3 . 5 . 2022
Leather. The unique material that is used for a wide range of items and products, from handcrafted shoes to bookbinding hardcover books.
Obtained from different animal skins or hides, this is one of the oldest resources in existence, with its history being traced back to more than seven thousand years. Today, it still is one of the most – if not the most – popular choices you can make when it comes to choosing quality material to work with.
Strong and flexible, long-lasting, and yet recyclable, there is much that can be said about this quality material and why we at Carlos Santos work with it to handcraft quality shoes. If you are wondering how it all comes together, then leather is where everything begins.
Every fabric that can be made from the hides and skins of animals is considered a leather fabric, obtained through a unique process requiring tanning and chemical treatments to make it more manageable and protect the consumer’s health.
Almost all animals can be used to make it, and the difference between the terms hide and skin comes down to the size of the animal. The hide is gathered from the bigger animals, such as cows and horses, while skin refers to the smaller ones.
That is not to say that every animal should be providing it. In many countries of the world, particularly those in the European Union, there are strict laws that apply.
Genuine leather production is made from the hides and skins of animals also used for other purposes, such as cattle for food production. This is also in line with what our ancestors did.
To survive, they needed to hunt – and when they succeeded, every part of the animal was used.
Their meat was as important to their survivability as were their hides, which were transformed into leather for safety and protection, or their bones, made into useful utensils or weaponry.
That is why cowhide makes up almost 70% of all leather produced in the world today. However, different techniques used during the production process may result in a different type of leather, as you will see.
The way leather is made depends on the type of animal providing the hide which, in turn, can influence the entire process. But if we put the details aside for a moment, we can say that it is generally made by a three-step process.
The first step in leather making requires the preparation of the hide for the second and most important stage of the process. Preparing the hides mostly entails the removal of the hair still present, with some hides being bleached or soaked as well.
The most important step of the leather-making process is tanning. Tanning is a synonym for “preservation” which is exactly the purpose at this stage.
To do so, the previously prepared and cleaned hides are treated with what is called a tanning agent. The three most used tanning agents are the vegetable tannin (organic tannic acid), mineral salts (such as chromium sulfate), and different oils of animal origin.
Ultimately, the point of tanning is to give more flexibility to a piece of leather, in order to make it supple and graceful, as well as more durable and sustainable, ready to be used in many ways.
No matter the type of leather it is to become next, it still needs to be finished. This is made by putting it through what is called a crusting process that softens and dries it before handcraft work begins.
In all, leather can be divided into two categories, with three subtypes, to which we then can add the bonded and the faux leather. The bonded type is made of scraps, while the faux type is a synthetic alternative to animal hide.
The other six types are as follows:
Top Grain Leather:
All these have their own characteristics. Top grain is considered the thickest and most resistant leather, for example. Suede, on the other hand, tends to be softer and smoother. Nonetheless, they all share the same benefits.
One of the reasons why leather is used for so many different products has to do with the benefits the material can offer many master craftsmen and women around the world.
Leather can be used to make clothing apparel like jackets, quality shoes such as the ones we handcraft at Carlos Santos, home décor pieces like sofas, and even upholstery for luxury cars or sports equipment like baseball gloves.
Alongside its versatility, it is also very resistant and long-lasting. It can be maintained and repaired without much effort, all the while providing comfortability and a sense of luxurious beauty.
It is for all these reasons that leather is considered such an attractive fabric to work with.
Both natural and durable, it has a unique capacity to allow us to handcraft beautiful quality shoes, boots, and sneakers.