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Animal Leather Sources and Uses

Virtually any animal hide or skin can be processed or tanned to produce leather gloves. The animal source used and the mechanical and chemical processing of the skin render a variety of characteristics suitable for many different applications. Leather offers a wide selection of textures, grains, durability, comfort, maintenance, cost, water resistance, abrasion resistance, weight, strength, pliability, softness, and appearance.

Leather is very popular because it breathes, providing ventilation, absorption and maintenance of humidity. In addition, leather regulates temperature, retaining warmth in the cold and providing cooling through ventilation in the heat.

Many different animal sources are used to make leather products; however 98.8% of world leather production comes from four animals, broken down statistically as follows:

  • Bovine (Cow): 65%
  • Sheep: 15%
  • Pig: 11%
  • Goat: 9%
All other leathers account for just 0.2% of leather production.

A breakdown of world leather products manufactured, including leather gloves, are as follows:
  • Footwear: 52.0%
  • Furniture: 14.0%
  • Auto: 10.2%
  • Garments: 10.0%
  • Gloves: 4.4%
  • Other: 9.4%
Animal Sources for Leather

Bovine or Cowhide leather is the most abundant and common leather source. Cowhide offers maximum value for texture, appearance, durability, and comfort. Cowhide is easy to care for, the least expensive due to its availability and is dirt and water resistant. Cowhide is one of the heaviest leathers making it very tough wearing and durable featuring a pebble grain appearance. Although it can be somewhat stiff, cowhide breaks in easily. Cow leather is used for virtually every leather product including outerwear, jackets, casual and biker style coats, gloves, belts, saddles, bags, furniture, straps, shoes, boots, and upholstery.

Calfskin is used to produce a high quality, attractive leather with a soft, fine feel. Calfskin has a smooth surface, which is dense, lightweight, and abrasion resistant. Calfskin takes on high luster with use and is used in bookbinding, dresses, shoes, and straps.

Pig or hog skin leather is a dense leather similar to cowhide with a soft and supple feel and very good durability. Pigskin is very pliable, comfortable and water resistant with a high lanolin content to keep the glove soft after getting wet. Pigskin is used to manufacture work gloves, shoes, boots, sportswear, handbags, saddle seats, belts and apparel such as, shirts, blazers, and jackets. Despite their nickname, footballs are actually made of cowhide.

Goat skin leather is a economical, strong and durable, with a smooth fine grain. Goatskin is slightly softer and tougher than cow leather and is lightweight, comfortable, supple, flexible, and water-resistant. Pigskin is used to manufacture to gloves, casual shoes, coats, vests, bookbinding, wallets, belts, and protective clothing. Kidskin is a very soft leather made from the hide of a young goat.

Sheep skin leather is extremely soft, comfortable, and pliable. The finely grained leather is thin and supple with a buttery texture. Sheep leather is lightweight, warm and delicate and absorbs water well. Sheep leather’s low tear and tensile strength stretches and well and reshapes after wearing, however it can distort with excessive use. Because sheep skin leather drapes well and flows, it is often used to make high-end leather garments especially coats, dresses, skirts, jackets, and pants, as well as, vests, slippers, handbags, hats, footwear, and rugs.

Deerskin is one of the toughest leathers available due to the thorny nature of the animal’s natural habitats. Deerskin leather’s high tensile strength is abrasion resistant and offers high durability. Deerskin is extremely soft and comfortable with a spongy feel. It is lightweight, water-friendly, stretchy and fits well. Deerskin is more expensive and used to manufacture gloves, shirts, dresses, hats, slippers, jackets, overcoats, sporting equipment, handbags, wallets, and upholstery.

Bison or Buffalo skin is a heavy duty and durable leather and very value priced. This leather is rugged and strong, yet soft and supple with a rubber waxy feel. Buffalo leather features thicker fibers which are more widely spaced and evident hair follicles creating a pebbly appearance. Bison leather is used to make furniture, shoes, belts, bookbinding, rugs, gloves, jackets, and baseball gloves.

Ostrich leather is much rarer, but is one of the finest and most durable leathers. Ostrich leather is luxurious, soft, supple, and thick featuring an exotic goose bump appearance from the large feather quill follicles. Ostrich leather is popular in luxury fashion and is used to make boots, footwear, upholstery, accessories, clothing, luggage, purses, wallets, and briefcases.

Kangaroo leather is lightweight, strong and flexible with high abrasion resistance compared to cowhide. Ostrich leather can be cut into very thin layers which remain strong and create lighter weight garments. Ostrich leather is made from free range wild animals and is popular in soccer footwear, as well as, bullwhips and apparel.

Crocodile and alligator skin renders a very attractive and fashionable leather. The leather is strong, supple, durable and very expensive. A bony layer within the skin adds a protective shield, while a dimple on each scale makes a very exotic look. Crocodile and alligator leather is used to make luxury goods, handbags, wallets, boots, belts, and briefcases.

Snakeskin is typically produced from venomous sea snakes which are commercially farmed. The leather is delicate, thin, soft and flexible, while the fine small hexagon scales produce exotic detailed grains. Snake skin leather is used to make boots, wallets, and handbags.

Eel skin is a very thin and elegant, which is not very strong. Eel skin leather can be durable but requires maintenance if exposed to elements. Eel skin is soft, shiny, and smooth with horizontal pin-stripe patterns. This leather is actually produced from a slimy eel-like fish called the inshore hagfish, which is caught in the wild. Eel skin becomes softer and suppler with use and is used to make wallets and handbags.

Stingray or shagreen leather is very tough with a siliceous layer on the surface, which makes it as durable as hard plastic. Stingray leather has a beautiful appearance and wonderful feel, which is very strong. Stingray leather scales even protect from fire damage. The leather is usually dyed black and covered with tiny round bumps dyed white to highlight the decoration. Stingray leather is used for clothing, furniture, wallets, belts, purses, and briefcases.

Some other animal sources used for leather include boar, elk, horse, mule, donkey, ox, seal, walrus, whale, lizard, and yak.

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