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Leather is a sustainable, beautiful product and British leather is some of the best in the World. We are the only trade association in the UK promoting and protecting this great British industry and we are proud of the work that we do.

Here you can find the answer to pretty much any question you might have about this wonderful material. From how leather is made, to how to care for it, its sustainability credentials, where to buy and even where to find an expert leather artisan to make a bespoke item for you.

leather scarfs held up by hand
Repairing leather car seat
Leather and the planet
cows in a field

Where do the raw materials for making leather come from?

The hides or skins used to make leather are by-products from the meat industry and come from animals that were reared for meat, milk and wool. Hides refer to large bovine animals, such as cows, whereas skins usually refers to smaller animals, typically sheep, goats and deer. The distinction is the 1 metre height of the animal at the time of slaughter, with the exception of calves, who are referred to as calf skins.

There are a lot of agenda organisations which argue that the leather industry drives animal rearing, but this simply isn’t true. Hides and skins are definitely by-products. According to the FAO, meat production generates about 11.6 million tonnes per year of hides and skins. If these were not used to make leather, they would just be thrown away. Furthermore, the leather that wasn’t made would be replaced with other materials, most of which would probably be plastic.

At the global level, a hide is currently worth between 1-2% of the value of the whole animal when slaughtered – this excludes the value of any dairy products, which are worth a lot more in total. Clearly, no one is rearing cattle for 1% of the animal. Furthermore, up to 40% of the hides produced each year are lost or thrown away. This is an issue in places like Africa where the infrastructure may be lacking but is also true in developed, mature industries such as the USA, which is one of the biggest beef and hide producers in the world. In 2020, 14.5% of US of hides were thrown away and was 18% in 2019, so these losses are not due to Covid-19. If the hide were not a by-product, this wouldn’t happen. Incidentally, this did not cause any issues for the meat industry, which continues to grow.

The situation for skins is even worse. In the UK we produce about 14 million sheepskin per year. Many of these have no value and the abattoirs have to pay to have them taken away for disposal.

How do I clean leather?

Leather furniture in a normal domestic environment requires little maintenance although obviously leather in lighter shades will need more attention. Regular care of leather does ensure its lasting quality and some general rules for regular cleaning and maintenance are to clean the leather with a soft damp cloth taking care not to soak the leather. For more thorough treatment, the leather should be cleaned using a light soapy solution applied to the surface of the leather in circular motions until the dirty parts are clean. Repeat this process using clean water only. Do not use saddle soap, wax polishes or spray polishes. Do not use any product or any method of cleaning not recommended by the manufacturer.

What is special about British leather?

In the UK, leather falls into two categories: leather made in the UK and leather used in the UK. Most of the leather made in the UK is made using domestic hides, which means a very short and transparent supply chain. The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and we are one of only 5 countries to receive the highest current rating (B) on the World Animal Protection Animal Protection Index api.worldanimalprotection.org. Some tanners import raw materials from other places, but customer demands mean that they have to ensure the highest possible standards. The UK also has some the highest environmental, chemical, worker and consumer protection standards in the world and it is important to remember that tanneries and leather are subject to the same legislation as every other manufacturing industry.

87% of UK production is bovine leather. Of that, 54.9% (2019) is located in Scotland with the Scottish Leather Group, for automotive, aviation and upholstery. The next largest manufacturer in volume terms is Holmes Halls Processors in Hull, contract tanning wet blue, largely for the Italian market.

The UK tanners export about 80% of their production so much of the leather used in the UK, by companies like Burberry, Aspinal, Clarkes and so on, is imported. However, nearly 90% comes from EU countries or the USA, again meaning that it is made to very regulatory standards. Many tanners are also involved in voluntary standards, such as the Leather Working Group, to ensure that their leather is produced as sustainably as possible and to meet the demands of their customers.

What is the tanning process?

Tanning is the chemical process that stabilizes the hide thermically, mechanically, chemically and microbiologically. Only a few chemicals have tanning properties. They are safe and non toxic when used correctly. Click here to find out more.

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