As consumers, so many of the products we see on offer to us are made from leather. It is often leather that we have to thank for our favourite pair of shoes, jacket or bag. This all makes sense when we consider the material’s versatility, durability, and, crucially, its ability to look good. More and more we’re overwhelmed with choice when it comes to us buying leather. From split leather bags to suede shoes and nubuck furniture, the range of leather available to us is vast and, honestly, confusing. How can we differentiate between split leather, suede and nubuck when, quite frankly, leather is leather right?
At the heart of it, this is completely true. All leather is made from animal skin which has been treated, tanned and crusted. Nowadays this is usually cow skin, although you may occasionally find leather products made from animals like sheep, kangaroos and pigs. The difference comes from the method used to process and finish the leather - This is where you get your split leather vs. your suede vs. your nubuck. These leather materials are differentiated further by their physical properties, usage and price. The following explains how split leather, suede and nubuck differ, giving you the know-how to purchase the leather that best suits your requirements.
Split leather is used to make all the handmade leather bags and satchels on the Zatchels website, so it seems only right that we begin there...
Split leather is called split leather for a reason. Staying true to its namesake, split leather comes from the part of the hide which has been leftover once the top-grain has been ‘split’ from the rest of the hide. As split leather effectively comes from the underside of the hide it initially lacks visual appeal and this is why it is usually embossed to provide the grainy surface texture that we recognise on our favourite leather handbags and wallets. Split leather is often advertised as ‘genuine leather’ meaning you’re likely to own more split leather bags and shoes than you might be aware of. The versatile quality of split leather means it can be used for a whole range of purposes. It is easy to add an artificial layer to this material making it perfect for producing colourful split leather bags and accessories. Split leather’s soft texture means it is not only useful for making fashion accessories like split leather bags but for upholstery projects and lining jackets.
Like split leather, suede is highly versatile because of its soft and light texture. Whilst other split leathers are often covered, suede has a naturally decorative finish and is easily identifiable by its delicate and fuzzy texture. Due to its visual appeal, suede is a big player in the fashion industry. Jackets and handbags are often made with suede to give them a high-end look and it is particularly popular with shoe manufacturers who are keen to make a product which is both comfortable and attractive. Suede bags and jackets can be dyed like split leather bags and accessories and so it’s not unusual to find bright suede products standing out on shop shelves. Suede can also be treated to make it waterproof but will require significantly more care than other split leather products to maintain their attractive aesthetic.
If you’re looking for a material that is more robust than suede but just as stylish, then Nubuck is your answer. As Nubuck is taken from the outside of the hide, whilst split leather is taken from the underside, it’s naturally marked with more visual defects than split leather and so is sanded and buffed to give it the smooth finish reminiscent of suede. Just as split leather can be dyed to make colourful split leather bags and other accessories, Nubuck can also be coloured meaning you’ll often see vibrant nubuck accessories. You will pay a higher price for products like Nubuck bags than you will for split leather bags, on account of the material’s resilience and the additional work required to prepare it for use. It is worth noting, however, that Nubuck can become marked and/or stained, so it should be cleaned regularly. That said, it is a lot tougher than suede and therefore less prone to significant damage.