Let’s kick off with a clarification: the leather used for footwear (and, indeed, for bags, clothing, sofas, car interiors, etc.) is a by-product of the animals slaughtered for food. Hides from calves, cows, lambs, goats, pigs and even fish (such as rays) are processed by special businesses, known as tanneries, which recycle them and turn them into materials to be used in the fashion industry.
Italian tanneries are among the most virtuous companies in our country, standing out as they do for their creativity, fashion, technology and compliance with environmental regulations. One example is Conceria Superior in Santa Croce sull’Arno, which is working to obtain certifications in the fields of quality, ethics, environment and sustainability.
Fine leather (crocodile, python, and exotic animals in general) deserves a separate mention. This is subject to the Washington Convention, based upon which a series of permits and certificates are issued when certain conditions are met. These documents then have to be presented to the specific customs offices of countries trading in fine leather.
Technology has evolved greatly. Today, leather can feature finishes, prints, effects, patterns and designs in line with the latest fashion demands and, in some cases, can be almost as light and supple as fabrics.
Mini leather glossary
Leather / Hide
Tanned hide should always be called leather, but in Italy in everyday usage the term leather is usually attributed to the thick, rigid product used, for example, for soles and belts, and hide for the thinner, softer product used for clothing, footwear, bags, etc.
Horse / Pony
This is not actually horse leather, but cow/calf leather treated so as to appear as shiny and silky smooth as horse hair.
Very resistant leather obtained from the rump of the horse. The leather obtained from a rump is only sufficient for a single pair of shoes. These will be highly resistant and virtually indestructible
Soft full grain leather or leather that has been softened using chemical or mechanical processes.
Leather that has not been processed and therefore bears the original grain surface.
Suede / Nubuck
Leather that has been buffed to produce a velvet effect.
Glossy leather varnished with heated linseed oil or with a cold polyurethane varnish.
Types of tanning
A type of tanning that uses mineral chrome to make the hide particularly soft.
At type of tanning that uses aniline as a finish, giving the products a particular shine and transparency of colour.
A process consisting in transforming hide into leather by using bark, which produces natural tannins in water; this treatment is carried out in barrels.