Imagine you are in this great shop right now and looking at some leather furniture. What do you see? The design obviously. Maybe the leather feel. The color. And then the price of course. But what about the leather?
If you were buying a jacket then the fabric would be a very important feature to consider. But do you ever analyze what type of leather you are buying?
I think the answer is no. Who does anyway? And that is just fine by the way! Most people don’t know about all the varieties of leather. Even we “experts” keep learning about it constantly, as there is so much to learn. But this is such a crucial factor when buying leather furniture or accents.
You basically think of leather as a sturdy, reliable material guaranteed to last, and this is why you choose it. However... what if you knew that different types of leather are almost like different materials and that the type you choose will affect its lifespan, its usability, its value for money or its flexibility. Or maybe you would like to be able to tell if something is made out of real leather for that matter!
Let’s start by saying leather is not just a material; it is a natural product that breathes and ages.
The part of the skin matters
Full grain vs Top grain vs Split
Just like your skin, animal skins carry marks of the animal’s life - bite marks, scratches, etc. The marks remain on the skin after it has been removed. A process of inspection then occurs, separating the hides with lots of marks from the hides with very few marks.
The hides with very few marks are then treated as full grain. As its name indicates, full grain is the whole layer of the skin. They are dyed and treated, but what you see on the top of the leather is the natural grain of the animal.
Full grain breathes and resists wear. It develops a beautiful patina over time and is generally used for high-quality shoes and accessories. This is considered the best type of leather because it’s as natural as it gets, and it’s the strongest part.
In order to recognize it, remember that it will be uneven, with visible grain on some parts, smooth on other parts.
Our full grain leather
Top grain leather is the second best type of leather. The top layer of the skin gets sanded to remove imperfections. Think about it a bit like exfoliating. Because part of the skin has been removed, a thick layer of dye is added onto the leather to make it thicker and more durable. If the hide is in fairly good condition then some of the grain might still show after sanding if it has been slightly sanded, but usually it is stamped to mimic the grain of the hide. That is when top grain has a more plastic feel to it, and the grain is even throughout.
Our top grain leather
Split leather is what is left when the top part is removed for top and full grain (e.g. the well-known suede). When a coating is applied to make it resemble top grain leather it can become very difficult to distinguish between the two. Split leather is low quality leather in comparison to full grain and top grain, but it is very useful in some sectors like sport shoes because of its breathability.
Watch out for…
Genuine leather. You didn’t see that coming did you? Yes, it is the first term that comes to mind when thinking about “real leather”. It is actually very low quality leather. It's usually made from what is left over when the other, higher grades are removed for quality products. The term genuine basically means it’s not fake leather, but it does not by any means mean it is good quality.
But if you see a phrase like “Genuine Italian leather” don’t run away, ask for clarifications. The term could be used to describe genuineness.
Bonded leather is a term you usually see with furniture. It is a man-made material created from shredded leather pieces and plastic. It is a very weak product and will perform exactly the same as a fake leather product. Just like genuine leather, the name is misleading.
Beware of these leathers!
As leather is a natural product it has to be preserved and this is done by tanning.
Vegetable tanning vs Chrome tanning (or Natural vs Chemical tanning)
We hear a lot about vegetable tanning lately, but what is it? The process is done in wooden barrels using tannins (like the ones in tea and red wine) from plants. The whole process lasts for months and is eco-friendly.
The result is remarkable, and that’s why it is gaining popularity again. The colors of tannins give the leather a warm shade that becomes more intense over time as it ages and changes beautifully. The colors deepen and become vintage looking as it develops a patina. This is why really old leathers still look so fabulous.
On the other hand, vegetable tanning only accounts for about 10% of leather production, so it is not so easy to find, and it is hard on your pockets!
Chrome tanning is the fastest way to tan leather. The whole process happens in a day and chromium salts are used. Chrome tanning produces a more supple and stable leather. Unlike vegetable tanning, the color remains stable and does not darken or fade over time. It is not an eco-friendly process but there are strict guidelines each tannery that respects itself should follow.
Aniline vs semi-aniline vs pigmented leather
In order to get these magnificent shades of leather, a dye has to be applied to the tanned hide.
Aniline leather is a type of leather dyed exclusively with a translucent dye that can only be applied on perfect skins without flaws which is very rare. Aniline leather has no or very little protection and looks very natural as the actual grain of the hide shows (it has to be full grain of course)!
Semi-aniline leather is an aniline leather that some pigment has been applied to so it has a little protection on it but also looks very natural.
Pigmented leather on the other hand is leather that has usually been sanded and corrected, and it’s been heavily pigmented. Pigmented leather rarely looks natural but it is usually more stable and waterproof and will retain its original color for years.
Soft, hard, stiff, natural, nappa, protected… what to choose?
Now that we know that how different each leather item can be it’s time to choose which item fits your lifestyle.
Vegetable tanned leather is gorgeous and natural looking. If you want that vintage timeless look on your decor, vegetable tanned leather is for you. It is the cream of the crop when it comes to leather goods. It is, however, a sensitive item. Vegetable tanned leather will most probably darken or with some leathers, the color will fade. It is vulnerable to scratches and stains as it is not easy to clean.
Chrome dyed leather is more stable and softer. If the leather is full grain aniline, then it will also develop a patina and look natural, but will probably also be sensitive to scratches and stains. However, the shade of the color will be stable.
Top grain, printed or pigmented leather is most probably chrome dyed. This leather does not look as natural. In fact, a lot of fake leather can be mistaken for top grain leather, and it is very hard to tell them apart. Unlike fake leather, top grain leather is strong and will not peel like fake leather. Because of its treatment, top grain leather is easier to care for and clean.
Nappa leather is another very popular term to describe leather. It does not refer to some leather treatment, it describes a leather that is soft like silk. Nappa leather can be either full grain or top grain and if you see this term, it refers to high quality leather, but don’t forget to ask just in case. Nowadays it can be used to mislead!
You may wish to choose a leather product according to how much care it needs. Vegetable tanned and aniline leathers are not stable.They should be protected from water, sun exposure and stains. Semi-aniline and pigmented are more stable.
If you are willing to love and protect your product though, vegetable tanned and aniline leathers do make a difference and will keep doing so as they age. They are after all a luxury product.
But if you have small kids or if you just can’t be bothered to care so much, semi-aniline, pigmented leathers are a better choice!
Confused? Contact us here for more information!
It was in Oslo, Norway in 2006 that the idea for Morelle was first conceived. Initially I wanted to design and make knit dresses. The name “Morelle” came from the mushroom Morel. I had been browsing a book on mushrooms and found the beehive shape of the mushroom interesting and the name stuck with me.
The first thing I made was a headboard for the bed and some cushions. I made the headboard from brown corduroy and used some Indian fabric to make some round cushions and bolsters for the bed. Actually for a complete novice they came out pretty good. Then I started to make some skirts. I wanted to make clothes, but to make clothes you really need to know how to make patterns and I didn’t have patience for that.
I had some corduroy and buttons left from the headboard and thought, “Why not make some bags?”
My first bag
The design was pretty crude but also not bad for a self-made designer.
It was around that time I came across Etsy via a cooking blog. I thought, “This is perfect! I will make some more bags and start my own Etsy shop.” That was back in 2008 and Etsy was still relatively new. Within a few days I had my first sale! Then more and more followed. With the help of a friend whose mother was a seamstress, I learned a lot about sewing and pattern making. From the start, I have always made my own patterns; I have never used patterns from magazines or websites.
I started to use all different kinds of fabrics and even wool. After 6 months I was able to quit my job and work full-time making bags. I was even then featured on Design-milk’s fashion section: Morelle -The Truffle for my best selling bag at the time - The Truffle.
Photo from Design Milk’s post and the Truffle in Leather
Nine months later, I got an email from Etsy asking me to be a featured seller! Back then they chose a successful designer, had an interview with them and posted it on their front page for 3 days. It was a huge deal! Morelle seriously took off then. By that time I had started making leather bags.
The Morchella was one of our best-sellers
Morelle was hugely successful from then on, but in 2010 Ι got the opportunity to move to Australia and decided to take a year off. A year turned out to be 4 years, but in 2013 I was back and started over again.
It took a while to get back on track. Etsy had become huge by that time, and there was a lot of competition. But Morelle was already an established brand: our 100% positive feedback earned the trust of new customers. It was a lot of hard work to come up with new designs, new suppliers and to start over in general. But the hard work paid off.
In 2015 I introduced the Shopper and the Tote as two easy-to-wear, everyday designs. They were a huge success. Our Shopper was featured on Etsy’s blog Three Need-to-Know Bag Designers.
The Shopper and the Tote 2016 versions
The original versions were made from soft leather, but we quickly realized that for a raw-edge model a tougher leather was more appropriate. So we did some research for some stiffer leather, and we found a tannery in Tuscany that makes amazing vegetable tanned leather.
The vegetable tanned bags are our best-selling items now. We’ve sold hundreds, and to this date we’ve had fewer than 5 returns. This is the kind of leather that ages beautifully with time creating a patina. Think of those vintagey looking postman bags – but better. Our Shoppers and Totes have been “updated” now to include a lining and a zippered closure. And for this Spring/Summer collection, we made a variation of the Shopper to include a crossbody strap! Our customers have been asking for this for years. The Shopper is too bulky a bag to made into a crossbody, so I made a variation of the straps and made it a tad smaller.
The Crossbody Shopper
It was really great to revive Morelle again, but I didn’t do it alone. I got the help I always wanted (and needed)!
My sister always wanted to join me. She was a typical case of 9-5 worker that hated her job and envied the joy of creativity of my job. But quitting your job in Greece during the economical crisis was unobtrusive. IF you had a job you had to stick with it because unemployment and poverty were hitting red.
As a really analytical person she helped me with all the statistics and finance buzz, which I in turn hated. She even took an e-commerce marketing course to get in the spirit of online shopping. They say choose a partner that is exactly the opposite of. And that’s what I did. I was the creative one, and I just needed the analytical one.
Eventually she quit her job after 10 years of coping for it and joined Morelle.
The idea for morelle home
One night Jenny and I were having a “business” meeting over some wine, in a small winehouse bar in Ioannina. Just like many cities, Ioannina has a part of town that still has the traditional old houses and the roads are made of stone. In that part of town there are a lot of the old craftsmen selling throws and brass kitchenware traditional to the area. It is not hard to get inspired here. In other parts of the world you would call these items “ethnic”, as they are ethnic to Greek culture. I’m going to ahead and say here that ethnic is a Greek word; ethnikos in Greek means national. We had this idea of creating a shop bringing all these “ethnic” home decoration items together.
Since it all starts from our studio, we took our primary material - leather and thought “Why not start with cushions?” I did my market research and it turns out there is a huge lack of leather cushions on the market. But why? Leather cushions are great in so many ways. First of all, they add a tone of luxury to any room immediately. Secondly, as with bags, they are more durable! If you have leather cushions, chances are your children will inherit them. Some people say they will be too hot or too cold. Well, they are decorative, just like the ones made out of kilim rugs which are scratchy. Yes, you can lie on them, but they are not made for comfort.
So I made some home decor items from leather and traditional woven woolen fabric.
From left to right: patchwork cushion in veg. tanned leather, ottoman in veg. tanned leather, bean bag in soft leather, coasters in veg. tanned leather and vintage woven throw.
Jenny learned another old but fashionably current craft; macrame and made some amazing pillows and wall-hangings:
Jenny’s unique macrame designs
Making home decor items was a further way to express our creativity and to work with my favourite material: leather! Jenny and I explored different designs and leather types to find the best for our new home decor line. Leather decor is quite rare and we want to become experts at it. Leather cushions are hard to find and usually overpriced. We want to change that and offer quality leather home decor at reasonable prices and a great variety! So far our home decor line is having the same success as our handbags, and we are still at the beginning.
Jenny has really uplifted the brand doing all the nitty gritty work I’m literally incapable of – opening our Amazon shop and doing all the backend work on our online shops morelledesign.com and morellehomedecor.com. I've been busy creating so many new styles, while tackling photoshoots and customers. Stay tuned for more amazing stuff coming soon!
Thanks for visiting!