Full grain leather, top grain leather, genuine leather, nubuck leather, suede ?
The principal difference between high-quality leather and textile in the context of the fashion industry is that each piece of leather is unique. The leather does not have the uniform weave or pattern of the textile. This feature gives leather products uniqueness and identity. Like any other raw material, leather is divided into several categories – according to its quality and according to the method of processing.
The quality of the rawhide depends on a number of factors, such as how the animal was raised, what it was fed, the climate in which it grew up. The skins or rawhides of animals bred freely and grazed in the alpine regions of Italy and France are among the highly prized in the leather industry.
A small percentage of the processed animal skin or rawhide is categorized as first quality material and allows it to be turned into the highest class – full grain leather. This means that the rawhide retains its original appearance and nothing needs to be removed from its top layer. In other words, its quality is so high that it is not necessary to remove the top layer, in order to get rid of any natural marks or imperfections. Since the top layer has the highest fiber density, it is also the most valuable layer of leather. This makes full grain leather stronger and more durable than all other existing types of leather. On its surface you can see small scars, shading and dyes, which are the desired effect in creating the product from full grain leather. They testify that the product is made from the highest class of leather. Full grain leather is used only in products created by highly positioned brands. It is not part of the mass-produced clothing industry and is not applicable in the so-called “fast fashion”.
The next category of leather is the top grain leather. This is animal rawhide, which imperfections of the top layer do not allow it to be processed as full grain leather, and it is necessary to remove the top layer thereof. This eliminates the scars, shading and dyes that make it unique. In addition, it loses its top layer of fiber and, although it is also highly valued, it is inferior in quality and attractiveness, as compared with full grain leather.
The next class is the genuine leather. There are no set rules for exactly how much of the top layer of the animal skin or rawhide can be removed and to what extent the fibers in it are preserved. In many cases, genuine leather is additionally treated with synthetic polymers, which make its surface uniform and homogeneous. Genuine leather is one of the principal products used in the mass fashion industry. Its price is several times lower than the first two classes of leather.
As the animal skin or rawhide in many cases exceeds the thickness of 3-4 mm, it has to be sliced or split. In this process, the high-quality top layer of the leather is processed as full grain leather or top grain leather (depending on the quality of leather), and the bottom layer is a by-product that we know as suede. The suede is made from the bottom layer of hide, which although categorized as genuine leather, has a low fiber density.
These are the four main types of leather, categorized according to the quality and thickness of its layer. There are several other by-products obtained from the processing of rawhide, which the fashion industry often classifies as genuine leather.