How do I Know If Its Real Leather?

Here are suggestions to determine if the “leather” is the real deal or synthetic.

1. The best test is the inside of the material. The inside of leather will appear as suede whereas the inside of synthetic has a woven typically fuzzy, often white material.

2. Look at the cross section. Leather is one material (a skin) whereas synthetic is a bonding of plastic surface to a fabric substrate.

3. Pinch it. Leather is thicker, vinyl is thinner. To become familiar, find something you know is leather and pinch it to get a benchmark sense of the thickness.

4. Look for imperfections (hide scars, bug bites, etc.) Leather hides are not perfect across the surface (like knots in wood). Vinyl has no surface characteristics as it is man-made.

5. Look for a repeating pattern. Like wall paper, vinyl is manufactured with a specific pattern that repeats itself.

6. Large versus small panels - Leather is from an animal that has limitations dimensionally (ever see a 20-foot cow?), vinyl is produced on a roll with no limits to size.

7. Grain Pattern - If the grain pattern is totally uniform it is probably vinyl. Nature does not produce complete uniformity.

What is NOT the real deal - Vinyl, pleather, Bonded leather, Bicast leather, PU leather, ultra-suede. Bonded and bicast are equivalent to pressed wood or fiberboard. They are typically made from leather waste material, scraps from the cutting room floor that then has a heavy urethane coating on the surface. The typical color is a glossy brown. Bonded and bicast lack durability and present all kinds of problems.

What is real, yet lacks durability - Split-hide. This is the remnant of a leather hide after the epidermis (top grain) has been split away. 

Beware of claims like "it's Italian leather." It means nothing. Natuzzi, an Italian manufacturer of leather furniture has three plants Italy, Brazil and China. Just because it has an Italian name doesn't mean it’s made in Italy.

Some manufacturers like Nicoletti had an impeccable reputation 10 years ago. Their products today simply don't measure up. So, don't rely on historical performance alone. The industry is being decimated by cheap foreign imports. To combat the onslaught some companies have capitulated and moved their plants to cheap labor countries and are now producing junk. 

The unfortunate fact is there's a ton of misinformation on the web, and in the leather furniture retail channel. For a deep dive into the detail of leather, read the book Comprehensive Guide to Leather Repair and Maintenance. Another good resource is Go to the leather care section. Finally, an excellent YouTube video is: Leather Types Explained (