What Is Genuine Leather?

This briefcase, labeled "genuine leather" is not made of top-grain, full-grain, or belting leather. It is labeled "genuine leather" to avoid referring to it as "split leather."
This briefcase, labeled "genuine leather" is not made of top-grain, full-grain, or belting leather. It is labeled "genuine leather" to avoid referring to it as "split leather."

What is "Genuine Leather"?

If you are in the market for a leather business case, attaché case, or travel bag, and the label reads "Genuine Leather," this is a "buyer beware" signal, because that label is telling you what the product is NOT. It is most certainly not full-grain, top-grain or belting leather. The fact is, the label "Genuine Leather" is purposely ambiguous, and meant to mislead the consumer.

"Genuine Leather," on a tag on a piece of luggage, means "not-the-best leather." It may mean "split leather."

Full-Grain and Top-Grain Versus Split Leather

The typical leather hide is split into two parts. The surface layer, the layer closest to the animal’s hair, is called the top-grain layer. The lower layer is called the split layer.

In our industry, full-grain leathers, which include both layers, are the most desirable. The natural markings on the hide are attractive, and so it is not necessary to correct the surface appearance of the leather in any artificial manner. Top-grain leather is slightly less desirable. Split leather is much less desirable.

Belting Leather

Premium grade belting leather takes on a rich glow or "patina" as the leather ages. In fact, if properly cared for, belting leather improves with age!
Premium grade belting leather takes on a rich glow or "patina" as the leather ages. In fact, if properly cared for, belting leather improves with age!

Belting leathers are the most premium level of full-grain leathers. They were developed in the industrial age as a source of belts to turn pulleys, which gives you an idea of their impressive durability and performance. Today some of the finest personal leather goods, business cases, and luggage products are offered in belting leather, for the consumer who is looking to enjoy a product for an entire lifetime and then pass it on to their child.

Top-Grain or Corrected Leather

Full-grain and top-grain leather are about equally durable, but full-grain is higher quality.

When a hide has a lot of scars or insect bites, these undesirable markings may cause it to be classified top-grain instead of full-grain. The surface may be "corrected" to hide these marks and give it more appeal; it may be buffed, sanded, plated, or embossed with an artificial pattern. Some of these patterns are meant to simulate the best full-grain leather markings while other embossed patterns make the hide look like genuine alligator, ostrich, snake, or lizard.

Split Leather

Split leather is more affordable than top-grain or full-grain leather and consequently has many applications. It is the underlying layer that is split off from the surface layer. Because the split layer doesn't have the marks or scars that give the hide the natural look of leather, it can be much more difficult for the consumer to tell whether the product is leather or synthetic. Also, split leather is never as durable as top-grain or full-grain leather, and your split-leather product will not last as long.

There are many ways to give split leather a desirable appearance. The most common is applying a polyurethane coating, along with plating or artificial markings to simulate the better product. Naturally, a split leather product will be far less expensive than one of full-grain or top-grain leather. I recommend trading up to at least top-grain leather if it fits in your budget.

An example of bonded leather, often used for Bibles, inexpensive photo albums, and journals.
An example of bonded leather, often used for Bibles, inexpensive photo albums, and journals.

Bonded Leather

The next step down in quality is bonded leather. This has many applications as well. Bonded leather is to leather what particle board is to wood. Particle board comes from waste wood products sprayed with liquid resin or glue so they can be used in place of more expensive wood to create products like shelving or inexpensive furniture. Likewise, bonded leather comes from the collected waste products of leather processing, reconstituted to create a less expensive alternative to better leather. Bonded leather is also embossed with natural leather-like texture to give it more appeal. Many affordably priced Bibles, book bindings, diaries, photo albums, and slim pocket agendas are made of bonded leather.

When you buy something made of leather, I recommend that you ask the sales associate to tell you what kind of leather it is. If they can't say this with confidence, you might ask to speak to another associate with more product knowledge. If none of the associates can tell you, you may be in the wrong store. Training is readily available in our industry, as the Travel Goods Association (TGA) provides a comprehensive course that allows a sales associate to become a product expert.

In any event, if you see a "Genuine Leather" label on a product you are thinking of buying, you now have the education to make an informed decision.

Comments 45 comments

RH leathergoods 6 years ago

good article~

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 6 years ago Author

Thank you, I appreciate your comment!

Kacie 5 years ago

Thanks, great article.


Kelly Wright 5 years ago

Great article.

This is what I've been looking for to decide whether a leather jacket is right for me. Well, a store tells it's made of "genuine leather" with RRP of over $600, so it must be of good quality.

Nikunj 5 years ago

hey really appreciable

Fad Lee 5 years ago

informative :-)

kevin 5 years ago

thanks, that was an awesome article!!

QQ 5 years ago

very educational..Thanks....

Leem 5 years ago

a great article

bond 5 years ago

Very educational. Thanks

Eddie Holloway 5 years ago

Very informative article.Thank you.

anne 5 years ago

I would really hope you could elaborate more on genuine leather and on how to see a good quality genuine leather.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 5 years ago Author

If the description is 'genuine leather' the quality will not be good! This terminology for leather should send up the red flags. In most instances, the leather will be split or bonded leather if described as 'genuine leather'. If the leather is a better quality Top Grain, Full Grain, Belting, Saddle, etc. it will be identified as such.

Tony 5 years ago

This is so pro, I can't fully understand it. I wish google translate can do a better job into Chinese so I can totally understand it.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 5 years ago Author

Dear Tony,

Thanks for you kind comments, I am very flattered to hear that you made an effort to read this article even though your primary language is Chinese. If you have further questions please let me know, and I will do my best to answer.

Martin 5 years ago


I'm here by a true accident. I don't like to use wallets but I just pick one from my closet - time to exchange pennies. So, the embossed text on that wallet is "Genuine Leather". It smells like leather, smells the same like expensive furniture in lawyer's agency, so Google invited me to your Hub. If I understood you properly my wallet is at least bad quality leather. That's good to know, because I have it for free. So It looks like cigarrete companies had nice gifts in past time. It has at least 5 years old but looks new.

Greetings from Poland!

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 5 years ago Author

Hi Martin,

I am so glad to see that these articles are read world over. How cool to have a reader from Poland, which is where my Dad was born.

I can't say that regulations in Poland are the same as that of the United States, yet product that we see in our market identified as 'Genuine Leather' is always the lower grade (generally split leather). Since the vast majority is manufactured in Asia, I believe it is no different in your market. Thank you very much for sharing your story!

MGV 4 years ago

Great article!!!

I'm just in the middle of setting up my own vintage wear business so this is really very helpful!!!

Thanks! ;)

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

MGV, Good luck on your new business, and thanks for your kind comment!

Ankur Jarora 4 years ago

I live in India. India is traditionally a very low margin and high volume market. Its ironical that 1/3rd of leather is produced in India. But I can say with guarantee that almost all that we get in the market is sold in the name of Genuine Leather. I have used many leather products like shoes, gloves, wallets, but I have never seen a full grain leather stuff ( except today when I saw leather belts at Levis which had the same colour throughout the cross section which is sign of full grain i guess). I want to purchase full grain leather Jacket in India. What brands do sell full grain jackets in India ( if they at all do given the low margin market India is), else what are the parameters to judge the leather quality ( as I am considering going to some leather manufacturer to get it stiched ).


4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Ankur Jarora, thanks for your comments. I actually import leather goods from India. The manufacturing is in Chennai and Mumbai and in fact my supplier actually has the facilities to finish the hides. No doubt, India has a wide selection of fine leathers, including full-grain and top- grain leathers. Of course, they also have lower priced split leathers. Most of my products are limited to wallets, business cases, luggage, travel totes and leather backpacks. My supplier does produce products in your domestic market under the name Hidecraft. Although, many of their products also are private label names produced exclusively for quality retailers.

Guess who 4 years ago

Any thoughts on why i paid over 70$ for a Guess belt in a Guess store stamped genuine leather, n it started falling apart its filled with paper or card board. IS THIS NOT FRAUD? even the store staff said its a knock-off? until they scued it n proved they sold it.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Hi Guess Who,

Thanks for your comment! I've seen several belts that are either bonded leather or split leather which are $30.00 and below. However, $70.00 should buy you at least a top-grain belt. Your comment is a perfect example of how the term 'genuine leather' should send up the red flags of warning. The filler material on most belts are fiber, and can look like cardboard. This is common to give the belts form and structure. I believe your belt desintegrated because it was a low quality bonded or split leather. Thanks again for sharing!

Esther 4 years ago

Hello, this is an informative article! But I would like an opinion. I came across this pair of shoes which says "Authentic Leather" in Zara, is it worth buying? As in I'm afraid it will develop a foul smell when it gets wet in the rain or something like that. Thanks!

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Hi Esther,

Authentic Leather sounds like an intentionally misleading term as well. Another important consideration is the lining and soles of the shoe. Many synthetic materials are not porous and will not breathe. Leather lining and soles is always my personal preference. Yet, there are materials such as gortex that absorb moisture and keep your shoes dry and odor free. Thanks for your question!

Shaip 4 years ago

I have D&G clock and typing the Genuine leather.. And one question.. This is orginal ?

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Thank you for your question. The leather marking on the product alone does not determine whether the product is an original or counterfeit. The best way to make this determination is to take your Dolce & Gabbana clock to an Authorized Dealer and have them make the assessment. Unfortunately, the branded names are frequent victims of counterfeit reproductions.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Dear Shabbier, it appears you own a leather tannery. I will be responding directly to you via email. Please look out for my response. Thank you.

gidannodza profile image

gidannodza 4 years ago

Hi there, great article but I must confess that I am still confused. You see I make and sell bags and stuff, I get my "leather" supply from my local suppliers who claim they are bought from Italy and all over. I'd like to believe they are real and I tell my customers so but I can't hide the nagging worry and Q "what if..." My partner thinks they are not because they are so affordable but a seller claims that they are affordable cos what they import from the factories in Italy are actually leather scraps that have been cut up and or discarded. The leathers are measured here in Square foot/feet, some already have markings and cut-out shapes, you can buy full sheets also. I've had a sheet of leather that I bought and forgot about over 4 years ago, it was rolled up and hidden beneath a pile and it still looks good, I just made a bag from it :D. I would really need more clarification especially for sellers and buyers in my part of the world- Nigeria to be exact

I could send you pictures of the leather if you'd like---- Yes I am that desperate :D

W.I. Chung 4 years ago

I'm working @ retail and always wondering how that leather belt is soooooo affordable. Now I understand why!

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

A leather tannery selling hides will always be specific with the type and grade of leather. The tannery will specify whether it is a full-grain, top-grain, split leather, bonded leather, etc. They will indicate if it comes from the animals sides, belly, etc. If the leather is corrected, split or bonded, they must represent it accurately. If your local supplier can not be more specific than to say it comes from Italy, I too would be skeptical. Let them show you the documents. If they are resistant, perhaps you should go to a raw materials trade show and purchase the leather yourself. If you are working with trustworthy manufacturers, it is not uncommon for them to work with a tannery of your choosing. In other words you personally source out the raw materials and then you put the tannery in direct contact with your manufacturer. I hope this information helps. If you get the opportunity, you might also want to visit a Tannery, many offer tours and by the time you take this educational tour, I'm sure all of your questions will be answered.

denny 4 years ago

thank you for the informative article! I am an intern researching leather for an accessories firm and wanted to find out if you can point me to info on UK/New Zealand laws regarding mention of leather? From your article, it sounds like they are a little more strict on usage of the word leather especially with the use of split leather? any info would be really appreciated. Cheers!

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Hi Denny, sorry for my delayed response. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with laws pertaining to leather descriptions in the UK/New Zealand. Some of these regulations actually start with assertive manufacturer's in the industry. Obviously, those that work with the finer leathers have a vested interest in distinguishing the difference between the various grades of leather. Deception in terminology ultimately hurts the consumer. This is why I applaud any manufacturer that is active in working towards setting standards that are strictly enforced. Most importantly establishing consequences for those suppliers that are in violation. Good luck, I'm sorry I couldn't offer more help!

Lin 4 years ago

I google the definition of "Genuine Full Grain Leather". This is genuine leather or full grain leather? I am confused by the describation of this product.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 4 years ago Author

Hi Lin,

The addition of the word 'full grain' makes a significant difference. A full grain leather is the portion of the hide closest to the hairline. Generally, identifiable by the distinct and natural animal scaring, insect bites, and natural animal markings that add to the natural beauty of the leather. Consequently, there is no need to artificially plate, emboss or correct the leather if it is a full grain leather. This should never be confused for the intentionally ambiguous and misleading term 'genuine leather'

Daxyrutrato 3 years ago

My spouse and i accustomed to acquire high on lifetime but these days I've truly built up the resistance.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 3 years ago Author

Hi Daxyrutrato,

I'm not sure I understand your comment. Are you saying that you and your wife are resistant to buy a leather product?

stelahogard 3 years ago


great post!that was an awesome article. i really appreciable.thanks!

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 3 years ago Author

Dear Stelahogard, thank you very much for your kind words, I'm glad to hear your found the article helpful!

nadine 2 years ago

My husband bought me a bag from a store newyork that sell real leather bags now the inside of the bag saids made in India is it real ? It looks real even has scent of leather but I'm not sure

sanjay 2 years ago

I believe full grain and top grain leather is also refered to as breathing leather.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 22 months ago Author

Hi Nadine, the country of origin generally has no bearing on the composition. I'm sure if it smells like leather, it must be leather. Normally, you can find a tag in the inside of the bag that identifies the material as well as the country of origin. Many quality products (Wallets, Suitcases, Duffels, Backpacks, Handbags, Shoes & Clothing) are made in leather and do come from India. However, like other countries the range of quality of leather is quite diverse.

4TRAVELTIPS profile image

4TRAVELTIPS 22 months ago Author

Hi Sanjay, I honestly can's say that I have ever hear the term 'breathing leather'. I have heard the term 'belting leather', which refers to the finest of the full-grain leathers. In fact, in the Industrial Age, the 'belting leathers' were the leathers strong and tough enough to use to turn pulleys. Naturally, a split leather or inferior leather would tear or fall apart if used for this application. If you meant 'belting leather' than my answer is yes Belting Leather sometimes is referred to as 'full-grain' leather, but generally not 'top-grain'. Thanks for your question Sanjay!

Student 22 months ago

Hi i recenty bought a sheep skin leather jacket at zara. I asked store staffs whether it was geniune leather, top grain leather or full grain. To my surprise they didn't know which grading it was. I checked the jacket's washing instructions in interior lining. There was no indication of what grade it was. The jacket was about 296.39usd, so i guess it would be too cheap to be top grain, right?

Attached to the comment is link to the zara leather jacket. I hope you can help me shed light on exactly what grading of leather it is. Thank you.

Mr.Mohsin 2 months ago

Khawaja Tanneries(Pvt)Ltd is specialized in producing excellent varieties in COW & BUFFALO and enjoying 1.5 Million production capacity per month in Square Feet.Through time, our business has gradually broadened towards the various countries world-wide such as China, India, Vietnam, Thailand, Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, USA, South Korea, Taiwan, Italy, France, Spain, Poland, South Africa, Germany and many other countries around the world.We also have developed quality standardization and remarkable service level to ensure complete customer satisfaction.Khawaja Tanneries is ranked amongst the most modern production units of Pakistan.

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