Why Not all Leather Bags are Created Equal

A Stack of Full Grain, Unprocessed Leather

The first time you crack open a simple Urban Southern box, your home is filled with the smell of real leather. You’ll never forget that moment of unwrapping your new bag. You fall in love right then and there. You know that this leather bag is unlike any other leather bag you’ve ever held before. As time goes on, you are surprised that your leather bag becomes even more beautiful.

What makes this leather bag different from all the others?

Not all leather is created equal.

Full Grain Leather Vs. Genuine Leather Vs. Vegan Leather

Full Grain Leather | Full-grain leather refers to hides that have not been sanded, buffed, or snuffed (as opposed to top-grain or corrected leather) to remove imperfections (or natural marks) on the surface of the hide. The grain remains allowing the fiber strength and durability. The grain also has breathability, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Rather than wearing out, it develops a patina (natural shine) during its expected useful lifetime.

Top Grain Leather | Top-grain leather (the most common type in high-end leather products) is the second-highest quality. It has had the “split” layer separated away, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain. Its surface has been sanded and a finish coat added, which produces a colder, plastic feel with less breathability, and it does not develop a natural patina. It is typically less expensive and has greater stain resistance than full-grain leather if the finish remains unbroken.

Genuine Leather / Bonded Leather | An inexpensive, economical material that uses leftover organic leather (from tanneries or workshops) that are shredded and bonded together with polyurethane or latex on to a fiber sheet.

Vegan Leather | While a few vegan leathers are cork- or kelp-based, the vast majority of faux leather is made of scary materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyurethane and textile-polymer composite microfibres. In most instances, vegan leather isn’t environment friendly and certainly not non-toxic.

Here at Urban Southern, we only use full grain leather for our handcrafted bags. Our leather has been tanned locally by southern tanneries, and it’s also a byproduct of the food industry. This means that no cow has been killed primarily for the hides that we use.  The full grain leather that we use hasn’t been sanded down or processed. The full grain remains in the leather, retaining optimal durability. Each piece varies slightly in color tones, with beautiful natural markings.

Full grain leather, if properly cared for, will last for many years because of the strength in the authentic hide.

Full Grain Leather Graphic

Did you know? Even tags that say genuine leather may actually just be shredded bits of leather glued together with a finish on top. Bonded leather is another term for this as well. Since it is only bits of leather glued together, it begins to break down with continued use.

Here’s a photo showing the thicknesses of our leather. Our leather bags are thicker than most other fashion leather bags.

Showing the weight of Full Grain Leather with coins.

Why We Use Heavier Leather for Our Bag Designs

My husband, Jay, has always used heavy saddle leather to make his custom saddles, horse supplies, and tack. When we began exploring the personal leather goods market, we talked through all the details of different types of leather. There are many companies out there who make a fashionable leather bag using thin leather.

When you use a super thin leather and synthetic linings, you can add many pockets and layers without the end product looking bulky and heavy.

Using less than a quality, full grain leather diminishes the longevity of a leather bag.Click To Tweet

Our vision was to be minimal in every approach to our designs. From the leather to the aesthetic to the practicality, we wanted to show only the honesty and simplicity of authentic leather itself.

Roll of Authentic Full Grain Leather

Why We Do Not Line Our Leather Bags

Since the leather we use is heavier and thicker, using layers on layers is not practical. It would create too much bulk and be difficult to work with. We also wanted to showcase the versatility and uniqueness of the authentic leather itself – which to us meant using only leather. The interior of all our products simply feature the suede style leather texture of the under side of the hide.

Why We Use Minimal Hardware

Less is more! Hardware also adds weight, and since our leather is already heavier than most, we didn’t want to add any extra weight with hardware. We looked long and hard for practical ways to create functionality.

Using minimal hardware forces us to use more creativity in designing each bag.Click To Tweet

My husband Jay is really good at this, as he has spent years designing custom pieces for people.

Caring for my leather bag.

Why Our Leather Bags Don’t Have Zippers

It’s simple. Zippers, even the most heavy duty ones, are prone to breaking.

We put a lot of thought into the long term quality of our bags, and since zippers cannot be guaranteed (and are difficult or even impossible to repair) we decided to only use other styles of closures that don’t have a “shelf life” and ones that we could repair.

Urban Souther's Spring Collection Leather Bags with minimal details.

How should I shop for an authentic leather bag?

Well, obviously you could start by shopping with us😉

Shopping for a good leather bag can feel confusing.Click To Tweet

Many companies put “Genuine Leather” on their product tags. But there’s more to the story.

Did you know? Even if only a small part of the product has leather in it, such as bonded leather as mentioned above, they can claim genuine leather on the label. Be careful. Your cute clutch from Nordstroms might not actually be made from authentic leather.

If you are looking for a product made only from a single piece of real leather, it’s usually better to pay attention to the product itself, rather than the label, as it can be deceiving!

1. Feel it with your fingers. Does it feel sturdy? Does it feel like it would tear with a few quick jerks?

2. Smell the bag. Even a quick sniff of the material can tell you all you need to know if you have already experienced real leather!

3. If you are shopping online, look for descriptions that include “full grain leather”. Read any articles where they talk about their leather and their process for making the product. Ask questions if possible — people are usually happy to talk about their product. I mean hey, look at us, right? We love to talk about our leather bags!

Do you have any questions about leather or our process? Drop a comment below and we’ll reply. We love to hear from you!

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