Human beings have been using leather since Palaeolithic times. Skins which protected animals have been used down through the centuries to provide humans with protection from the weather in the form of a second skin. It is hard to imagine how we could have survived freezing winter conditions without the protection of animal hides. As human civilization became more sophisticated so did the techniques for the preparation of leather and more and more uses were found for this incredibly versatile material. Today, less than one per cent of leather production comes from animals reared exclusively for their hides. Leather production is a by-product of the meat industry and is centred on the hides from four species of animal: cows 65%, sheep 15%, pigs 11% and goats 9%. Without the processing of animal hides into leather there would be serious environmental consequences resulting from the disposal of animal hide.


Popular leather products actually date all the way back to 3000 BC when the Romans used leather sails on their boats. Leather was also used for furniture, tents and weapons. It began to be used more for fashion purposes around 1000 years later when it started to be worn by Egyptian women

The presence of a large number of players in the sector has intensified the competition to garner a larger chunk of the market share of this lucrative industry. On the demand front, consumers are rapidly aligning towards new designs and innovative leather offerings to ensure they are in sync with changing fashion trends. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies. Their dominant position in the labour-intensive textile and leather industries makes it difficult for other countries to match them.

In many countries, quality standards are very high. Leather manufactures are trying to produce more sustainable products by prohibiting harmful dyes and chemicals. Unfortunately, only a few customers are willing to pay more for these ‘greener’ products. One pioneer of this trend is renowned fashion designer, Stella McCartney, who is using eco-friendly material for her shoes and handbags.

Italian leather is often associated with luxury high end leather bags, and it is true that the Italian leather industry traditionally only uses the best quality hides which often undergo a more lengthy treatment process. However, a region in itself should not be a signal for whether the leather is high or low quality, as there are other factors to take into consideration in order to warrant the price tag. Goat and buffalo leather, traditionally produced in India, is typically considered a cheaper leather as the hides themselves do not command the same price as cow hide. This is because these leathers are not as deemed as good quality as cow leather. Goat leather can often have a strong smell and a thinner skin.