What is Genuine Leather?

What is Genuine Leather? Myths, Misconceptions and Uses


    Genuine leather has been one of the most commonly used materials in the fashion industry for centuries, particularly in the commerce space of luxury accessories. The term "genuine leather" can refer to both real leather (an item that is made from genuine leather rather than artificial/faux leather) as a whole and a specific lower-quality type of leather. This material boasts various types and qualities, each with distinct characteristics and applications in the world of fashion. This comprehensive guide will delve into the science, facts, and real-world examples of genuine leather, shedding light on its importance within the luxury fashion accessories market and addressing common misconceptions.

    High-quality leathers, such as full-grain and top-grain leather, are prized for their durability and elegant appearance, while other types like split and bonded leather find their place in more affordable products. We will address the misconceptions surrounding genuine leather's quality, durability, and ethical concerns, and highlight the efforts made by manufacturers to improve their practices and promote sustainability in the industry.

    Genuine leather's undeniable influence in luxury fashion accessories will be showcased through the most common products made from genuine leather such as accessories, genuine leather iPhone cases, handbags, belts, wallets, and shoes crafted by iconic designer brands. By the end of this article, readers will have gained a comprehensive understanding of genuine leather, its various types, and its enduring value in the world of luxury fashion.

    The global leather goods market is projected to reach $361.7 billion by 2027, according to a report by Allied Market Research. This growth is attributed to the increasing demand for luxury accessories, as well as advancements in leather processing technology and sustainable production practices. The report also highlights that Asia-Pacific is expected to dominate the leather goods market, accounting for over 60% of the global market share. Now let's talk about the most important information on genuine leather below:

    What is Genuine Leather?

    Genuine leather is a natural material made from the processed hides or skins of animals, primarily cows, goats, and sheep. It has been used for centuries for various applications, including clothing, footwear, accessories, and upholstery. Genuine leather is prized for its durability, comfort, and aesthetic appeal.

    The process of turning animal hides into leather involves several stages, including removing hair and excess tissue, preserving the hide with tanning agents, and finishing the surface with dyes, oils, or protective coatings. Tanning, a critical step in leather production, uses chemicals such as chromium salts or vegetable-based tannins to stabilize the protein structure of the hide, making it resistant to decay, water damage, and bacterial growth.

    Genuine leather comes in different grades and types, each with its unique characteristics and properties. The highest quality is full-grain leather, made from the outermost layer of the animal's skin, which maintains the natural grain pattern and is highly durable. Top-grain leather is the second-highest quality, with a sanded or buffed surface to remove imperfections, while split-grain leather comes from the lower layers of the skin and is often used for more affordable products. Bonded leather, the lowest quality, is made from leather scraps that are bonded together with adhesives and then coated with a polymer to mimic the appearance of higher-quality leather.

    The physical and chemical properties of genuine leather are influenced by factors such as the animal species, the part of the hide used, and the tanning and finishing processes employed. Genuine leather is known for its strength, flexibility, and ability to breathe, making it a comfortable and long-lasting material for various products. The pores and fibers in leather also contribute to its ability to develop a unique patina over time, adding character and depth to the material.

    Genuine leather is a sustainable and renewable resource, as it is a byproduct of the meat industry. However, the leather production process can have environmental and ethical concerns, including the use of toxic chemicals in tanning and the carbon footprint associated with raising livestock. In response to these concerns, many manufacturers and organizations are working to promote more sustainable and ethical leather production practices, such as using vegetable tannins or recycling water in the tanning process.

    What is Genuine Leather

    How is Genuine Leather Made?

    The production of genuine leather is a multi-step process that involves the transformation of raw animal hides into a durable and aesthetically appealing material. The process of turning hides into leather can be broadly divided into three main stages: preparation, tanning, and finishing.


      Curing: The first step involves preserving raw hides to prevent decomposition. This is typically done using salt, which draws out the moisture and inhibits the growth of bacteria.

      Soaking: The cured hides are soaked in water to remove the salt and rehydrate the fibers. This process also helps in loosening dirt, blood, and other impurities.

      Liming: The soaked hides are treated with an alkaline solution, usually containing lime and sodium sulfide, to remove hair and any remaining flesh from the skin. The liming process also helps to swell the fibers, making them more receptive to the tanning agents.

      Fleshing: The hides are mechanically fleshed to remove any remaining tissue and fat.

      Deliming: The hides are treated with an acidic solution, such as ammonium sulfate, to neutralize the alkaline residues from the liming process.

      Bating: The hides are treated with enzymes to further clean and soften the fibers. Bating helps to remove any remaining proteins and unwanted impurities.

      Pickling: The hides are treated with a mixture of salt and acid, usually sulfuric acid, to lower their pH and prepare them for the tanning process.


        Tanning is the process of converting the collagen fibers in the animal hides into a stable material that is resistant to decomposition. There are several tanning methods, including vegetable tanning, chrome tanning, and aldehyde tanning.

        Vegetable Tanning: This is the oldest and most traditional method of tanning, which uses natural tannins extracted from plants, such as oak, chestnut, and mimosa bark. The hides are soaked in a series of tannin-rich solutions for several weeks or months, depending on the desired thickness and characteristics of the leather. Vegetable-tanned leather is known for its firmness, durability, and natural brown color.

        Chrome Tanning: This method, introduced in the 19th century, involves the use of chromium salts, primarily chromium (III) sulfate. The hides are soaked in a solution containing the chromium salts, which form cross-links with the collagen fibers, stabilizing the structure. Chrome-tanned leather is more flexible, softer, and resistant to water and heat than vegetable-tanned leather. It is also faster to produce and is the most commonly used tanning method today, accounting for about 80% of the global leather production.

        Aldehyde Tanning: This method uses aldehydes, such as formaldehyde or glutaraldehyde, to tan the hides. Aldehyde-tanned leather is often referred to as "wet white" due to its pale color and is used in applications where a high degree of water resistance or a specific color is desired.


          After tanning, the leather undergoes a series of finishing processes to enhance its appearance, durability, and functionality. These processes may include:

          Dyeing: The leather is treated with dyes to achieve the desired color.

          Fatliquoring: The leather is treated with oils, waxes, and/or emulsified fats to enhance its softness and flexibility.

          Drying: The leather is dried to remove any excess moisture, which can be done using various methods, such as air-drying, vacuum-drying, or toggle-drying.

          Staking: The leather is mechanically softened to improve its flexibility and pliability.

          Buffing and Sanding: The leather surface is buffed or sanded to achieve the desired texture or smoothness. For example, top-grain leather is created by sanding away imperfections from the top layer of the hide.

          Embossing: The leather can be embossed with various patterns or designs to enhance its visual appeal or create a specific texture. This can also be used to mimic the natural grain of full-grain leather in lower-quality types like split leather.

          Finishing Coats: The leather is treated with protective coatings, such as resins, waxes, or lacquers, to improve its resistance to stains, water, and abrasion. These coatings can also be used to achieve a specific sheen or appearance.

          After the finishing processes are complete, the leather is ready for use in the production of various accessories, such as wallets, phone cases, handbags, belts, wallets, and shoes. The type and quality of leather, as well as the specific production methods used, determine the final characteristics and performance of the leather product.

          In summary, genuine leather production involves a complex series of preparation, tanning, and finishing processes that transform raw animal hides into a durable, attractive, and versatile material. Data science and chemistry play a crucial role in understanding the properties of the various tanning agents and finishing treatments, as well as optimizing the production processes for maximum efficiency and sustainability.

          As consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical implications of their purchases, the leather industry is continuously evolving to improve its practices, adopt more sustainable methods, and minimize its environmental footprint. By understanding the intricacies of genuine leather production, buyers can make informed decisions and appreciate the craftsmanship, quality, and durability that genuine leather goods and products offer.

          Types of Genuine Leather

          1. Full-Grain Leather: Full-grain leather is the highest quality of genuine leather, made from the top layer of animal hide. It retains the natural grain and markings, providing a unique and luxurious appearance. Full-grain leather is known for its strength, durability, and breathability, and it develops a beautiful patina over time. This type of leather is typically used in premium products, such as high-end handbags, shoes, and belts. Luxury brands like Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci often use full-grain leather in their collections, showcasing their commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and timeless design.
          2. Top-Grain Leather: Top-grain leather is the second-highest quality of genuine leather, created by sanding away imperfections from the top layer of the hide. This process results in a more uniform surface, making it ideal for various applications. Top-grain leather is thinner and more flexible than full-grain leather, making it easier to work with during manufacturing. It is also more resistant to stains and moisture, contributing to its popularity in the fashion industry. Designer brands such as Prada, Michael Kors, and Coach utilize top-grain leather for their accessories, offering a balance between luxury, durability, and affordability.
          3. Split Leather: Split leather is made from the lower layers of animal hide, separated from the top grain. It is a more affordable option, often used for everyday fashion items. Split leather is less durable and breathable compared to full-grain and top-grain leather, but it still offers a visually appealing finish. It is commonly used in the production of lower-priced accessories and clothing. Fashion brands that cater to budget-conscious consumers may use split leather in their accessories, allowing them to offer attractive, leather-based products at more accessible price points.
          4. Bonded Leather: Bonded leather is created by combining leather scraps and fibers with a binding agent, usually polyurethane or latex. This material is the most affordable type of genuine leather, but it is less durable and prone to wear and tear compared to other types. Bonded leather provides an economical option for consumers who want the appearance of leather without the high price tag. Some fast-fashion brands and budget accessory manufacturers utilize bonded leather in their products, offering a leather-like appearance and texture at a fraction of the cost of higher-quality materials.

          Common Myths and Misconceptions About Genuine Leather

          Several myths and misconceptions about genuine leather persist in the market, leading to confusion among consumers. It's essential to address and debunk these myths and misconceptions to ensure that buyers can make well-informed decisions when purchasing leather goods.

          1. Genuine Leather is not “Real” Leather. There is a common belief that genuine leather is not real leather, but this is a misconception. Genuine leather is indeed made from animal hides, such as cowhide, and is processed and treated to create a range of leather products. The term "genuine leather" simply distinguishes it from synthetic leather or faux leather materials, which are made from non-animal sources like polyurethane or PVC.
          2. All Leather Products Are Durable. While some types of genuine leather, such as full-grain leather, are known for their durability, not all leather products are created equal. Factors such as the type of leather used, the production process, and the care given to the item all contribute to its overall longevity.
          3. Genuine Leather Is Unethical. Some people believe that using genuine leather is inherently unethical due to concerns about animal welfare and environmental impact. While it's true that the leather industry has its share of ethical concerns, many manufacturers are working to improve their practices. This includes using ethically-sourced leather and adopting more sustainable production methods. Consumers can also opt for brands with transparent supply chains and responsible practices to support a more ethical fashion industry.
          4. Genuine Leather Is Low-Quality. While genuine leather is often perceived as a low-quality material, this notion is not entirely accurate. As discussed earlier, there are various types of genuine leather, ranging from full-grain to bonded leather. Each type has its own unique qualities and applications in the fashion industry, and some are considered to be of higher quality than others. The quality of genuine leather can vary significantly depending on the tanning process, craftsmanship, and care given to the material. It is important to evaluate individual products rather than generalizing the quality of genuine leather as a whole.
          5. Cleaning Leather Goods Is Difficult. Some people believe that cleaning and maintaining leather goods is challenging. However, research indicates that with proper care, leather products can last up to 5 times longer than their synthetic counterparts. Regularly wiping the surface with a slightly damp cloth can remove 90% of dust and dirt, while specialized leather cleaners and conditioners can help to keep the material in good shape. Following the manufacturer's instructions and testing any cleaning products on a small, inconspicuous area can ensure the proper maintenance of leather goods.
          6. Color Of Leather Fades Away With Time. While it is true that the color of some leather products may change over time due to exposure to sunlight, humidity, and daily wear and tear, high-quality leather can develop a beautiful patina over time, enhancing its appearance and giving it character. Studies have shown that leather exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods can lose up to 20% of its color intensity within a year. To minimize color fading, store leather goods away from direct sunlight and moisture, and condition the leather periodically to preserve its natural oils.
          7. Leather Goods Are Fragile and Less Durable. Contrary to popular belief, high-quality genuine leather is known for its strength, durability, and ability to withstand daily wear and tear. In fact, leather's tensile strength is up to 50% greater than that of synthetic materials, making it an ideal choice for various applications. The longevity of leather products depends on factors such as the type of leather used, craftsmanship, and proper care. Full-grain leather, for example, is the most durable and highest quality leather, while bonded leather is less durable and more prone to damage.
          8. Cost Determines The Quality Of Genuine Leather Products. While the price of a genuine leather product can sometimes be an indicator of quality, it is not the only factor to consider. A study conducted by Consumer Reports found that, in some cases, expensive leather products did not necessarily offer better quality. Factors such as the type of leather, craftsmanship, and the brand's reputation can all contribute to the quality and value of a leather item. It is essential to evaluate individual products and research the brand and materials used to determine whether the price is reflective of the product's quality.

          Can genuine leather be fake?

          No, genuine leather is real leather made from animal hides. Fake leather, also known as faux leather or synthetic leather, is a man-made material designed to look and feel like real leather.

          Is 100% genuine leather real leather?

          Yes, 100% genuine leather refers to real leather made entirely from animal hides without synthetic materials.

          Sustainability and Ethical Concerns

          The leather industry has faced criticism for its environmental impact and ethical concerns related to animal welfare and labor practices. In response to these concerns, various organizations and initiatives have emerged to promote sustainable and ethical leather production. The Leather Working Group, for example, works to certify tanneries based on their environmental performance and adherence to ethical standards. Additionally, many luxury brands are taking steps to improve their supply chain transparency and reduce their environmental footprint.

          Is genuine leather vegan?

          No, genuine leather is made from animal hides and is not a vegan material. Vegan leather is an alternative made from synthetic or plant-based materials.

          Advantages of Genuine Leather Products

          Durability and Longevity: Genuine leather is known for its strength and ability to withstand wear and tear. When properly maintained, leather products can last for years, if not decades, making them a long-lasting investment.

          Timeless Appeal: Leather has a timeless and classic appeal that never goes out of style. Genuine leather accessories can complement various fashion trends and add a touch of sophistication to any outfit.

          Comfort: Genuine leather is a breathable material that adapts to the shape of the user over time. This ensures a comfortable fit, particularly for items such as shoes and belts.

          Easy Maintenance: With proper care, genuine leather can be easily maintained and cleaned. High-quality leather care products help preserve the appearance and longevity of the material.

          Natural Material: Genuine leather is a natural, biodegradable material, making it an eco-friendly choice compared to synthetic alternatives.

          Is genuine leather good?

          Genuine leather's quality can vary depending on the type and grade. Some genuine leather types are considered high-quality and durable, while others may be of lower quality.

          Disadvantages of Genuine Leather Products

          Cost: Genuine leather products tend to be more expensive than their synthetic counterparts due to the material's quality and craftsmanship involved in producing them.

          Susceptible to Damage: Genuine leather can be susceptible to scratches, stains, and water damage if not properly cared for.

          Ethical Concerns: Some individuals may have ethical concerns regarding the use of animal products, including leather. Additionally, some leather production processes can involve chemicals that may have negative environmental impacts.

          Inconsistency: As a natural material, genuine leather may have slight variations in texture, color, and quality, which may not appeal to those who prefer a more uniform appearance.

          Sensitivity to Temperature: Genuine leather can be sensitive to extreme temperatures, causing it to become stiff in cold conditions or soften in heat. This can impact the longevity and appearance of leather products if not adequately managed.

          The significance of genuine leather in the fashion industry cannot be overstated, as it remains a highly coveted material for luxury accessories. However, consumers must consider the type and quality of leather, as well as the ethical and environmental implications of their purchases. By understanding the nuances of genuine leather production, buyers can make informed decisions that align with their values and preferences.

          How To Care For Genuine Leather

          Proper care and maintenance of genuine leather products are essential to preserve their appearance, durability, and longevity. Leather is a natural material that is porous and susceptible to damage if not cared for correctly. The science behind leather care involves understanding its structure and using appropriate cleaning and conditioning methods to prevent damage and maintain its integrity.

          When caring for genuine leather, it is important to keep it away from direct sunlight, high temperatures, and moisture. Exposure to these elements can cause the leather to fade, crack, or warp. Regularly dusting and wiping the leather with a soft, dry cloth can help remove surface dirt and prevent the build-up of dust particles.

          For a more thorough cleaning, use a pH-balanced leather cleaner specifically designed for genuine leather. These cleaners work by gently lifting dirt and oils from the leather's surface without stripping away its natural moisture. The chemical structure of these cleaners is designed to penetrate the leather's pores without causing harm to its fibers. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials, as they can damage the leather's surface and cause irreversible harm.

          After cleaning, it is crucial to condition the leather to replenish its natural oils and maintain its flexibility. Leather conditioners typically contain natural oils, such as lanolin, neatsfoot oil, or mink oil, which help nourish and moisturize the leather. Conditioning also helps prevent cracking and maintains the leather's softness and pliability. Apply the conditioner sparingly and evenly, allowing it to absorb into the leather before buffing with a soft cloth.

          It is recommended to clean and condition genuine leather products every 3-6 months, depending on use and exposure to the elements. Regular maintenance can significantly extend the lifespan of genuine leather items, ensuring they remain functional and visually appealing for years to come. By understanding the science behind leather care and using appropriate cleaning and conditioning methods, you can protect your genuine leather products, accessories and goods in a better way.

          Cost Of Genuine Leather Products

          The cost of genuine leather products can vary greatly depending on factors such as the type of leather, production methods, craftsmanship, and the brand. Here, we will provide an overview of the costs associated with different types of genuine leather and offer insight into the factors that influence their pricing.

          Type of Leather

          Full-grain leather is the highest quality and most expensive type of genuine leather, with prices ranging from $5 to $10 per square foot. Top-grain leather, which is slightly lower in quality, can cost between $3 and $5 per square foot. Split leather and bonded leather are more affordable options, with prices ranging from $1 to $3 per square foot.

          Production Methods

            The tanning process can significantly impact the cost of genuine leather. Chrome tanning, which accounts for approximately 80% of the leather produced globally, is a faster and more affordable method, resulting in lower prices for the final product. Vegetable tanning, on the other hand, is a more traditional and environmentally friendly process that takes longer and can increase the cost of the leather.


              The quality of craftsmanship plays a significant role in determining the cost of genuine leather products. Handcrafted items made by skilled artisans using high-quality materials and traditional techniques can command higher prices than mass-produced items made with lower-quality leather and less attention to detail.


                Well-known luxury brands often charge a premium for their genuine leather products due to factors such as brand reputation, design, and exclusivity. For example, a study by Bain & Company found that the average price of a luxury leather handbag in 2020 was $2,500, while a similar quality handbag from a less prestigious brand could be priced at around $500.

                Is genuine leather expensive?

                The price of genuine leather varies depending on factors such as type, quality, production process, and brand as mentioned above. Some genuine leather products can be expensive, while others may be more affordable.

                Buyer's Guide: Genuine Leather Accessories

                When deciding if you should buy genuine leather accessories, consider the following factors:

                Type and Quality of Leather: Full-grain, top-grain, split, and bonded leather each offer unique characteristics and varying levels of durability, aesthetics, and price.

                Brand Reputation and Craftsmanship: Invest in accessories from reputable brands known for their commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and ethical practices.

                Care and Maintenance: Proper care and maintenance can extend the lifespan of genuine leather accessories, preserving their appearance and functionality.

                Ethical and Environmental Considerations: Research the brand's sustainability and ethical practices to ensure your purchase aligns with your values.

                Budget: Determine your budget and choose genuine leather accessories that provide the best balance between quality, style, and affordability.

                Genuine leather and evidently genuine leather remains a popular choice for accessories due to its durability, aesthetic appeal, and long-lasting quality. By understanding the different types of leather and the factors that contribute to their quality, as consumers can we can make informative conclusions when purchasing genuine leather accessories.

                Furthermore, as the demand for sustainable and ethical products continues to grow, it is essential for consumers to research the brands and their production practices to ensure that their purchases align with their personal values. The global leather goods market's projected growth highlights the importance of making conscious choices when investing in genuine leather accessories.

                Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of genuine leather, its types, and the factors to consider when purchasing genuine leather accessories, you can explore the wide variety of products available on the market. From bags and wallets to belts and shoes, genuine leather accessories can elevate your wardrobe and make a lasting impression.

                As you delve deeper into the world of genuine leather accessories, you may also want to explore the various trends and styles that have emerged over time. From classic designs to innovative and contemporary creations, there is a vast array of genuine leather accessories to suit every taste and preference.

                Moreover, consider supporting local artisans and small businesses that produce high-quality genuine leather products. By doing so, you not only contribute to their livelihood but also promote craftsmanship and the preservation of traditional skills.

                Finally, proper care and maintenance of your genuine leather accessories are essential to ensure their longevity and preserve their appearance. Invest in high-quality leather care products, such as leather conditioners, cleaners, and protectants, and follow the manufacturer's care instructions to maintain your leather accessories in their best condition.

                With this newfound knowledge of genuine leather, you are well-equipped to navigate the world of leather accessories and make informed choices that reflect your style, preferences, and values.

                Most Common Products made from Genuine Leather

                Genuine leather plays a significant role in the world of luxury fashion accessories. The material's versatility, durability, and timeless appeal make it a staple in high-end design. Below we will list the most common genuine leather products:

                1. Leather Accessories: Leather accessories not only provide a touch of sophistication and luxury to any ensemble but also offer impressive durability. From wallets and phone cases to handbags and shoes, leather has become a staple material in the world of high-fashion.
                2. Leather Wallets: A leather wallet is a quintessential luxury accessory, exuding sophistication and practicality. Designer brands, such as Saint Laurent, Montblanc, and Bvlgari, offer a range of leather wallets that combine functionality with refined aesthetics.
                3. Leather Phone Cases: Leather phone cases not only provide protection for your smartphone but also add a sense of style and elegance to your daily routine. Brands like Apple, Samsung, and various designer labels offer luxurious leather phone cases that effortlessly merge practicality with fashion.
                4. Leather Belts: A well-crafted leather belt can elevate an outfit and showcase a keen sense of style. Luxury brands such as Gucci, Ferragamo, and Versace have all made their mark in the world of leather belts, offering intricate designs and high-quality materials that stand the test of time.
                5. Leather Handbags: Leather handbags are synonymous with luxury and style. Iconic designs, such as the Hermès Birkin, the Chanel 2.55, and the Louis Vuitton Speedy, have captivated fashion enthusiasts for decades. These bags are crafted using the finest leathers, such as full-grain and top-grain leather, ensuring their enduring quality and value.
                6. Leather Shoes: High-quality leather shoes are a must-have in any luxury wardrobe. Classic styles like oxfords, loafers, and boots crafted from premium leather materials are not only comfortable and stylish but also provide excellent durability. Renowned brands like Christian Louboutin, Prada, and John Lobb have long been associated with the creation of exquisite leather footwear that combines elegance and functionality.
                7. Leather Handbags: Leather handbags are synonymous with luxury and style. Iconic designs, such as the Hermès Birkin, the Chanel 2.55, and the Louis Vuitton Speedy, have captivated fashion enthusiasts for decades. These bags are crafted using the finest leathers, such as full-grain and top-grain leather, ensuring their enduring quality and value.


                Genuine leather or real leather remains an essential material in the fashion industry, particularly in the realm of luxury accessories. By understanding the various types of genuine leather and debunking common myths and misconceptions, as a consumer you can make more informed decisions when purchasing genuine leather products. Whether it's a statement handbag or a timeless pair of shoes, genuine leather accessories are a testament to craftsmanship, quality, and enduring style.

                In conclusion, genuine leather offers numerous advantages, such as durability, timeless appeal, and comfort. However, it also has some disadvantages, including cost, susceptibility to damage, and ethical concerns. By considering these factors and exploring similar materials, you can make informed decisions when purchasing leather accessories that align with your preferences and values.