Every year, consumers around the world spend more than $50 billion on leather products, but what they may not realize is that more than half of that figure represents purchases of leather shoes and boots. Americans love leather belts and wallets, and spend more than $100 million each year on belts alone. In general, households spend at least $1,000 on leather products each year, including gloves, briefcases, and wallets. Taking care of your leather goods is easier than you think, but be aware that not all leather is created equal.
When you’re wearing a leather jacket, try to keep it away from grease and food debris: leather easily absorbs environmental dirt and oil. You will need to clean it about twice per year in order to ensure that the leather remains pliable and clean. If you have a white leather jacket, you should know that white leather is the most difficult to produce. Leather can actually be made from ostrich or alligator hides; a new variety of leather was introduced a few years ago, and it’s made from the hide of the common stingray.
Typically, leather is made from cows’ hides, and is seen as a byproduct of the cattle industry. There aren’t any cows in the United States that are specifically raised to produce leather, and leather aficionados should know that experts measure leather by its weight per square foot. Three ounce leather weighs three ounces per square foot of material and winds up less than one-eighth of an inch thick. The fashion industry uses thousands of square feet of leather at fashion shows around the world, and more than 20 billion square feet of leather are produced every year.
Making leather belts and other leather products is a three stage process: preparing, tanning, and crusting the hide. Crusting the hide could involve making it thinner, removing excess moisture, or changing the color. In general, full grain leather is considered the best: imperfections in the grain are prized and tend to mature over time. Full grain leather is the outside of the hide, and top grain leather is the second layer. If a company says that they manufacture with full grain leather, check to make sure that they are using it for all parts of the jacket, seat cover, or saddle.
If you are in the market for fine leather belts, take some time to decide what color you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to pay. Leather goods can be an investment, but they tend to age well and to last longer than manmade materials. There is a wide variety of goods available that are made from leather: tote bags, wallets, and key chains. Although we no longer make golf balls from leather, there are bags available that will allow you to carry your tees and balls together.
Finally, make the most of leather totes and jackets by matching them to your leather belt. Take the belt with you to the store and try to match the color when you’re buying a new piece. It’s probably best not to mix leather colors within an outfit: if your belt is dark, wear dark shoes to go with it. Mixing leather colors is okay sometimes, but in general you want to convey the sense that you bought your leather belts, shoes, and wallet at the same time. Matching leather briefcases can also add to your overall look.
Leather remains one of our largest industries: annual leather sales are more than those of cotton, coffee, and sugar combined. If you have the chance, ask a leather manufacturer for a tour of their facility: you may be surprised at how much you learn about where they obtain their hides and how long it actually takes to tan and smooth the hides. In general, we do not buy leather-bound books any more, but investing in a full set of leather-bound classics can add to the ambience of an office or home.