Types of Leather and Tanning

Types of Leather

As you would expect, the world of leather is a very complex one, and we could go on and on about all the differences and types, but to try and give a flavour we have simplified it to key areas, and things that may be of interest when choosing a leather bag. Our bags are only made from Full Grain leather, or Genuine leather, but we explain the others just for reference.

Full Grain Leather

We will start at the top, quite literally, this cut of leather contains the outer layer of the hide, referred to as the grain, it has not been sanded or buffed to remove any imperfections. Generally speaking, just the hair is removed from the hide. The grain generally has densely packed fibres that are finer which results in a surface that is very strong, durable and can withstand tough use.
Because it undergoes no sanding, the surface will often have minor imperfections. These might be from where a cow rubbed up against a fence, a small cuts they might have received, or scrapes from everyday life. Full grain hides without many blemishes are the most prized, as they are least common and are the most visually appealing.
Since the outer layer is not removed, it develops a patina over time that can be pleasing to the eye, and very unique. The outer layer also provides some water-resistance qualities as well. Full Grain is looked upon as the highest quality leather available.

Top Grain Leather

This cut is very similar to full grain, except that it has had the very top layer sanded and/or buffed to remove imperfections and irregularities in the finish. This makes the leather softer and more pliable, with various dyes and finished applied to it.

Genuine Leather

Yes,Genuine leather is a type of leather rather than just meaning real leather, it can come from any layer of the hide and undergoes treatment to the surface to provide a more uniform, appearance. It can be sanded or buffed to remove surface imperfections, then dyed, spray painted, laminated, or stamped/embossed to give it a final surface appearance. Often not all the imperfections are removed so there can still be some uniqueness to the bag.
The process alters some of the preferred qualities of leather, so while not a top quality, it is more affordable, and a great compromise.

Split Grain Leather

Split grain leather is a layer of leather from within the lower levels of the top grain area of the hide. It is usually a lower layer of the hide, above the flesh. Also, below the full grain and the best top grain cuts. Though, it still provides a useful leather material.
The natural surface of split grain leather is not as dense, tight, and useful as full grain and top grain. Thus, it is often used in finishes of leathers that are coloured, embossed, and the surface altered in some significant way. This allows it to offer some of the helpful qualities of a leather material, while having a visually pleasing and often-functional surface beneficial for leather products.

Bonded Leather

Bonded leather is made up of leather scraps that are finely shredded and bonded together using polyurethane or latex onto a fibre mesh or sheet. The amount of leather in the actual mix can vary greatly (from 10%-90%), and thus affect the functional and aesthetic properties of the finished product. It is often painted to give it colour and could also be pressed/embossed to give it the appearance of a particular grain or leather style. None of our bags are or will be made from this leather, but it does explain why you see such cheap leather bags on the market.

As well as the above, with the exception of bonded leather, there are also parts of the hide that are more desirable, and expensive than others, so when you see bags for thousands of pounds or super luxury cars, the leather will not only be Full or Top Grain leather but will be the most desirable parts of the hide hence costing so much, as well as the cost of the brand name of course.

Tanning Process

So, what is Tanning? This is the treatment process to convert the raw animal hides into leather as we know it, without this treatment the hide would start to rot, just the same as any other organic material. the process involves exposing the hide to acidic chemical compounds known as tannins, yes, this is where the name came from, and yes, as in what is found in wine, but no you cannot make your own leather with lots of cheap plonk.  

There are many tanneries all over the world, but are only three tanning hubs in Italy, one in the north, in Veneto, one in the central northern area, in Tuscany and one in the south, in Campania.

Over the years, all of these hubs has developed a strong specialisation concerning the items produced. Genuine Italian leather tanned at Solofra, in Campania, is mostly known for its goat and sheepskin hides chrome tanned, which directly supply the producers of leather clothing and accessories as well as linings of footwear. Genuine Italian leather tanned at Arzignano, in Veneto, is known for its chrome tanning of bovine leather for footwear and leather goods. The most exclusive items are large whole bovine hides, produced with the technique of ‘wet white’, this produces a soft but resistant leather, this is used for the production of furniture and car interiors. A type of processing very specialized that guarantees minimum fumes and smells.
The leather of the bags that we sell is bovine, or from cows, and is either the vegetable tanned for the Full Grain leather and the chrome tanning for the Genuine leather.

Vegetable Tanned

Vegetable tanned leather refers to the tannage, or method of tanning the cowhide into leather. It is called vegetable because of the natural materials used in the tanning process such as tree bark, leaves and berries. Vegetable tanning is one of the oldest methods of tanning known to man. It has literally been around for centuries. Due to the natural chemicals not being as effective as those used in Chrome tanning, it takes a lot longer hence making it a more expensive product.

Pros of vegetable tanning:

  • Leather obtained with this 100% natural process is environment friendly and unique.
  • Enviromentaly friendly due to the natural ingredients used
  • This tanning process enhances every hides unique details creating an exclusive and authentic final result.
  • We believe that the best trait this leather is the patina that it develops over time. To us vegetable tanned leather gets better and better over time, even when it gets marked with use, this just adds to its story.
  • Aromatic woody smell.

The downsides of vegetable tanning:

  • The average time of the vegetable tanning process takes between 40 to 60 days.
  • The leather is more easily stained in the presence of iron during all processing stages.
  • Considerable craftsmanship skills are needed for their creation.
  • Limited variations of colours obtainable 
  • Direct heat can cause shrinkage and possible cracks in vegetable tanned items.
  • The cost to produce it due to the above.
  • Can be stiff initally after tanning, but will soften a lot over time

Chrome tanning

Chrome tanning was discovered as a result of a discovery in the mid 1800's, it was found that by soaking medical sutures, or stiches as we know them, in a chemical known as chromium, they became stronger and would last for a lot longer. Not long after this they found that they could use the same process on leather, meaning that processing was quite simple and cheap, for some strange reason it really caught on as the way forward for tanning leather. 

About 80-90% of all leather produced in the world has been chrome tanned; it is possible to use this technique on bovine skins, sheep skin, goat and many other animals from which it is possible to find a skin.

Advantages of chrome tanning;

  • This process only takes 1-2 days, 92% of leather is tanned this way.
  • Easier dyeing
  • High thermal resistance, so less likely to be effected by direct heat.
  • Massive range of colours possible
  • Creates elastic fibres with abundant tensile strength.
  • Lower production costs
  • Water repellent if retreated and finished appropriately.
  • Softer than Vegetable tanned straight away.


  • More harmful to the environment due to the acids and chemicals used
  • Lower craftsmanship needed in production (some would say an advantage)
  • Characteristic chemicals odour (this should wear off quite quickly)
  • It does not look as natural as a Full Grain vegetable tanned hide, again some say that this is an advantage.

You woul think from this that in an ideal world we would all have full grain vegetable tanned leather bags, as we all know the world is far from perfect, but also, a full grain vegetable tanned bag does not suit everyone or inded every occassion, the chrome tanned leather definitely has its place in the world of leather bags and is not to be judged as sub standard, it is merely different as with many things in life and has its on benefits and disadvantages. As with everything we buy, we have to a judge how much we can afford, and is it worth paying a certain amount for someting, based on what we want to use the item for and for how long, does it suit the purpose for which you want it for.

We hope that this has helped a little bit, and not bored you to death, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to let us know HERE.

All the best and stay safe

Paul and Ang