Leather is the material that is made from animal skin. The most common animal skins are of cows, goats, pigs, crocodiles, snakes, alligators, and even ostriches.
In some parts of the world, even the skin of elephants, whales, ducks are giraffes are used to make leather.
Leather is a strong, flexible, and long lasting material that is used to make many things like shoes, bags, clothes, musical instruments and even sports balls.
Leather production is done on both a small-scale level and a heavy industrial level.
There are many different ways that the leather is prepared. This special preparation is called tanning. Tanning is a form of colouring the animal hide.
However, before the raw skin is tanned it is softened and purified through a process called “curing” where it is bathed in salt water, fresh water and chemicals many times.
The different ways of tanning, both natural and artificial, result in the material having different qualities. The most common type of natural tanning is vegetable tanning.
Once the leather has been tanned according to the necessary amount it is oiled and dyed, and finally cut and shaped into the final product.
Sometimes leather is found with the animal’s hair still on it. This type of leather is called hair-on.
During the preparation stage, leather is sold in four main forms, although there are other forms that are not as popular.
The four main forms are full grain leather, top grain leather, corrected grain leather, and split leather. Some less common varieties are buckskin, patent leather, and fish leather, although there are many more too.
Leather is one of the oldest manufactured materials in the world. In fact, before man learned how to spin wool, he was making clothes out of leather.
Scientists have found leather articles in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs dating back more than 3000 years.
Many civilizations including the Greeks and the Romans produced leather. They used many of the processes used today during that time too.
The process of tanning in America was introduced in 1623 when the first American tannery was opened in Plymouth.
America is the world’s leading leather producer. Other countries that produce large quantities of leather are France, England, and West Germany.
With the introduction of so many new materials, the use of leather and the production of leather have really reduced even though there is still a great demand for it.
Many people are concerned of how animals are affected by this industry. Many animals are killed in order to meet the demand of leather goods.
The chemicals used in the tanning process are believed to contribute towards environmental pollution.
Besides these, air pollution is also common. Leather also does not biodegrade fast; it takes about 20 to 40 years to decompose. This can cause many environmental problems.
Leather is quite sensitive to temperature and a low humidity levels it can crumble and the material is forever destroyed.
Sometimes red rot can set in, especially for leathers treated with many acid chemicals. This too damages the material permanently.
To protect it therefore it can be oiled with mink oil or neatsfoot oil. This improves the quality of the leather over time.
Because so many animals die in the production of natural leather, the industry has started making artificial leather like materials like vegan microfibers and pleather.