Leather Glossary

All leather skins used in the manufacture of garments, shoes, accessories, and upholstery are by product of the food industry.

The different types of products used are as follows, Cow (Bovine), Horse (Equine), Lamb/Goat (ovine).


Once the Animal has been slaughtered its skin is pulled and preserved in salt to stop the putrefaction process. It is then sorted into quality, either the hair removed or preserved then tanned and finished.

In any tanning process the way a skin is finished is done in many different ways, the most common way is:


Chrome tanning uses a solution of chemicals, acids, and salts (including chromium sulphates) to dye the hide. Chrome tanning is a very quick process, taking about a day to produce a tanned leather, with commercial tanneries you can image the millions of leathers each day that are tanned around the globe.  First the hide is pickled by being left in acid salt mixtures to remove the hair, this is all before being placed into the chromium sulphate solution. All hides then come out looking light blue this is where the term wet blue’s come from these then have a finish colour applied.

Vegetable Tanned

Vegetable tanning is probably the most talked about as being safe and bio friendly and very kind to the environment. Vegetable tanning is probably the most traditional way of tanning hides. This is all done by using Italian artisans, most of the process is actually done by hand also making it a truly handmade product. Unlike chrome tanning, vegetable tanning can take up to 40 days to produce a piece of dyed leather.

Vegetable tanning uses completely natural ingredients such as a bark from chestnut trees this is to tan the leather. This means the finished products colour produced is of beautiful warm, rich tones of natural browns.  Vegetable tanning is normally carried out by tanneries that have a rich heritage of tanning hides. Some processes can amazingly take up to one year!  With chemicals the vegetable is reduced dramatically. Vegetable tanned leather is normally used for exclusive designers for high quality accessories like handbags and is normally heavier in substance from around 2.0mm going all the way up to 5.0mm.  Vegetable tanned items gain the beautiful patina over time as it gains a fantastic look and its amazing characters.

Bio Tannage

This is an organic process for tanning which is chromium and heavy metal free. The use of metals and mineral tanning agents such as aluminium, titanium, iron, zirconium, and acetic acid are used and are proving an alternative for the chrome process.



There are various finishes on Nappa, but this is a generic name given to the grain side finish of Lamb and Cow hides, this type of product is the most widely used for all aspects of the leather industry. Nappa normally has a smooth surface. Methods such as washing or shrinking are then applied after the skin has been through all the previous steps and processes of tanning.


This article is produced on the grain side of the skin mostly using very high-quality leather, the grain is buffed to give a suede look. During the 90’s this was very popular for both Men’s and Ladies garments and also used widely in the shoe industry. Recently there has been a resurgence with this product and its proving to be a very popular item once again. The drawback of this item is that it can stain easily and therefore needs a stain resistant finish applied like the Nubuck Guard from the Leather Repair Company.


This is the wrong side of the skin; the inside of the animal being used.  With most suede’s the skin is split to ensure a fine finish to the grain that is left, the epidermis is sometimes finished and used as skivers this product is used in the bookbinding industry. All types of animal skins can be finished into a suede hide, most commonly is pig. Pigskin is used mostly in the garment trade and usually provides the cheapest form of product as this is widely manufactured in the Far East where most of the skins come from.


A generic name given for the wool skins used mostly in the garment industry as the fur is on the grain side the most effective finish is suede, but most finishes can be applied to the flesh side. For this item prices are high currently due to a strong demand and low kills.

Coated: This is split leather in most cases and has a coating on the surface that’s plastic, known as a PU polyurethane coating, this coating has a grain impression printed into it or given to it to represent genuine leather.

Applications given to skins to a grain side are as follows.

Aniline:  This is drum dyed skin and chemicals are put into the drum and finished by drying naturally. Only the highest quality of skin type is used in this process and the touch is always luxurious and superb. This skin type does have its drawbacks as it can easily stain this again to lengthen the life and to protect the life of the skin is best coated with a stain resistant finish, like the Aniline Guard from the Leather Repair Company.

Pigmented: This process is first base dyed then dried and pigmented with a spray similar to the process used in car industry and furniture trade.

Nubuck: Produced using the grain side, the grain is buffed to give a suede finish, but stain quickly and requires a stain resistant coating applied. You can use the Nubuck Guard from the Leather Repair Company to protect the finish.

Kid: Is a generic term for a small / medium sized goat mostly used in the shoe and handbag trade / industry


Lamb: With Lamb skins the premier hides are probably Spanish Entrefino or South African cape. These produce reasonable wool / Shearlings but the grain nappa is always superb. Most other domestic producers have varying qualities European tends to be higher followed by New Zealand, Middle East then Australia. In the countries like Australia where they shear the wool. The quality of the skin is poor as the wool tends to stretch the skin, causing the grain structure to be poor and very wide open.

Goat: The Indian Subcontinent produces very high volumes of goatskins for suede, nappa or kid. Nigeria make the most consistent product and is prized in Italy and throughout Europe as an item. Goat skins from Greece, some people regard as the best in the world, and this is also our opinion and what we use.

Cow: The best quality in Cow hides comes from European stocks, while the bulk of cow nappa for all trade types emanates from Brazil, USA, and South America.

Pigskin: The majority of this comes from the far east, China being the largest producer of skins, this is then followed by Korea, Taiwan, and Japan and in that order of production.


All skins are given a grading on a table from A to H.

Grading has no reflection on the type of leather produced most leathers are seen on a TR basis, this is known as table run, it would be difficult to recognise a specific skin.

Skins are normally sold on a basis of an A / B selection process, but this would include lower grades as well.

It’s clear that the higher price of a skin would naturally reflect in the pricing structures.


All leathers are now strictly regulated by stringent standards in their country or origin. Most tanners obey by the rules laid out by their respective governments in keeping with water treatments and waste disposals within guidelines laid down by the international committees. All tanners use non carcenegenic dyes and many are using ecologically sound chemicals in their process.