In a previous article, I wrote about leather and why it is such a good material for shoes. It refers to the history of leather, from the prehistoric period when early man used animal skins to make basic clothing, to today's modern leather industry. We look at the different types of leather available for footwear, consider the different features, advantages and disadvantages of each, and explain some of the terminology used to describe them.

What is real skin?

A selection of trial leathers in the Loake leather room

The skin can be made from the tanned skins of many different animals. The most common are cattle, goats, sheep and pigs, but can also be made of antelopes, camels, snakes and lizards, crocodiles, ostriches, seals, sharks, etc. If the finished leather has a surface coating with a thickness greater than 0,15 mm or which is greater than 30% of the total thickness, then it should not be described as natural leather, but as "covered leather". If tanned skin is broken into fibrous particles and reformed into sheets with a binding agent, then it should be called "glued skin." None of these are suitable for high quality footwear. Sheepskin is often used for clothing leather because it has a soft feel and is comfortable to wear. It is very good for light moccasins and slippers, but it does not have enough tensile strength for heavier construction shoes. Pig skin is abundant and relatively inexpensive, but it does not have a fine grain structure and tends to look a little coarse. Cowhide (ie from cowhide) tends to be the most popular for making shoes and combines the fine look with strength and durability. Calf skins are usually best for the best shoes because they are softer and have a more granular grain structure than larger skins of older animals.

It is widely acknowledged that European countries, such as Italy, France and Spain, have the best methods of climate, pasture and agriculture to breed the best cattle and therefore produce the best skins. Although there are large amounts of leather produced in other parts of the world, much of it is not of sufficient quality for high quality footwear.

Upper leather shoes

Most of the leather for shoes is chrome - a process that gives it the water resistance, durability and suppleness needed to withstand the constant bending that occurs when we walk.

Inspection of calfskin before cutting

Leather footwear for footwear

Our linings are usually made of kips, which are young cattle from India. These leathers are soft and therefore very comfortable and suitable for use inside the shoe, if they are close to the foot. The best lining is tanned or semi-chrome (with a higher vegetable content than chromium bronzat), which makes it more porous and allows it to absorb natural perspiration during the day and then disperse it again when the shoes are taken off.

Checking the quality of the lining leather

Clothing for good quality footwear, leather soling comes mainly from Europe and America, and is tanned vegetables. This produces a thick, round, abrasion-resistant feeling. The skin is compressed to compact the fibers and increase the wear properties.

A consignment of vegetable tanned leather (top left), an inventory of cut veg-tanned leather soles (top right)

The leather piece has a good abrasion resistance, so it is ideal for soles

The leather industry is surrounded by mystery and myth and when it comes to identifying different skin types, it is not easy to know its formation even with the appropriate experience. But with a little knowledge, care and patience, anyone can do it. Ask yourself how she feels. Aside from the look, the way the skin feels and handles is a great clue for its type. "Aniline", skin with whole seeds feels like real skin - supple and supple, while a strongly pigmented (or protected) skin can feel rather plastic. The leather upholstery in the cars is almost exclusively pigmented to be protected from years of heavy use, just like most upholstery leather. One of the current challenges facing the leather industry is to produce lighter aniline leather, which has the durability and resistance to dirt that pigmented skin has.

Here is a mini glossary of specific terms you came across and asked what they mean:

Whole grains - the surface of the granules is left intact before applying the finish, so that the hair follicles can usually be seen. This skin type requires less care than corrected cereals, but it will reward you in the long run. When shoes bend, any bending that occurs in the skin tends to "recover" and, if cared for, this type of leather can be incredibly long. It is shaped by the shape of your feet and offers the best level of comfort.

Corrected cereals - sometimes called "polished" or "smooth" skin. The granular surface is sanded or polished to remove imperfections before applying the finish. This type of leather usually has a glossy and smooth finish. It looks smart and, due to its smooth surface, is relatively easy to clean. However, it tends to be a little firmer in feel and is probably less good on the feet than a whole grain calfskin. Another feature is that when the shoes are bent in wear, the wrinkles tend to remain in the shoes and, after heavy wear, the finish can start to break.

suede - this type of skin is made either by abrasion and covering the flesh part of the skin (as opposed to the granular part) to create a velvety "nap", or by wearing a crack (the middle or lower section of a skin).

Treadmill - sometimes called "waxy" or "pull fat." This is usually a whole grain skin, which lights up in color when stretched during duration or wear, to produce an effect twice or worn over time.

Treadmill - sometimes called "waxy" or "pull fat." This is usually a whole grain skin, which lights up in color when stretched during duration or wear, to produce an effect twice or worn over time.

Embossing - a process by which heat presses a "grain" pattern into the skin. If not polished or polished, these skins are still considered whole seeds. Embossing produces a much more consistent pattern than more natural methods of "cracking" a film into a drum or shrinking it to look "grainy."

Aniline - in fact, there is no such thing as aniline skin these days. Aniline is a chemical that, in recent days, has been used in the process of death, but has been shown to be carcinogenic and has been banned. So nowadays, the term is used to describe a skin that is dyed rather than pigmented and has a more natural look.

Pigmented skin - probably the most durable and used in most furniture upholstery and almost all car upholstery. Durability is ensured by a polymeric surface coating containing pigments. The surface coating allows the manufacturer more control over the properties of the skin, e.g. scratch or fade resistance, but will also lack some of the desired properties of the whole grain skin. And, if the thickness of the coating is greater than 0,15 mm, then the product can not be sold as leather.

We all fall for sales discussions at some point. But when you buy a leather item, you expect quality, comfort and durability ... and you expect it to be leather too! It is reassuring to know that when you buy a pair of Goodyear English shoes, you could be made of some of the finest leather produced anywhere in the world.