gEnUiNe LeAtHeR - Top-Grain or Full-Grain whats real and whats not.

In Cloverlily Blog 3 comments

NOTE: i wrote this 5 weeks ago in hospital, it was the night my daughter was born and R was asleep in the bed and A was asleep in her cot. Im not sure it makes sense or i really get the message across i wanted to, but I refuse to edit it, more fun this way!

Enjoy my sleep deprived rambling. The laboured wood reference kind of works! 


The world of leather is a confusing place, lots of claims of quality and claims of good craftsmanship by brands that in reality are working with materials that ain't worth spit.

I am aiming to demystify this confusing world so you can make the best decision for you. And only get leather-goods that last.

If you want the full skinny, check out my leather guide here and then come back and read this.

If you've cut through the noise and decided between veg and chrome tanned leather (obviously veg tanned right? If you've chosen chroma tanned you've made a mistake). Next you have to cut through the bullshit marketeers have invented to help cut down on waste material losses. Let's take a stroll down the typically accepted names for the 3 most common types of leather. (before people message or comment listing out another 5 types etc, I said COMMON, i've even mentioned a few more in the list)



Typically you will find this claim proudly emblazoned on an item or on a hide shaped tag attached by a ball-chain. We've all seen them, but what does this claim mean

Well... It means it is genuinely shit.

Hides are thick, but not everyone wants thick grade leather so they thin it and they remove excess. And all this waste is collected and bonded with adhesives and then painted to look like leather.

For those of you who are familiar with wood or building materials, this sounds a lot like plywood right. Don't get me wrong Genuine leather, like plywood has a place and use. But dont get tricked by brands who highlight the quality of their products but use this to sell a £60/£100 belt or £150/£250 harness. They're robbing you and doing the industry a disservice. 

You would be amazed the amount of "quality" leather goods out there that are made of 100% Genuine Shit Leather. 

There are worse ones out there like Bonded Leather (scraps and dust bonded with plastic and pressure - like MDF). Needless to say avoid this at all costs.



Next on the list is top grain leather, I mean this stuff is fine, its middle of the road, it'll do a job, but wont last the rest of your life. But it can be made to look... ok.

Its made by taking a full-grain hide, thinning it (if required). Sanding the skin down to remove imperfections and more often than not stamping a grain effect on it (with this if it looks stippled or has a pattern stamped on it, its a stamp, not real).

If your leather has a uniform pattern on it, with a solid block colouration with no shading deviation, basically if it looks too perfect, artificially so. Its top grain.

Think of this as wood thats been turned into planks, it looks good... and can be useful. Its great because you can get the most out of a hide with limited wastage with this style, HOWEVER, it wont last long, it doesn't age well. And again, you're being tricked.



This is the ONLY leather I will touch.

I dont have to explain whats done to this leather to get it to me in any real detail, mostly because its super simple. Before it gets to me as its tanned and some cases then dyed. Thats it.  

Im 6 foot tall, not huge but not small either, I am constantly bumping things that my 5'2" partner isn't. It's tough being big. Cows and bulls are big, and they go through a lot of shit, they're constantly bumping things, getting branded, getting into scraps, cut and generally being clumsy animals. As a result, their skin gets fairly scarred during their lives. Kinda like us.

Well or at-least me, as i said I am constantly bumping myself, I work with extremely sharp knives all day (due to a severed tendon I cant bend my left thumb), I used to ride BMX, I have got a fair few tattoos, I played outside a lot as a kid, and now in my spare time you'll find me flying down country lanes in the Kent downs on a road bike. I'd say i've got a fairly scarred hide myself. There is a beauty in imperfection. Nature is perfection through imperfection. The pyramids are great, but look at Everest and tell me whats more beautiful.

Full-Grain is leather as nature intended. Think of it as a log, its obvious it was once a tree there is no hiding the knots, scars, cuts or imperfections and really using the natural toughness of the material.

If you want a piece that if you look after it, will outlive you. Generate a beautiful and unique patina with age and use. And stand up to the day to day use and abuse of a human life. Choose Full-Grain.  


In conclusion

Now picture three cabins. Whats going to last longest... One made of ply, one made of planks or one made of logs.


I dont know about you, but i'm choosing logs every time.



Also, please PLEASE dont pay lots for genuine leather, these brands are scamming you. 


Ive been threatening to release a belt soon, who knows, I might just get off my arse and do it now my baby is here.

In the meantime Ive been making belts for those who ask for the last 3-4 years, so if you want one. contact me.

Thanks for reading, and as always, I really appreciate you all.




3 thoughts on “gEnUiNe LeAtHeR - Top-Grain or Full-Grain whats real and whats not.

Ben O’Reilly

Great question Geoff. Real basically means not “genuine” leather, so its a good thing. It should be top or full grain.

March 5, 2024 at 13:13pm

What about items listed as “Real” leather?

March 5, 2024 at 13:10pm

I totally agree Ben
Buy cheap buy twice…buy the best first time.

June 11, 2023 at 08:01am

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