I often reminisce the years that I spent working with an elderly leather craftsman back in Italy. Leonardo was his name, he had learned the art of working with genuine leather from his father who in turn learned it from his father.
His methods were old school to say the least, and quality of the materials and the finish product were of utmost importance.
I started working with him selling his handmade crafts in the outdoor markets. In Itlay outdoor markets are typically setup on a certain day of the week in different towns along the countryside. I would also help out in the shop sometimes. To this day whenever I smell leather it takes me back in time to that quaint little workshop in the hills of Abruzzo!
The first lesson that I had to learn when I started working with him was how to tell genuine leather from faux leather. This wouldn’t have been a problem in the old days. However, we all know too well that it is important nowadays.
I was glad for his tips, especially once he left me alone in the marketplace. A huge part of selling his leather goods was convincing the potential clients that they were in fact leather goods and not synthetic.
Genuine Leather: the Basics
There are several ways to tell if a product is genuine leather. Once you perfect them nobody will be able to fool you into buying a product that isn’t real leather.
I wrote this article to help you learn the basics on understanding if a product is genuine leather or not, before you buy it. You can apply some of the tips when you buy leather goods online. Others will require having the product in hand. However, even in the case that you purchase a product online that isn’t real leather; you can always send it right back as soon as you open the box and discover that it isn’t genuine leather.
Tip 1: Read the Label Very Carefully
If a product is in fact real leather it will say so very clearly. For example, the description typically will say: real leather, genuine leather, top-top-grain leather, full-grain leather, etc.
Dishonest marketers are constantly trying to mislead the public, and every year they come up with new phrases that could mislead an unsuspecting buying into believing that they are purchasing a genuine leather product when in fact they are not.
Stay away from products that include the following, sometimes misleading, descriptions:
Bonded leather, vegan leather, eco-leather, faux leather, imitation leather, artificial leather, PU Leather, Koskin, textile-leather, regenerated leather, leather look, and leather-like.
None of the above mentioned descriptions refer to genuine leather with the exception of “bonded leather”. However, bonded leather is one of the worst things that you can buy (more on that later).
The Price Tag:
Another part of the label that is important is the price. True, an expensive price tag is no guarantee of the authenticity of a leather product. However, a very cheap price tag is almost always a guarantee that it is not real leather.
Real leather is expensive, that is the whole reason that so many manufacturers use a lower quality product, to save money. So, if the price tag is too cheap be wary. That in itself may be the indicator that it is not in effect genuine leather.
Tip 2: Examine the Imperfections
If there aren’t any imperfections you either have a very, very expensive product in you hand, or you should be wary.
Genuine leather will naturally have imperfections in it. Whether it is differences in the grain or wrinkles and scratches; real leather will have imperfections. Fake leather on the other hand is usually too perfect in its grain or finish.
Some newer faux leather products do a pretty good job in imitating leather’s imperfections. So at this method might be difficult with some products. However, you should be able to identify most of the products out there using this simple method.
An interesting side note is that some faux leather with fake imperfections will follow the same pattern. If an imperfection is ‘perfectly’ duplicated it isn’t an imperfection at all!
If an online product has detailed and quality pictures with a little practice you can usually identify the material just by looking for the imperfections in the photos.
Tip 3: Smell the Leather
This is my favorite method, probably because it instantly takes me back to Abruzzo 😉
Leather has a distinct set of smells. The tanning process or other factors can influence the smell. However, once you know the typical smells of real leather you will quickly identify them.
In order to learn this method effectively you will need some practice. My best suggestion; other than going to Italy and spending time in an old leather craftsman’s shop; would be to visit high end leather stores and smell the products that you know are leather. Even if you don’t like the country western look; cowboy boot stores are saturated by the smell of genuine leather. So a cowboy boot store might be a good place to start your education.
Once you feel confident that you are familiar with the smell of genuine leather you can then go to a low-end store that sells fake leather products and smell those. This will enforce the differences and help you to immediately understand the difference between the smell of real leather and faux leather products.
Of course there are many, many other techniques to identifying whether a product is genuine leather or faux leather. Some of which I wouldn’t recommend because they usually damage the product, and that seems counter productive.
However, a longer list would also be counter productive, intimidating and discouraging. The three tips above, when learned well are more than enough to tell if a product is genuine or not.
So, take some time to learn them and you will never be fooled again!