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Prada’s signature Saffiano bag, Michael Jackson’s red jacket, Gucci’s Marmont belt – leather has long been central to popular culture.

Leather’s qualities set it apart from many other materials. It has exceptional durability, breathability, comfort and recyclability. Leather clothes are stylish and versatile so can be worn for any occasion – from glamorous nights out to casual daytime outings. They need little maintenance and, with proper care, can last generations. Leather can be used for clothing, furniture, footwear, accessories and even sports equipment. It is also widely used in the automotive and aviation industries.


Leather has a long history and an impressive heritage. The first written evidence of leather use is from 1,300 BCE. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks cherished it and used it to craft footwear and armour. However, the earliest record of leather use comes from the Palaeolithic period and is depicted on cave paintings in Spain. Our ancestors began to perceive animal hides as more than a food by-product long ago and used bone tools to craft leather clothes.


The leather industry is truly an international industry, as its production takes place all over the world and depends on the agriculture industry state of each country. Nowadays, roughly 50% of the manufactured leather is used in shoe production – showing a decline since the 1950s when the footwear share was 75%. Thanks to the exceptional material qualities, leather’s use spread further into other industries – 17% of it is estimated to go into automobile upholstery, 14% into clothing, 9% into furniture and remaining 14% into other all time-honoured products such as saddlery or luggage cases or industrial items such as buffing wheels and machine belts.

Hide to Leather

Initially, animal hides were treated simply by drying and curing to remove the water. The process of vegetable tanning was developed later by the Egyptians and Hebrews in about 400 BCE. This technique uses vegetable tannins, which help preserve, strengthen and colour the hide. Vegetable tanning remains one of the main leather production methods in use today. By the mid-19th century, leather production was mechanised thanks to the development of machines that were used for splitting, fleshing, and dehairing. Chemical tanning started at the end of the 19th century and primarily used chrome salts, making the process even quicker and cheaper.


There is much controversy about leather’s sustainability credentials, giving rise to plenty of misconceptions, ranging from carbon footprint to production ethics. The truth is that about 40% of the world’s cowhides, created by our ever-growing demand for burgers and milkshakes, are simply thrown away each year. An estimated total of 120 million hides are wasted annually – enough to cover 78,000 football pitches. Leather is a by-product of the food industry – meaning that the more we use it, the more waste we save. Artificial leather, in turn, is not a sustainable solution, as often promoted by the fashion manufacturers. It is made from oil, consumes precious natural resources and creates synthetic waste, aggravating the existing environmental crisis. In contrast, real leather goods last longer, can be easily repaired and biodegrade in less than 50 years.

Leather’s Future

To date, fashion has stimulated a high consumption of footwear and other leather products. It has been instrumental in improving leather processing technology, manufacturing capacities and productivity, without compromising any essential leather properties such as durability, form stability, comfort and breathability. These very properties put leather in a good place to promote a slower consumer culture where items are valued over time – and to slow down the fast fashion culture which is causing so much damage.

With the advent of new technologies, leather is becoming a product that can be geared to specialist usage and extreme environments. Leather is found on the MotoGP tracks, in the next generation of US military boots, in aviation engine systems, protecting welders and even in space, on the International Space Station. This is made possible by tailoring leather’s properties to the end use. For example, the leather for a walking boot will be engineered to be firm and supportive, while the leather in a ballet shoe will be softer and more flexible.

Leather manufacturers are continuously improving the processes to make it even more sustainable. Cloud-based technology facilitates on-demand delivery, which reduces leather production time and waste and speeds up the entire supply chain. Real-time feedback and inventory management solutions allow manufacturers to minimise leather goods’ inventory. And artificial intelligence helps to forecast and refine product availability by understanding customers’ buying journey better than ever before.

Resources for more

To learn more about leather, please visit the websites below:












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