lining. It is characterized by its high flexibility, lightweight, and water resistance.
- Exotic Leather: These are rare and luxurious types of natural leather taken from reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes. They are used in the production of high-quality products.
- Camel Leather: It is characterized by its relatively large fibers, making it resistant to stretching.
Other less common types: Since all animals have their own hides, there are many less common types, and their quality depends on the specific animal. There are also rare types of leather, such as tiger, leopard, elephant, and zebra hides.
Artificial leather is known by many names, such as synthetic leather or faux leather. It is a synthetic material made to resemble genuine leather and does not contain any natural elements in its manufacturing process. Typically, artificial leather starts with a fabric base, such as polyester, and is then given a finishing touch of faux leather using wax, dye, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or polyurethane.
Artificial leather is commonly used in fabricating clothing, upholstery, and automotive applications. One drawback of plastic-coated artificial leather is that it is non-porous and does not allow air to pass through, which can lead to sweat accumulation if used for items that will have continuous contact with the body, such as clothing and car seat covers. One of its main advantages, especially in automotive applications, is that it requires little maintenance compared to genuine leather and does not easily crack or fade, although the surface of some artificial leathers may wear and fade over time.
Types of Artificial Leather
Plastic leather is one of the most widely manufactured and used types of artificial leather. In the preparation of this type, the fabric is coated with a layer of plastic, giving it a shiny leather-like appearance. Plastic leather is an extremely durable substitute for genuine leather. Unlike genuine leather, it does not fade. It is also very strong and long-lasting. However, it is not skin-friendly and cannot be easily dry-cleaned or washed, making it unsuitable for use in clothing.
Bouromeric leather is similar to plastic leather in its preparation. It is a combination of various synthetic fabrics to achieve a texture resembling genuine leather. It contains a layer of polyurethane coated with a layer of polyester fabric. The final product is breathable and has a glossy sheen. It is highly durable, just like genuine leather, and is also a well-ventilated fabric. It can be used to make items such as shoes, among others.
Miscellaneous Synthetic Leather:
Miscellaneous synthetic leather is another type of artificial leather that utilizes both plastic and fabric. It is commonly referred to as pleather. However, in this case, the fabric can be either natural or synthetic. It is very strong, requires minimal maintenance, and does not easily fade compared to genuine leather. It is widely used in automotive applications today. Previously, it was used for bookbinding and in cameras. Pleather is non-porous, making it also unsuitable for use in clothing as it does not allow sweat to evaporate, leading to discomfort and potential skin damage.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Artificial Leather
Although natural leather is an indispensable product in daily industries, it is environmentally harmful and contributes to the harm inflicted on various animal species for its production. Therefore, artificial leather can be a great alternative to genuine leather.
Advantages of Artificial Leather:
- Artificial leather is usually much cheaper and more affordable compared to genuine leather.
- It is versatile and can be polished to a high shine or given a matte finish according to requirements.
- Compared to genuine leather, artificial leather requires very little maintenance.
- Artificial leather does not easily crack and is stain-resistant.
- It does not easily fade and is also UV-resistant.
- Artificial leather is easy to work with in manufacturing and can be sewn smoothly.
Disadvantages of Artificial Leather:
- Artificial leather, especially PVC artificial leather, is not breathable.
- Artificial leather does not retain its shine for a long period.
- The material of artificial leather is prone to punctures and tears.
- While artificial leather has been greatly modified over time to be durable, it still cracks or tears more easily compared to genuine leather.
- It does not cause allergies compared to genuine leather.
- The processing of artificial leather produces a significant amount of environmental waste.