ICS Magazine

Leather - It's Easy

April 11, 2005

I remember being offered the position of leather trainer, my first job in the furniture industry. Leather? At that point, the extent of my knowledge in the area was limited to owning a leather jacket.

However, I was reassured that, because I was a "hands-on" type of person, I would have no problem learning and becoming skilled in leather. Besides, they told me, "It's easy."


With two weeks to go before my scheduled start date, I decided to get a head start on my education. My father, having worked in the furniture industry for more than 35 years, seemed the perfect resource. We met for what was to be my introduction to leather. He showed me more than one hundred leathers, graded one to 10 in quality, and explained each grade and leather in extensive detail. I was overwhelmed, but excited to show off my knowledge.

I began my first day confident that I would impress my employer with my great knowledge of all things leather. I was introduced to the man who would train and mentor me, to this day someone I consider to be one of the most knowledgeable people in the leather field. His job would be to teach me all he knew about cleaning, rejuvenating, repairing and restoring leather. My job was to try and keep up.

His first priority would be to train me on leather. "Before you can clean it or fix it," he said, "you need to understand it." I thought, no problem, I'm practically an expert already, so I asked: "Do you want to start with the premium grade tens or the basic grade ones?" When he was finally able to stop laughing at my question, we began.

I soon understood that leather doesn't come in grades, but types. Each type has different characteristics. Tanneries decide what types of properties the leather should have and they use cowhides and produce all sorts of wonderful leather articles such as aniline, semi-aniline, aniline plus, pigmented, corrected, split, crust, sauvage, kela effect, and many others. We discussed where leather came from, how it was made, and the different properties of each type. Later, after hours and hours of training on each type, I was given a test. Twenty leather articles were laid out on a table and I had to look at them, touch them, and correctly identify each article by type.

I think I correctly identified five out of 20. It may have been only four. I was embarrassed, confused and wondering what I had gotten myself into. How would I ever be able to teach someone else how to clean or repair leather if I couldn't even identify it correctly?

Fortunately, at this moment, the company's sales manager walked in, took one look at me and provided me with the key to leather success. "Stop confusing him," she said to the trainer. "This is simple. There are only three types of leather: aniline, protected and pigmented. A, P and N. Every leather falls into one of these three categories, be it furniture, apparel, shoes, automotive seating, even jewelry. It's all A, P or N." She left the room and I stared dumbfounded. I couldn't believe it could be that simple.

Well, many years, multiple trips to tanneries, hundreds of clients and thousands of leathers later, I can assure anyone who has thought about working with leather that she was correct. Every piece of leather I have ever encountered is one of these three basic types. It's that simple.

Cleaning leather is a low-cost, high-profit endeavor. The key to your success will be in understanding leather, understanding your customer, and proper promotion. As in any field, the more confident you are in your knowledge and ability, the more successful you will be.