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Leather Definitions

This glossary provides definitions for many of the terms encountered in the leather industry.

Leather Types:


A dyeing process in which leather is immersed in dye and tumbled in a rotating drum, allowing maximum dye penetration.


A luster that develops with time and use.


... A colorless, oily, benzene derivative, Aniline leather is tumbled in vats so the dye is completely absorbed by the skin. There is no other colouring agents or process, thus the finished leather tends to look and feel more "natural" - the unique markings and character of each skin are apparent. By way of analogy, this treatment is akin to the "staining" of wood. Usually, the best quality hides are reserved for this process, as aniline leather is valued high by consumers

Naked Leather (being without addition, concealment, disguise, or embellishment)

A leather with no surface, impregnated treatment of finish (other than dye) which might mask or alter the natural state of the leather.

Naked leathers are valued highest by consumers. Soft from day one, does not require a break-in period! Hides are, dyed but not finished, so some tiny imperfections (like barbed-wire marks) are still present. This is desirable to most people. Comfortable when brand new! They are more expensive because the hides must be hand selected for uniformity.

Full Grain or Premium Cowhide

A term describing hides with a minimal amount of scars or blemishes, usually less than 5% of all hides.

During the tanning process, the hides go through an extra step to soften and condition them WITHOUT losing any strength. Does not require a break-in period. Also more expensive because of the longer tanning process. Rarely used by "discount leather" manufacturers.

Top Grain Leather

The most confusing term used in the leather industry is the term "top grain". It can be a contradiction because it often implies what it is not, the side of a hide or piece of leather from which the hair or fur has been removed. "Top grain", is the definition that is generally used when the grain is not genuine: when the real grain is sanded away and an imitation grain is stamped into the leather.

When the genuine grain remains, the leather is called, "full grain", or "full top grain", or Premium grain not simply "top grain." Top grain is a generally regarded an economy leather. For sake of clarity, we will use the term in this article donoting from the top of the hide to the bottom of the hide.

Finished Split Leather

The middle or lower section of a hide with a polymer coating applied and embossed to mimic a grain leather. Finished splits should only be used in low stress applications because they are weaker than grain leather. If the polymer coating is left out it is often used to make suede

Types of Animals:

Skins are used from virtually all animals that are of a fairly large size. International law prohibits using skins from those considered threatened or endangered, including Elephant and Rhino, and most exotic breeds of cats. Motorcycle apparel is generally made from Cow, Buffalo, Pig, Deer or Goat.


The preferred but also most expensive leather to produce. It is made from the same type of cow we think of here in the United States. It is preferred because of the combination of strength and pliability, or 'softness'.


Do not come from American Bison. They come from Water Buffalo, but the term 'Water' is dropped so that there aren't any negative associations with it. It is one of the most common types of leather.


are also very plentiful and are cheaper yet. Pigskin feels only slightly stiffer than Cowhide but there is two inherent problems: 1) It's difficult to eliminate the animal's odor completely, and 2) it has a much-more "pebbly" grain to it. UPDATE, SINCE THIS WRITING THERE HAVE BEEN NEW BREAKTHROUGHS in the processing of pigskin and done correctly, can be as soft as cowhide altho some say they can still dect an oder.

If a company does not advertise what kind of skin their leather is, do not be intimidated...ASK!

Lamb, Deer and Goat:

are used in lighter-weight garments like Halter Tops, Shorts, Skirts and many Vests. It is used so often because it is a thin skin requiring very little work during tanning and because it is so soft. It is adequate for use only in those items because thinner/softer skins will tear or come apart more easily.

Leather Processing:

There are 3 primary thickness levels of leather:

  • 1.0 mm (and less) used for fashion leathers and ladies' wear.
  • 1.1 mm to 1.3 most common for general riding protection.
  • 1.3 mm and up only used in Naked Leather.

Tanning and Finishing

There are two primary types of Coloring methods:

Drum dying:

Drum dying method puts all the hides in a large tank containing colored dye (usually black.) This is the most common method of coloring. After it comes out of the tank, the leathers are sorted. All Top Grains and most Bottom or Split Hides have defects in them. Those Full Grains with very few defects are set aside for open-air drying, these will eventually be called "Naked Leathers" because no further finishing will take place. The remaining hides will be sprayed with an additional coat of dye to fill-in and cover up the defects. Many Split Hides will also be run through a machine which "stamps" a grain pattern in the hide. It is difficult to tell a Grained Split Hide from a true Top Grain after the full finishing process has taken place.


dying runs the hide piece by piece through a machine in a conveyor fashion that "injects" the leather as it passes. This takes longer but does a more thorough job. Needless to say, it is more expensive. Analine finished leathers also aren't as shiny as Drum dyed leathers, and are sometimes referred to as "Semi-Naked Leathers".

Countries of Origin

At the time of this writing there were 3 known companies that will tailor-make CUSTOM (translated "expensive") biker apparel. Some companies have even been known to sew "Made in USA" labels on imported garments, but even Harley-Davidson imports their licensed apparel. That being said, here are the countries that export the most leather to the United States:


Today they are the number 1 suppliers. Any quality Motorcycle Apparel and even American Automobile Leather comes from here. Mostly Buffalo, Cow and Lamb skins are imported from Pakistan.


Their leather is almost entirely Pigskin which is a primary reason for their cheapest pricing.


Not as cheap as Chinese leather, but mostly Buffalo and Pigskin and allegedly using both child and slave labor


They still produce beautiful fashion-grade leather apparel which is not suitable for motorcycle use. Almost entirely Deer, Goat or Lambskin, it is made for occasional wear and light use only