Why is Leather Expensive?

Photo of a woman walking with her Louis Vuitton expensive leather bag. Why is Leather Expensive?

Are you feeling frustrated with the cost of leather goods? You’re not alone! Take a look at just why is leather expensive in the first place!

The basic rule for leather being expensive is that it’s one of the most expensive materials to produce! An animal has to be raised for at least one year to produce enough hide for use. That care takes money, of course. The other factor is that it takes a lot of leather to make something usable, which means having hides from many different animals of the same quality.

Leather is also tough to work with; it takes a lot of chemicals, and special processes to transform it into the leather we know and love, and each leather worker must do everything perfectly the first time around. If not, the leather is scrapped, and they must start over. That all translates to a hefty amount of time and materials, which means money! I’ve broken it down further for you below.

How expensive is leather?

So, when looking at the actual cost of leather, what kind of money will you need to shell out for authentic leather gear and goods? I’ll talk about the actual numbers later, but the average price is around double.

For example, if something made of another fabric costs $200, the same thing made from authentic leather would start at $500. The higher-end the leather is, the higher the cost will climb. You’ll never find authentic leather priced under other kinds of fabrics used in jackets, handbags, and furniture.

Why is genuine leather so expensive?

As I mentioned briefly above, this high price is purely because genuine leather takes a lot of time and effort to produce from its beginning to the final product. Let’s take a closer look at the main sections of the process for a better idea:

  • Sourcing and raising the animal
  • Transforming the hide to leather
  • Creating the leather goods

Sourcing and raising the animal

You can’t just use any kind of animal for leather. You must source the right kind of cow for its health and overall quality. You’ll want animals in good health that are well cared for to create strong, consistent hides.

The animal has to live for at least one year and often closer to two years. That time takes food, shelter, water, medicine, vet checks, etc. Even if that kind of care is kept to a minimum, it still costs.

Fun Fact:

PETA explains that leather is considered a byproduct of meat and milk farms, and leather farms themselves don’t exist

Transforming the hide to leather

When the hide is harvested from the animal, it goes through extensive processing. Workers must strip the fur and other debris from the hide. This takes manual labor and baths, where the process is more automated. 

From there, the leather is processed mainly by figuring out what kind of grain you’re getting. Full-grain versus top-grain, for example, requires different processing. This takes time and deliberation when looking at the hide.

The hide is then tanned using chemical or vegetable-based products to remove imperfections and give the leather a consistency. It requires solutions, stretching, and drying, amongst other things.

Creating the leather goods

From there, workers would transport the hide to the producer to take it and turn it into a work of art. Think of this as a fancy version of sewing. It takes expertise, time, patience, and dedication. Most leather items also have quality assurance and inspections since many come with warranties when sold to the customer.

When you think about the entire process and the various steps and specialists it would require, it makes more sense now why the price tag is so high on even the smallest and simplest items.

Factors that affect the price of leather

As if all of that isn’t enough, you also have to think about more leather details since leather can have a lot of variance in and of itself from one item to the next!

For example, the type of leather will be one of the leading price factors. Cow leather is priced differently from goat leather which is different than ostrich leather, and so on. Most modern-day leather is made from bovine leather.

Another factor is the dye used in the preparation process and the color used. The more dye and the deeper color, the more it will cost. Again it comes back to the time and effort taken in preparing your leather.

Lastly, the tanning process. There is classic chemical tanning and then vegetable tanning. Modern-day vegetable tanning is more popular because of its eco-friendly footprint. However, it is done slowly and more carefully, so it will cost more.

What type of leather is the most expensive?

The most expensive leather that most people will find in specialty stores and shops is going to be crocodile skin. It’s still an exotic go-to for those who want clutches or shoes with unique textures and patterns.

But there is something that is even more expensive than that! Are you ready for this? It’s elephant leather, according to TheMostExpensive. It starts at over $5000 per square foot. 

Fun Fact:

This leather has a lot of skepticism since elephants are often poached for their tusks and hide. However, reputable leather producers will use only naturally deceased elephants.

Regardless of what animal your leather comes from, full-grain leather is going to be the most expensive cut because it is the highest quality leather you can get.

What is the cheapest leather?

As far as animal sourcing, cow leather is the cheapest. It’s easily accessible and is great to work with compared to other kinds of leather. Sometimes goat leather is considered cheaper than cow leather because its skin is thinner and it’s used less often. However, it depends on the market.

The cut that is going to be the cheapest is bonded leather. This kind of leather is made up of all of the bits and pieces of other leather cuts, and it’s fused together with plastic and more to create a hodgepodge of leather.

How much is leather per square foot?

Prices change significantly, of course, but leather should cost about $60 per square foot for classic cowhide. If you are working with leather, these kinds of prices are accurate from year to year. If you’re the actual purchaser of the product, the price factors in the price of the raw leather!

The high price of leather is one of the reasons why many will choose to go with vegan leather since it costs four times less when compared directly, according to Statista. The lack of processing makes it a more budget-friendly choice.

Hint:

Curious about vegan leather? I wrote an article all about what cactus leather is and how it qualifies as vegan leather! 

As frustrating as it might be to see the price of leather as high as it is, it makes sense when you factor in all the pricing details.

Top features impacting price include sourcing and caring for the animal, processing, tanning, dying the animal hide, and then crafting it into the finished leather good you can buy. You’ll also see the price fluctuate depending on the cut of leather you have and the actual type of animal hide you’re using for your leather item

If you know someone who is always complaining about leather prices, consider sharing this with them to help them understand just why it is so expensive! It may help them appreciate it more!

Andre from leatherninja.com

Andre is a passionate leatherworker who spends his spare time working with leather. He loves the smell and feel of leather, and he takes great care in selecting the right pieces of leather for his projects. Read more here.