Leather shoes occupy a significant part of the footwear market across the world. It was estimated at $177 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $ 208.6 billion by 2027. Leather is an all-encompassing term, it may be cowhide, alligator hide, and even ostrich skin among others. Then there are different grades of leather. All this leads to much confusion. To solve this conundrum provided below is a compilation of types and grades of leather. We will start from the grades of leather and then move on to types of leather.
Different Grades of Leather
‘Grades of leather’ corresponds to the quality of leather. The nomenclature is a bit confusing if interpreted literally for example, Full Grain or Top Grain. Below are the different grades of leather explained for the discerning buyer.
- Full Grain Leather
This is the highest quality of leather and the costliest. This is taken from the rump and top side of the cattle. Due to the position of skin in this portion, the leather does not have imperfections and scratches and has tight and dense fibers than the rest of the skin. It compromises only about 13% of the total hide available. Since this leather is blemish-free so there is no need to sand or buff it which is the meaning of the term “Full Grain” in leather industry parlance. Full-grain leather’s porous and natural state allows it to ‘breathe’ and resist water. This leather is hardy and durable and products made from it maintain their texture and quality for decades even with minimum care. Full-grain leather is used to create the highest quality pure leather boots.
- Top Grain Leather
It is the next highest quality of leather. This is sourced from the hide draped over the ribs and above the flank of the cattle which is about 30% of the hide available. It contains some blemishes due to scratches suffered by the cattle due to grazing and other reasons. To get rid of these imperfections the hide is sanded and buffed due to which a minimal layer of the hide is removed and Top Grain leather emerges. To make the leather more attractive it is also pigmented and stained and a coating is applied to it. Due to this process, the Top Grain leather becomes flexible and smoother. Top Grain is also durable but a little less than Full Grain due to finishing. Good quality leather shoes are made of this leather.
- Corrected Grain Leather
Also known as Bottom Cut or Genuine leather. This is ‘Genuine leather’ as it is also sourced from the rest of the cattle hide left after Full Grain and Top Grain leather are extracted. This comprises the head, legs, belly, and neck region of the hide which are prone to scratches, stretch marks, and other blemishes. It is rough in texture and emerges after repeated sanding and buffing which removes the imperfections along with the upper and middle parts of the hide. To give it a natural appearance like the higher quality grades it is spray painted and embossed. But due to this, it loses the ability to ‘breathe’ as high-quality leather does. The end product still gives the impression of high quality but is thinner and so less durable. It is best used in the mass production of leather shoes with a medium price range. These can still last nearly half a decade if properly cared for and polished regularly.
- Suede Leather
Suede is made from the innermost part of the hide called ‘Corium’ from where the flesh starts. This fleshy part is buffed and sanded to let Suede emerge. Suede leather is velvety and has a light wooly texture. It requires extra care as water exposure may ruin it. Suede leather can be sourced from different animals like Cowhide Suede, Pigskin suede, and Sheepskin suede with the latter being more popular and prevalent. Premium leather shoes for ladies are generally made of Suede leather.
- Pigskin Leather
Pigskin as the name implies is sourced from the pigs, namely the ‘Peccary’ variety of wild pigs found in South America. Pigskin leather is very soft and flexible but thick and hard to damage. Though it does not take to water well so avoid it from getting soaked. Pigskin has a distinct texture and a dull shine which is its unique feature. It can be dyed easily so it comes in various shades and colors. It is less expensive than calfskin and a very popular option in shoes.
- Kidskin Leather
Kidskin is the leather sourced from goats, whether young or old. It has a soft texture, is lightweight, absorbent yet highly durable. It is high quality and expensive leather though a little less than calfskin leather. Kidskin requires proper maintenance for its longevity. Suede is generally made from Kidskin leather. High-quality women’s formal leather shoes, especially dress shoes are made from Kidskin leather.
- Shell Cordovan
Shell Cordovan is a rare, expensive, and hardy variety of leather. It is sourced from horses. Shell Cordovan is very dense and has no visible pores which makes it water-resistant and the leather also does not sag or stretch. Shell cordovan is taken only from a small part of the horse so it is very rare and expensive. The final leather also takes up to 6 months to prepare. It is also difficult to dye due to its non-existent pores and the hard nature of the hide. Therefore, it comes only in a few colors, these being the shades of red and burgundy. Shell Cordovan is used for making top-quality formal shoes as well as expensive pure leather boots.
- Alligator Hide
This is a very expensive leather as alligators are a protected species and only a limited number can be hunted by availing special passes. The leather is sourced from the area which is soft but very durable. The softer leather is usually easy for craftsmen to work on. This leather has a high sheen and a distinguishing uneven rectangular scale pattern. Alligator hide is used to make expensive hand-crafted leather shoes that can go to thousands of dollars.
The above article will work as a quick guide in identifying leather types and grades and will help in selecting the appropriate leather material for your products. Hope this helps in getting you the ‘right fit’ of leather shoes.