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The Best Leather Furniture: How is it Made?

Cost of Manufacturing Leather

The art of real leather making is an ancient craft. In the earliest days, leather makers would use the animal's own oils as raw materials to tan the hides in tanneries, along with local tree barks, leaves, and natural minerals. Leather was essential for our ancestors—it allowed them to survive in cold climates, as well as serving as a natural wind, water, and moisture-resistant material for dwellings and carrying containers. In today's modern, tech-heavy world, we might assume our culture would have a mitigated use of natural leather hides, but leather use and production are at an all-time high.

Leather furniture is warm, inviting, and adds an aesthetic of refinement to our living spaces. It gives us a subconscious feeling of accomplishment—a natural side-effect from our ancestor’s necessity for the substance. Indeed, everywhere one looks from clothes, vehicles, homes, and tools still feature leather in excess. Unfortunately, the appetite for real leather as a material for furniture, clothes, and more has no relation today as to what it did for our ancestors: survival. Unlike our ancestors, whose practices were inherently sustainable, the modern leather industry and tanneries where it is made are a far cry from the organic craft.

Everyone likes leather to a certain extent. Perhaps one does not like the idea of where it originates but that does not make it any less aesthetically pleasing or comfortable.

Who's Making the Leather

India and China are two of the largest producers of leather due to a lack of regulation and enforcement of animal rights and workers rights. These countries occupy over 8.5 billion square feet of land dedicated to industrial leather production. Sighting decreased labor costs and regulatory expenditures, western manufacturers commonly outsource to these countries which increases the market for leather factories in India and China. Unfortunately, the western world has not yet put their money where their legislation and regulation is.

In the US, as the eco-friendly trend rises, homeowners are looking for alternatives to foreign imported leathers. 

How it is Made

Leather can be made from any animal which has skin. Often, these include cows, pigs, goats, and sheep. These animals are commonly used for their hides because they are easily acquired. Exotic animals are also used for their hides, such as alligators, ostriches, and kangaroos.

Almost everything we buy is made in China. This includes leather. China has very minimal export regulations concerning the manufacturing process, conditions, and quality of many products. Many times, an unregulated manufacturer will claim one material—like deer hide—but, in reality, produces blended leather of varied animal species.

The specific type of leather which is produced by a country depends on which source is in abundance. Unsurprisingly, cattle are a major source of leather in America. However, we will often see cattle leather which is blended with leathers made from goat, lamb, deer, ostrich, buffalo, and, on occasion, yak.

Leather goes through a tanning process before it is suitable for use. This is essential to mummify the hide so as to keep it from rotting or hardening to a shell. Rawhide and tan hide have different reactions when they are introduced to heat and water. Exposing rawhide to heat will cause the hide to harden and become rigid. Exposing it to water will reverse the effects. Tan hide is processed to be flexible at all times and often to resist water and heat.

Tanning Processes

Vegetable-Tanned leather is the most natural and organic of the tanning processes. It uses oils derived from organic plant life and vegetables to treat the hide. The downside to the finished product is that it becomes unstable in water, shrinking and losing its flexibility. Synthetically Tanned leather is recognizable by its creamy white color. This process was invented during the Second World War, due to a rationing of vegetable oils. It uses polymers, such as Novolac, Neradol, and Melamine.

Aldehyde-tanned leather is the second most popular method of tanning. This creates a soft, white, water-absorbent and washable leather, which is very popular in upholstery.

The most noxious and toxic method, Chromium-tanned leathers are the most widespread on the market.

The primary hazard in foreign leather-based processing is the dumping of liquid and solid waste, which contaminates groundwater and rivers and causes disease in local communities. The largest contributor to this waste is the process of chromium tanning. The compound is a carcinogen when inhaled, which obstructs the body’s airways. Workers in the leather tanning business are disenfranchised from the lack of regulatory control in these hosting countries.

Whether it's designed for comfort or visual impact, the furniture in your home should express your own statement. It should contribute to the story of who you are and the priorities you hold most dear in your life. The statements you make with the furnishings of your home can contain leather but they don't have to contribute to the toxic waste and fumes in our atmosphere.

There are plenty of companies that produce environmentally-friendly leather, using all-natural organic materials and processes. There are even companies who specialize in using recycled or eco-friendly materials as an alternative to leather.

However, if you're looking for the best leather furniture on the market, a convenient resource is Wellington’s Fine Leather Furniture. Sometimes, there is no compromise for the real thing.

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