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Updated: Sep 16, 2021

What are your first thoughts when someone talks about leather?

Do you think durable and sustainable; luxury and expensive; animal care and animal rights; eco-friendly or environmentally hazardous?

We think production and use of leather includes all of the above, and we definitely think about all of these aspects when we produce our HILDEBRAND bags. The reason why we use leather for our bags is that it is sustainable and very durable. We also think it is beautiful, soft and comfortable to use and wear. You should be able to use your leather bag for many years, and it should become even nicer with time, carrying your history.

Animal care and animal rights are of course an extremely important issue. We use Indian cow leather in the majority of our products, however we also use hydes from Italy and Sweden. India is one of the world’s largest exporter of leather and leather products. The leather that are used for our bags comes from cows that are treated normally and farmed when they are alive, the cows are slaughtered for the meat and the skin is a by-product waste which then is sold as raw skin. India has passed a number of animal welfare reforms since 1960. The animal care in India has changed to the better. India has today a number of domestic animal welfare organizations.

Leather is a tough, durable and thick material, however, animal skin can spoil and decompose easily. To avoid goods made from animal skin from decomposing, it is first tanned. Tanning is the process that gives leather from animal skin. Tanning makes use of an astringent like the plant product tannin.Tanbark from oak, mimosa, chestnut and quebracho tree has traditionally been the primary source of tannery tanninor, though inorganic tanning agents are also in use today and account for 90% of the world's leather production. Tanning results in the proteins in the animal skin to coagulate and precipitate - this permanently alters the structure, composition and often the color of the animal skin. This makes the leather much more durable and tough. It is also not susceptible to decomposition. For HILDEBRAND bags we work with tanneries which are audited and are REACH Compliant, which addressing the production and use of chemical substance and their potential impact on both human health as well as the environment. The tannery have a waste disposal / recycling system in place. All the tanneries we use are also members of the Leather Working Group (LWG). The objective of this multi-stakeholder group is to develop and maintain a protocol that assesses the environmental compliance and performance capabilities of leather manufacturers, and promotes sustainable and appropriate environmental business practices within the leather industry. We have choosen to do vegetable tanning for the majority of our products. Our goal is to have 100 % vegetable tanned leather for all our leather bags.

By putting pressure on leather producers and manufacturers, and demand a certain level of quality leather, we think the Indian leather industry may become more ethical, environmental friendly and sustainable. Animal hide reflects the quality of a given animal's lifestyle, diet, fitness and illnesses suffered. Animals that are treated humanely and who are kept in safe, comfortable conditions, who eat well and receive quality care often have very clean hides with few blemishes. This is the kind of leather we want to use for our bags.

In the tanning process that gives us leather from animal rawhide, several steps are performed to remove the animal hair, skin, etc. Depending on degree of this processing and which of these steps are or are not performed, we get four basic types of leather:

Full-grain: This is the kind of leather in which the epidermis (the outermost of the three layers that make up the skin) of the animal skin has not been removed. Also, no corrective processes have been performed on full grain leather to get rid of the natural marks that may be present on the skin.

Top-grain: One step down from full-grain, top-grain leather is the surface layer of an animal hide created when it is split, sometimes lightly sanded to remove some of the leather’s more obvious imperfections. Although it won’t develop the same patina (developed over time) as full-grain leather, it is still strong and extremely supple.

Corrected-grain: Take top-grain leather (with lots of imperfections), sand and buff it deeply to remove most or all of the blemishes and flaws, and then add a stamped or embossed “artificial” grain – and you have corrected-grain leather. It looks uniform because most of the natural grain has been removed and it is given a semi-aniline coated finish or more often, pigmented dye (protective dye).

Split: This is what’s left after the top grain is removed from a hide. Because it’s a fibrous leather, it’s cheaper (both in cost and feel), is damaged easily, and doesn’t stand up well to prolonged use even though it’s a 100% leather product. Depending on the thickness of the hide, a split may be further separated into several layers. Suede is an inside split that’s been buffed, softened, and dyed; nubuck is an outside split treated in a similar way. Suede is softer and more flexible (and much less durable) because it was closer to the animal’s skin, while nubuck is stronger and “looks more like leather” since it was closer to the top grain.

Faux Leather: It is man-made and durable because of the synthetic materials used. It is widely used in commercial places for the furniture because it is the cheapest type of ”leather” and does not get damaged soon, and still looks original. Some people refers to faux leather as vegan leather, but this is an incorrect ascription since it is actually made of synthetic material, i.e. platsic (polyurethane (“PU”) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC – “Vinyl”))

What is Napa leather?

Napa leather is a term referring to soft, smooth, often full grain leather made from animal hide. Napa leather often retains much of its original texture and look and generally feels soft and luxurious. It was first made by Emanuel Manasse in the year 1875. Manasse worked for a tanning company in Napa, California, and that is how the leather got its name. As stated previously, Napa leather is a full-grain leather. Like most leather, Napa leather typically comes from cow hides, but it may also come from lamb, calf and/or goat.

In Manasse's day, the process of making Napa leather was very specific. It entailed vegetable tanning agents and alum salts. Originally used to make gloves, Napa was often dyed various colors.

The Napa leather tanning process hasn't changed much since Manasse's day. Today, manufacturers may also use salts such as chromium and aluminum sulfate. They dye Napa leather with water-soluble colorants, so the finished product retains its vibrant color for decades, seldom fading despite wear and tear or exposure to the elements or sunlight.

Properties of Nappa Leather

1. The leather is very soft and pliable. It is not hard like other leathers and does not crease.

2. The leather is tough and durable in spite of being soft. It is not easily spoiled.

3. The leather has an intact top-grain. Hence, it is more "breathable" and does not retain moisture.

4. The leather often develops a patina over the years that adds to its aesthetics.


We hope we have given you a deeper and broader knowledge about leather. One thing that is important to remember is that leather is a classic material. Durable, stylish, and tough, a good piece of leather should last you a lifetime. However, like most things, you need to show your leather some love. The better you maintain your leather the longer it will last and the better it will look.

Next LETTER will teach you how to take care of your leather products. Stay tuned!

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