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What is Bonded Leather? A Controversial Alternative to Real Leather

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Buying a leather backpack product is often an investment and an accomplishment. We are no longer talking about the classic, monotonous backpacks made of nylon and polyester that you used to wear to school, but your first stylish, quality backpack that is designed to last a lifetime. Before purchasing this item, our customers sometimes have a lot of questions about what type of leather to choose.

Today we are interested in bonded leather, a type of faux leather that is a bit special, which requires a little more attention to its characteristics.

Want to crack for a leather product but you do not have the budget? You have found a product with the label "bonded leather", but you do not know what it is? You know this term but you want to know more about its exact nature? Don't hesitate, we are here to help you.

The bonded leather is often at the heart of many questions and debates, so much the general public misunderstands this material. It must be said that it is not helped by the brands that play on this general ignorance to promote bonded leather as real leather.

This is partly due to the nature of bonded leather, which can be considered a hybrid between genuine leather and artificial leather. How is this possible? Well, let us explain.

This article will explain what bonded leather is, its manufacturing process but also its advantages and disadvantages so that you can make an informed and wise choice.

Let's go !


What is Bonded Leather? 

Bonded leather is a so-called "hybrid" leather because it is made of a mixture of real leather and fake leather. It is designed from scraps and fibers of genuine leather, from the remains of the manufacture of genuine leather article. This allows to propose on the market, a finished product at lower cost but of better quality than the PU leather.

It allows to use the remains of the industries and/or pieces of lesser quality to give marketable finished products. This can be seen as positive as it reduces the amount of waste generated by the leather industry, which is recovered and finally used in bonded leather.

The final material is often dyed and pressed to give it the color and texture of natural leather, to mimic its appearance as closely as possible and thus increase its final selling price. This also allows manufacturers to offer it in a variety of colors and patterns to meet the different needs and desires of the market, which explains its frequent use.

The percentage of real leather in the composition of bonded leather varies significantly depending on the manufacturer and the desired quality (the more real leather, the better the final product). On average, it is estimated that bonded leather is composed of 10% to 20% real leather, leaving 80% to 90% artificial materials.

Some merchants sell bonded leather as real leather, and this is a total scam because of the very low content of real leather. If you are in a store, this leather can be found under other names such as

  • Composite leather
  • Reconstituted leather
  • Recycled leather
  • Mixed leather
  • Blended leather
  • Ground leather
  • Glued leather
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WATERLOO

Black Leather Backpack

Are leather backpack

ÅRE

Brown Leather Rucksack

roya leather backpack

ROYA

Leather School Backpack

How is Bonded Leather made ? 

As we have just seen, bonded leather is the result of a mixture between natural leather scraps and artificial elements.

To make bonded leather, manufacturers recover in factories and tanneries the scraps of unused leather. These are "shredded" and mixed with a chemical solution, usually composed of polyurethane (same material as PU leather for example), to obtain a homogeneous mixture.

Once the mixture is bound, it is then glued to a base made mainly of paper, which provides structure and strength to the product. Then, but not always, a second layer of polyurethane is applied and then pressed to imprint the natural pattern of real leather on the material. This allows to imitate the grain and texture of the leather. We will detail the 6 main steps of the bonded leather manufacturing process:

  1. Shredding
  2. Mixing
  3. Extrusion
  4. Dyeing/Coloring
  5. Stamping/Embossing
  6. Finishing
leather backpack full grain

HORE Full Grain Leather Backpack

Step 1: Shredding

In this first step, the leather scraps are first collected from the different factories and tanneries. Sometimes larger pieces of leather are recovered, if they do not meet the quality required by the manufacturer, or if a defect prevents their use.

Once arrived, these scraps and waste are then placed in a grinder or mill that will tear the natural fibers of the leather, shredding them into small pieces of uniform size.

Step 2: Mixing

Once the shredding process is complete, the new fibers obtained are then placed in a large tank where they are mixed with a chemical, binding material, most often a polyurethane or latex solution.

The real leather content varies depending on the manufacturer and the quality of the material, but it is estimated that it is usually between 10% and 20% of the final product. This difference is important because below 20%, the leather obtained cannot be considered as "real" leather (even if for us it is the case of any leather not 100% natural), and enters the category of faux leather.

The exact composition of the mixture and the chemical elements added vary greatly from one manufacturer to another. By modifying these elements, it is possible to create bonded leathers of different thicknesses, stiffnesses and even textures. Some successful manufacturers even keep the contents of their recipe secret.

The addition of these chemical elements will bind the fibers together as the mixture dries, replacing the role of the natural binders in the hide. At this point in the manufacturing process, the resulting mixture is often referred to as bonded leather "pulp", as the process of making it closely resembles that of making paper.

Step 3: Extrusion

Once the mixture is homogeneous, it will be placed on a flat surface to take its final shape, before it dries and solidifies. Different techniques exist but extrusion can be done by gravity and casting or with the help of machines that will spread or spray the material evenly on the supports provided for this purpose.

The substrate is essential in the manufacture of bonded leather because it provides the necessary base for the mixture to dry and take its final shape. This base provides structure to the mix and strength to the finished product.

Generally, this base is made of paper, cotton or polyester fibers, but sometimes manufacturers opt for a plastic or metal mesh, as the mesh greatly facilitates the adhesion of the mix to the base. This choice depends on the final use of the product. If the product is to be subjected to a lot of stress (book binding), the mesh will provide essential resistance so that the leather does not spoil quickly.

Once this process is completed, the newly formed paste will be placed in warehouses where it will slowly dry to obtain the desired material condition.

Step 4 : Dyeing / Coloring

After a few days, the paste, mixed with the mesh and the support, is now dry and ready for the next step: coloring. This treatment is superficial and does not modify the internal structure of the material, not penetrating it. This is different from real leather because in this material the dye tends to penetrate the leather completely.

The advantage of this leather is that any color can be applied, either by dyeing or painting.

Step 5 : Stamping / Embossing

Once the bonded leather has achieved its final color, it can be put under a press, which prints on it patterns reminiscent of the grain and texture of real natural leather.

However, any pattern is possible and sometimes exentric or artistic patterns are preferred to bring originality to the product, thus distancing it from a faithful rendering of real leather. This is one of the advantages of bonded leather, and explains its frequent use in the various industries using leather.

Natural leather also undergoes this printing process sometimes, but most often to camouflage defects or imperfections in the grain. For bonded leather, offering a uniform and homogeneous surface, this process is purely aesthetic.

Step 6 : Finishing

At the end of the previous step, the bonded leather is dyed and proudly displays its new patterns. To ensure the durability of the product and prevent it from changing over time, the manufacturer applies a final layer of chemical solution to freeze the whole but also to bring a little shine to the leather.

This solution makes the leather water and wear resistant by sealing the upper layers of the bonded leather. To make the result similar to real leather, odors and perfumes are sometimes added to this protective layer.

In general, the variety of compositions and finishes makes it extremely difficult to have a homogeneity of bonded leathers, to say if they are resistant or not, durable or not and to predict how they will evolve over time. As no two bonded leathers are alike, some will offer optimal quality and will last over time while others will deteriorate rather quickly, making a general opinion difficult to have.

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Pros & Cons of Bonded Leather

Now that we know more precisely what bonded leather is, it seems interesting to compare it to real leather, of which full grain leather is the most worthy representative, to see what are its advantages and disadvantages compared to natural leather.

Pros of Bonded Leather

Here are the advantages of bonded leather over real leather:

  • Since bonded leather is a mixture of real and fake leather, and the natural leather composition rarely exceeds 20%, it is usually much cheaper than real leather, positioning itself as an affordable alternative. It brings a touch of vintage style and luxury to your outfits, similar to real leather
  • The manufacturing process of bonded leather is artificially controlled, so its rendering is homogeneous, uniform and smooth, which distinguishes it from natural leather that may contain imperfections such as traces, veins or scratches, inherent to the animal's life.
  • The manufacturing process also allows you to let your imagination run free to create leathers with different colors, textures and patterns. It is a type of leather highly customizable according to the needs and desires of each.
  • Bonded leather offers an eco-friendly manufacturing process in the sense that it participates in the circular economy by recovering and reusing leather scraps and leftovers in tanneries, which would otherwise have ended up in the trash.Because bonded leather is artificially manufactured, in the form of a plate, its cutting efficiency is high, which implies that few scraps and waste are produced.

Cons of Bonded Leather

Here are the disadvantages of bonded leather compared to real leather:

  • Bonded leather is not as durable and strong as real leather. As a result, it will not last as long and will require, at best, repairs and, at worst, replacement. It is estimated that, on average, real leather of the highest quality, such as full grain leather or crazy horse leather, lasts on average 4x longer than bonded leathers.
  • Bonded leather is significantly more difficult to repair than real leather, resulting in more frequent product changes. Generally, once the leather has come loose or damaged, it will continue to degrade on or around the initial problem despite the care and the different repairs you will have done.
  • Bonded leather being less flexible and reactive, it tends to get damaged much more easily and you will quickly see scratches, peeling, unlike real leather which patina beautifully with time.
  • Bonded leather is not an organic material so it is waterproof and does not breathe, which can quickly cause discomfort in hot weather.
  • Bonded leather tends to react with the sun's UV rays, which can cause discoloration of the leather, the dye penetrating only the surface layers of the material.
  • Bonded leather is composed of real leather, it is not a vegan leather, containing no animal matter as is the 100% PU leather for example.
  • Bonded leather can react chemically over time, which can lead to the release or "sweating" of chemicals on your clothes or your body. For example, a poor quality polyethylene coating can release gases that are dangerous for people with respiratory problems.
full grain leather straps

Full Grain Leather Strap - HORE Backpack

What is Bonded Leather Used for?

Bonded leather is a material used in many fields. Its ease of production and customization makes it a desired and affordable material. In general, bonded leather is used in all areas where real leather has already proven its value.

Today, it is mainly used in the interior furniture industry and more particularly in sofas and armchairs, which are known to be made of bonded leather.

Many stores take the liberty of offering these articles in bonded leather as real leather to mislead the consumer but it is important to be informed, bonded leather, as we have just seen, being far from offering the same characteristics and "performance" of real leather.

Natural leather being much more expensive, this is a method used by many sellers to attract consumers to sell them bonded leather items by making them believe in the properties of natural leather.

The book industry also uses bonded leather a lot, especially because of its internal mesh that allows it to be resistant, especially in the binding, which is subject to many tensions over time.

Finally, the clothing and fashion accessories industry is obviously extremely fond of bonded leather, which can be endlessly declined to fill their shelves with many different products. The main pieces made of bonded leather are shoes, linings and coverings for jackets, skirts and some pants.

Bags, be it backpacks, satchels, travel bags, as well as some makeup bags are often offered in bonded leather, much cheaper than their natural leather counterparts. The same is true for smaller accessories such as wallets, briefcases, eyeglass cases, belts, and all the small everyday accessories that can be affected by fashion movements, especially the bohemian and vintage movements. 

How to Tell If It Is Bonded Leather?

Too many brands play on the nature of bonded leather (can we really call it leather?) and it's time to give you all the keys to recognize bonded leather easily enough and differentiate it from natural leathers.

Here are the important points to look for when trying to recognize bonded leather:

  1. Labeling
  2. Price
  3. Appearance and texture
  4. Touch
  5. Smell
protective rivets leather backpack

Full grain leather straps with protective rivets - HORE Backpack

1. Labeling

it is important to read the product label before anything else. If it is genuine leather, be sure that the manufacturer will be very proud to put it on his product. You can find inscriptions like: full grain leather, top grain leather, crazy horse leather, 100% leather, genuine leather. If this is the case, you are dealing with quality real leather.

However, if you see terms that seem a little more vague such as: composite leather, reconstituted leather, recycled leather, mixed leather or glued leather, you can be sure that the amount of genuine leather is low. Even worse, if the label doesn't say anything, you might even be facing PU leather or other fake artificial leather.

2. Price

This is the main difference between artificial leather and 100% genuine leather. The bonded leather will always be much cheaper because it is mainly composed of artificial materials, raw materials cheaper than the skin. If a leather product offers a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Appearance & Texture

Bonded leather is uniform, smooth and above all flawless. If a product looks too perfect, it is probably made of bonded leather. A natural leather, made from the skin of an animal, always has small imperfections here and there, like our skin. Its structure and surface will never be perfectly smooth, which is, for leather lovers, a sign of quality, indicating the development of patina with time.

For example, full grain leather, the best leather on the market, is not worked or corrected very much, to let its full potential be expressed. It will therefore be common to see some small imperfections on this type of product. Next come top grain leather and genuine leather, which is made from the lower parts of the hide, which are of lesser quality but are smoother than the upper part, which is exposed to the elements during the animal's life.

Sometimes these parts are pressed to look like full grain leather (called grain corrected leather), which is similar in appearance to bonded leather, which can make it difficult to differentiate. Bonded leather offers a very regular and uniform pattern since its surface is artificially worked. If it seems too perfect, it is legitimate doubt.

4. Touch

Bonded leather has a dead surface, which does not react or reacts very little to touch and friction. It keeps its shape and does not deform very well.

On the other hand, real leather stretches, wrinkles and marks very easily (even if these marks are not permanent).

5. Smell

The smell of genuine leather is unique and will quickly bring back specific memories. It smells animal, offering organic scents easily recognizable. Bonded leather can have a background of natural leather smell because it is composed of a small amount of it.

But it is not possible to artificially reproduce its smell, even if manufacturers often add smells to the last layer to get closer. You can however, more or less easily detect chemical odors, plastics or petroleum derivatives. Sometimes, if the bonded leather has been treated differently, it may not smell at all.

Don't hesitate to ask a salesperson or contact customer service to find out which leather your product is made of. If you want high quality leather, ask for full grain leather, you will never be disappointed. If you have a more reasonable budget you can opt for top grain leather or genuine leather. Everything else, in our opinion, is not leather.

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How Long does Bonded Leather Last?

Bonded leather is an artificial material that offers average durability and poor resistance to time. One of the major problems with this type of material is that it degrades easily and is very difficult to repair.

Bonded leather is a mixture of fibers, linked together by a chemical solution of polymer that allows the whole to hold together. It is therefore a non-elastic material that does not have a solid and resistant surface. The use of your product will determine its longevity. The friction of your clothes and everyday objects act as abrasives on the bonded leather and favor the peeling.

As a general rule, a bonded leather product lasts between 3 and 5 years, while a real leather product such as full grain leather can last more than 30 years.

Does Bonded Leather Peel with Time?

We are often asked: does bonded leather peel off? Of course it does. It is a non-organic material that reacts badly to tension/torsion. Therefore, with each stretch, the bonds between the atoms break and the material ends up cracking or tearing. The main consequence is the peeling or flaking of small pieces of leather, often leaving the initial base visible, and giving a very unattractive look to your product.

Can we prevent bonded leather from peeling? No, but you can make sure that it happens as late as possible, by taking care of your product. You can for example use conditioners or repair kits to solve problems as soon as they appear.

men leather knapsack

Full Grain Leather Rucksack KALINKA

How to Clean and Care for Bonded Leather?

Despite a limited life expectancy, you can get the most out of it if you treat your product with care and regular maintenance.

Use a soft, slightly damp cloth to wipe off any dirt. Avoid abrasive or scouring chemicals that would dissolve the last layer, endangering your entire product.

To keep its shine, use a leather conditioner, this will also greatly help to protect the surface of the material, often in contact with you or other objects.

To avoid discoloration of the leather, avoid placing your product under direct sunlight, which will not only discolor it but also weaken its resistance. Also avoid heat sources, which tend to dry out the material, making it more likely to peel off.

How to Repair Bonded Leather?

If you notice that your product is starting to peel, it is important not to leave it lying around, as you may simply have to change it. Indeed, this type of leather does not repair well, and it often happens that even after repairs, the peeling resumes in the same place or around. It is therefore necessary to deal with the problem as soon as it appears.

You can easily find repair kits in specialized stores, allowing you to easily take care of your product. Before starting your work, always remember to pass a white cloth over the area to check that the stain does not come off. Then, you can sand the area to remove any dirt or loose pieces.

Then you will just have to follow the instructions, mixing the repair solution with the dye corresponding to your product, then spreading it on the damaged area. Place the coated paper on top and seal it with an iron (not too hot), which will emboss the pattern on the repaired area.

If the problem concerns small scratches and you do not feel ready for this type of repair, you can use shoe polish (always in a shade close to your product).

In all cases, the repair will remain visible to a trained eye but you will still see a marked improvement.


Wrapping Up

After a long reading, you are now a bonded leather professional and nothing can escape you from now on.

We have seen that bonded leather is a hybrid leather, composed of real leather scraps and a mixture of chemical polymers. This leather that we consider as a fake leather because of its low content of real leather has the advantage of being affordable and infinitely customizable. On the other hand, it does not age well and is not really durable.

If you're looking for a leather product, opt for full grain leather, or top grain leather. Sometimes it's better to save a little extra and keep an item for years, than to go for the cheapest offer only to find yourself with tatters a few months later.

If you are looking for crazy horse leather backpacks (full grain leather immersed in oil), don't hesitate to have a look at our collections. You can contact us if you need advice, we will be happy to help you.

See you soon!

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📌 What is PU Leather? The Secrets of an Alternative to Real Leather

📌 How to Clean and Care for Leather Bags and Backpacks?

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author

Author: Baptiste

Baptiste is a passionate adventurer and lover of old and charming retro objects. Through this blog, he seeks to share his passion for travel and vintage fashion

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