What We Didn’t Know About Leather

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You can work in the fashion industry for many years, and still not know all there is to know…

Hannah Stewart, a Product Account Manager at a London-based fashion company woke up at 5:30am recently, to travel two and a half hours from her London home to Northampton. She was attending the BLC Leather Technology Centre’s ‘Understanding Leather’ course, led by Barry Wood – a technician who has worked in the fashion industry for over 25 years.

Having graduated with a Fashion Textiles degree and now working predominantly developing leather products, Hannah wanted to deepen her understanding of leather as a material and as an industry. Though she had learned a lot over the course of her career, she felt there were gaps in her knowledge, which she was eager to fill.

She wasn’t alone in feeling this way it seems. On this one-day course, she was joined by representatives from retailers like Next (a sofa restoration company), Harvey Nichols, and an agent’s assistant.

We caught up with her to find out what she took away from the course and why she recommends other fashion professionals should take it.

What you didn’t know about Leather: variety and use

The end quality of a product depends mainly (apart from the design side of things, of course) on the correct use of the leather. Many don’t realise that there are many different types of leather (cowhide, calf, buffalo, goat, lamb… the list can go on and on) and each type is best suited to a particular kind of product. Use the wrong kind and you won’t have a great and durable product. Knowing the difference between the different finishes available and picking the right one – ensuring it passes basic or specific tests – is crucial too. Knowing the difference makes all the difference to the product and client.

Hidden costs

Leather comes in different quality selections. Knowing how leather is categorised into these selections can make a difference to the cost of the product. If an animal is scratched or bitten by insects during its lifetime, these marks remain visible. This can result in more wastage in manufacturing, which ultimately affects the price. Learning how to inspect leathers and categorise them gives you more confidence professionally and earns you more respect with the tanneries.

Related reading: What a manufacturer of Leather Goods wants you to know

Knowledge is power

The knowledge acquired during the course is particularly helpful in building your confidence.

Hannah said: “I didn’t know about leather variety; now I know. I now appreciate and understand the process, and why some leathers might be more expensive.

“Since attending the course, I have developed a deeper understanding and feel more confident, which allows me to better understand our clients’ needs. As a result, I will have a better relationship with them, create better products for them and be able to explain to them what is possible and what is not.

“I strongly believe that part of my job is to also educate our clients, who rely on my knowledge and advice, in order to translate their design idea into a product.”

Seeing is believing

Visiting a tannery is a hugely informative experience that allows you to see the processes that leather goes through, for example tanning, vacuum drying, softening and embossing. Anyone involved in this industry should visit a tannery!

Tanning leather stops it from rotting because until leather has been tanned, bacteria can still get to it. There are different tanning processes, such as chrome, aniline and vegetable tanning.

Hannah said: “What I didn’t know about leather is that so much work goes in it.”

The ‘goody’ bag

Every good event has a goody bag, right? This course had a great one too. As part of the course materials, Hannah received a leather sample swatch book referencing different leathers – a great tool to keep and refer to, like a leather dictionary.

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