Decoding leather: a guide to understanding different types of leathers


In our guide, we unfold the diverse types of leathers that shape the fashion world. From the soft touch of lambskin to the charm of calfskin, each variant plays a unique role depending on the styles and uses wanted. Join us as we explore the properties, tanning techniques and the creativity behind each type of leather; and if you're looking for the right leather to design clothing or accessories, by the end of your reading, you'll know exactly which one to pick!


As a timeless ad versatile material, leather comes in a various quality. Understanding these different characteristics is essential to choosing the right leather for each project. The figure below illustrates the different layers of leather and their respective qualities, which influence their use in the manufacture of leather goods.

  1. Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather is the highest quality leather, retaining its full outer surface, it is considered as the most natural state of the leather. Thanks to its minimal production process, full-grain leather has an authentic surface that shows the true nature of the hide.  As a premium material, full-grain leather maintains many of the natural proprieties, including breathability, thickness, and exceptional durability.

Widely used to create durable items, full-grain stands out as an ideal genuine leather type for creating leathers goods such as accessories, furniture, and dress belts. Designer mostly prefer full-grain leather to create distinctive bags. 

  1. Top grain leather

With some similarities to full-grain leather, top grain leather is also the top layer of the leather, but it has been sanded or treated in another way to create a smooth texture. As a result, top grain leather is slightly less durable but offering a balance between quality and affordability compared to full grain leather.

Therefore, it is easier to work with, so designer may prefer top grain leather creating clothing such as jacket, coat. You can also find leather goods such as bags and shoes made from this type of leather. 

  1. Suede leather

As a genuine leather variety and known as split-grain leather, suede is manufactured exclusively from the inside whereas the leather is taken from the outside of the hide. This specific process gives suede leather a very smooth and soft texture.

Thanks to its softness, suede is very appreciated by designer for making luxurious accessories or fashionable garments such as jackets or smaller handbag. It is also popular for making the insides of bags and shoes. 

  1. Genuine leather

Widely used in the fashion jargon, “genuine leather” often creates a positive perception of quality among consumers. However, this common label can be misleading as it refers to a broad category of leather, which is referring to the bottom layer of leather. Consequently, genuine leather tends to be thin and smooth. The first two types of leather that we have discussed are part of this term but are of higher quality.

A wide range of product can be crafted from genuine leather, including wallets, belts, boots, or even car interiors and book covers. The versatility and affordability of genuine leather make it a popular choice for a wide range of everyday items. 

  1. Bonded leather

Bonded leather is a mix of genuine leather, created from scraps and sometimes from faux leather. Most of the time considered as a faux leather, bonded leather tends to be less durable. Bonded can be genuine leather or faux leather, depending on the blend of the scraps, if it is crafted from real or fake leftover scraps.

This type of 'leather' is often used to make upholstery, but it is also possible to find accessories or leather goods made from bonded leather.



One of the most important aspects of leather treatment is tanning, a process that transforms the raw hide into a supple, resistant, and durable material. Due to the need of toxic chemicals and the water pollution issues, tanning has raised environmental concerns. However, there are efforts within the leather industry to adopt more sustainable and eco-friendly tanning techniques. Here are some key points regarding tanning techniques and sustainability:

  1. Chrome tanning:

Chrome tanning is the most used tanning method as it offers a quick and efficient processing method, resulting in soft and supple leather with uniform color. The leather is water-resistant, making it durable in wet conditions, and exhibits stability over time. Its cost-effectiveness and versatility make chrome-tanned leather suitable for various applications such as fashion, upholstery, and accessories. However, environmental concerns related to the use of chromium salts in this process have prompted efforts towards more sustainable practices.

    1. Vegetable tanning:

    Vegetable tanning is an eco-friendly alternative to chrome tanning as it involves the use of plant-based tannins such as fruits, plants, seeds, tree bark or even leaves. It produces a leather that is firm, with a natural and unique patina that deepens over time. While it takes longer than chrome tanning, the process is known for its environmental sustainability. Vegetable-tanned leather is biodegradable, making it a greener choice, though it may be less water-resistant than chrome-tanned leather.


      1. Chrome-free tanning:

      Chrome-free tanning is also an eco-friendly alternative as it eliminates the use of chromium salts and relies on substitutes like vegetable extracts or synthetic tanning agents. The resulting leather is often softer than chrome-tanned leather, but the process can take longer than chrome tanning.



        However, after tanning and treatment processes, comes the finishing stage, where the final appearance of the leather is refined. Various finishing techniques can be applied to achieve specific results. Here are the main features of leather finishing:

        • Aniline: the natural grain is preserved and provides a soft and luxurious touch.
        • Semi-aniline: gives a protective coating with a visible grain.
        • Pigmented: a colour coating is applied to increase durability and uniformity to the leather.


        Unlocking sustainable luxury: Nona Source's premium deadstock leather selection

        At Nona Source, we believe that luxury can be associated with circularity and sustainability. Sourcing from our wide range of leathers enables designers to not only access high-end materials at affordable prices, but also to embrace the challenge of upcycling deadstock leathers fostering environmental responsibility.

        Using deadstock leather have several advantages:

        • Eco-friendliness: using existing resources implies waste reduction, less demand for new raw material and a decrease in leather production factors such as water usage, chemical treatment, and energy consumption.
        • Creativity & uniqueness: as we strive for excellence, we are constantly raising our offer to deliver the highest achievable quality and maintaining the leathers rich heritage by encouraging deadstock reuse. Designers can find creative ways to do so, resulting in unique and limited-edition products.
        • Cost savings: Using deadstock can be economically advantageous for businesses as it can lead to cost savings on raw materials.

        In summary, integrating leather deadstock into the production process not only aligns with sustainability goals but also provides a unique opportunity for designers to create form breath-taking pieces at lower prices.