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A Hide by Any Other Name...

HOLY COW! Is that wallet made from horse butt?!? Sometimes!

If someone sees your awesome new Imperial Pine Leather wallet or belt and asks what kind of leather it is, or how was it made, keep reading below for the right info to share.

Most people's initial thought, and the simple answer is a cow (or horse butt in the case of any Shell Cordovan items); however, rarely is anything as simple as it seems. True, the leather comes from an animal hide, but not all leathers are created equally, even if they are from the very same animal.

Looking at the cross section of a hide you can see there are four separate sections. The outermost is the grain section which is comprised of tight collagen bundles; next is the grain/corium junction followed by the corium section with large/loose collage bundles and then the flesh.

When the hide is being processed at the tannery, it will go through an initial split where the leather is split into two distinct sections; the top grain leather and the bottom split leather. The bottom softer split will generally go to another tannery that focuses on softer leathers like suede, whereas, the top grain section will then be used to produce Full Grain and Corrected Grain leathers. Neither of these leathers is “better” than the other, it’s a matter of the end use of the product and the opinion of those making or buying the products.

Full grain is leather from the top most section of the leather after the first split and has an outer surface that has not been corrected or polished. Full grain leather (e.g. Horween Dublin) has a very hardy and natural look that some may say has more character than corrected grain. The grain section can also be made into corrected grain leather (e.g. Horween Chromexcel) which goes through a process to polish up, buff, or “correct” the outer surface by removing imperfections such as scarring, stretch marks, brands, and other natural markings. This is generally done with commercial machinery including sanders, buffing machines and polishers.

Now that the hides have been split and qualified for processing, tanneries use their proprietary methods to finish the hide. At Horween’s historic facility in Chicago, they go through a three-step process: Wet-End Process, Drying, Finishing.

At the Wet-End, the raw hides are inspected for quality and put into a cement mixer or a large vat of “lime slur” that removes the hair from the hide. In the case of vegetable tanned leathers, they are then put into deep pits filled with veg tan liquors made up of a combination of bark and tree extracts. The hides are then inspected again and categorized to determine which product they will ultimately become. Up next is the retan process where the individual leather types will become their own unique hide based on the oils and dyes used to bring out distinct character, color and performance of the leather. Hides  go through specific processes (such as hot stuffing) that reintroduce natural oils, fats and waxes to balance the hide and prevent it from breaking down over time.

Once the hides are fulling tanned, they are ready to be dried. Four of the different methods are air drying, pasting, toggling and wet vacuuming, and these techniques are used individually or combined depending on the end product. Next up, the leathers are split to customers specs and finished by hand staining and then spraying. After the stains are completed, certain tannages get a spray coating to give certain finishes. Finally, the leather gets sorted and stamped to show tannery, size and date.

So yes, your leather wallet, belt, and/or shoes may all have come from a similar animal hide, but depending on the tannery, the tannage of leather and the color or finish of the leather, they each take their own unique journey to become the product you hold. At Imperial Pine Leather, we use the highest rated leathers such as Horween and Wickett & Craig to make sure our customers are receiving quality leather goods that will last a lifetime.

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