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Leather – REAL OR ARTIFICIAL – how can you tell?

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Leather, real leather, genuine leather, genuine Italian leather, PU leather, false leather, faux leather, artificial leather – these are some of the names used to describe the products used for making handbags. What could be more confusing?

In this blog we will talk about some of these ‘leathers’ and you will find some of the so called leathers are not leather at all. Given the large variety of interpretations it is easy to be fooled by advertising pitches that don’t tell the whole story.

In New Zealand and Denmark, to represent anything as leather which isn’t genuine (real) leather is regarded as a misrepresentation and is not allowed.

However in Australia this ruling does not apply. It is no more obvious than when doing an Internet search under the key words ‘leather’ and ‘real leather’.

Let’s look at various names used for leather and what they actually represent.

PU leather -

is also referred to as Bicast leather, and is made of one layer of polyurethane sheet to which leather offcuts or split (thinner) leather are glued using an assembly line process. It could just as well be called ‘Bicast polyurethane’. PU leather was originally used on furniture - for instance to cover writing desks. The underlay of leather pieces was laid on the inside against the desk top so that the pieces were not visible. Also by embossing the PU surface it can be made to look more like real leather at a first glance. However on closer examination it quickly shows that the embossed pattern is overlarge and unlike real leather which has a finer and more detailed pattern in its original state (similar to the finger print of the human hand).

 PU leather is easy to clean using a wet cloth. However it does not stand up to wear and tear as genuine leather does. For instance PU leather shoes quickly deteriorate when subject to hard wearing, whereas a pair of R M Williams stockman’s boots, made of real (genuine) leather, are famously hard-wearing and resilient.

There is a significant cost difference between the manufacture of PU leather and genuine (real) leather. PU leather handbags are cheaper to make and should be cheaper to to buy. They are nowhere near as durable as genuine leather and do not stand up to wear and tear as does real leather.

If New Zealand and Danish laws applied in Australia PU leather handbags would never be advertised as leather, genuine leather or real leather. It would be a misrepresentation do so.

Real leather, genuine leather, and genuine Italian leather -

strictly speaking these should have meanings that are clearly understood by everyone, but as Wikipedia says – “The use of terms like ‘leather’, ‘genuine leather’ or 100% leather’ in relation to bicast treatment [reference to PU leather} is considered a misrepresentation and therefore not permitted in some countries, eg Denmark and New Zealand”. The opportunity for there to be false representation exists in Australia because the 'leather loophole' has not been eliminated.

In many countries the purchaser has to be very aware of what it is they are buying otherwise they could easily be deceived by what is clearly a misrepresentation.

Other blogs on the C & S website discuss further the properties of genuine (real) leather.

We can say in summary that:

  • most of the real (genuine) leather comes from cowhide. Others sources such as sheepskin and crocodile hide are in the minority.
  • the highest quality cowhide comes from cows raised on controlled pastures, that is paddocks that have well-trimmed pastures that do not cause damage to the hide of the cows , and so the hides are free of imperfections
  • leather is made from the cowhides through a tanning process. Genuine (real) Italian leather is a world class leather made in Tuscany, Italy in a region between Pisa and Florence. The tanneries of Tuscany use age old vegetable based ingredients that are environmentally safe and that produce the highest quality leather, generally referred to as genuine Italian leather, or 100% genuine Italian leather.
  • Bella Charis real leather handbags are made from 100% genuine Italian leather by the same expert artisans who also manufacture handbags for many world famous fashion houses to the same high standards applied to our handbags. By comparison our Bella Charis handbags are not overly expensive.

If you have any views or questions, we would like to hear from you.

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Jan & Dean


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