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What is Full Grain Leather?

Simply put, full grain leather is the highest quality leather around, it is the strongest, and longest lasting leather available on the market.

So what is the grain? Let’s walk through the typical structure of a cow hide

There are three layers in a cow hide:

The Grain: The outermost protective layer of the hide. The natural fibers of the animal are tightly bound together, giving the leather all its strength and durability.

The Junction: This middle section is where the grain meets the corium, and the fibers start to weaken a bit, losing a lot of their tightness.

The Corium: The under layer of the hide, where the fibers are loosest and softest, or just a fancy word for suede.

Full grain leather is defined by leaving the grain intact. Pretty simple, do less to the hide, and it will last longer and develop a richer patina. Other types of leather, like top grain or genuine leather, the grain has been sanded down or completely removed to produce a blemish free surface. Alta Andina celebrates the unique beauty of each hide by leaving the grain untouched so that the leather’s natural strength is uncompromised. Every hide is distinct and may have scars, or scratches that show up on your products. No two products are alike in that sense. Without the grain, leather is like Robin without Batman, lacking the strength to get the job done.

Full grain leather vs. top grain leather

Top grain leather is sanded down the grain to produce a smooth, blemish free surface. These companies are trying to do one of two things. One, simply choose appearance over quality and integrity, or two, make lower quality leather look better to sell. Top grain leather will not last as long, or prove as durable due to the compromised grain.

Some will say that full grain leather and top grain leather one in the same, but it depends how the term top grain is being used. Sometimes you’ll see full grain leather under the broader umbrella of top grain leather, which then means any type of leather that has some grain intact, no matter if it has been altered or not. This seems like another clever way to brand cheaper leather in the same category as full grain leather.

Full grain leather vs. bonded leather

Bonded leather and genuine leather are used almost interchangeably these days. Bonded leather looks so plasticy, and is so close to being a completely synthetic product, that using the term genuine leather to differentiate was one of the only ways companies could let clients know the product does in fact contain some actual leather. one of the terms that gets thrown under the umbrella of genuine leather. The suede side of leather is typically shaved down slightly to even out the leather or create varied thicknesses. Bonded leather comes from the scraps on the floor that are shaved from the suede side. Those scraps are mixed with chemicals, polymers and plastics to produce “leather.” Basically, if someone is describing their leather as genuine leather, it is because it is the only term they can use to tell you it isn’t plastic, without lying and calling it something of higher quality.

What is a Patina?

A patina is the natural look and feel that results from years of carrying a high quality leather product with you from experience to experience. With exposure to the oils on your fingers, the air and the sunlight, your leather will change in both color and feel. A good patina is one the hallmarks of full grain, vegetable tanned leather. Leather that has a corrected grain may develop a patina, but it won’t be nearly as robust as the patina on a full grain leather product. Most chrome tanned leather won’t develop much of a patina at all.

Full grain leather vs. corrected grain leather

Corrected grain leather and top grain leather are similar. The difference lies in how much is actually done to the leather. Corrected grain leather goes one step further from top grain leather, and after being sanded down, it is stamped with an artificial pattern to give the appearance of a natural looking leather grain.

Full grain leather vs. suede

Suede is one of the natural layers of leather and can be used in all sorts of interesting ways. It provides that soft, luscious texture. Alta Andina leaves our leather natural, which means you’ll feel some of that suede opposite from the grain. suede and full grain don’t have to be separate, most of the time they are together. Suede is often split from the rest of the leather to use in the worlds of fashion and upholstery. Suede is not better or worse than full grain leather, they really have completely different uses.

How can I tell full grain leather from top grain, or genuine leather?

To identify full grain leather, look for spots that are left from the animal’s life, like scratches, blemishes or branding marks. This is the easiest way to tell if the grain has been compromised, removed, or covered over with an imprint of a grain like pattern. Full grain leather will always show the marks from the animal, thus your product may have a small scratch or a unique marking. Alta Andina loves those little imperfections, and we leave them all there on your product, making each one truly one of a kind.

We never use the term genuine leather – why not?

Genuine leather is a catchall term used for any product that once contained leather. Genuine leather is one of those misleading marketing terms used to make bottom of the barrel leather sound high quality. While technically genuine leather could refer to something like full grain or top grain leather, it typically does not. These days, people use the term to differentiate bonded leather from polyurethane leather, which are extremely similar in their look and feel. Polyurethane leather contains no actual leather, it is a plastic imitation of leather. Bonded leather is made up of the leftovers, the scraps, what falls of the table to the dogs. Leather scraps from the floor of the tannery are melted  down, mixed with some junk to hold it together, and whala! – you’ve got yourself some genuine leather. Saying genuine leather is real leather is kind of like claiming genuine fast food burgers are “100% real beef.”