Genuine leather is a product of animal hides, which have been treated with chemicals to produce a soft, yet durable, material. Leather has a long history and many different uses, including living room furniture and home office furniture. Here are five little-known facts about the leather industry:
Leather Is Older than Written History
Leather likely originated as an effort by hunters to use as much of an animal as possible. The earliest tools used for preparing hides are believed to date to about 10,000 years ago and the oldest leather artifacts date to about 2200 BC. Prior to written history, researchers have discovered that humans used leather for shoes, bags, and water pouches during the Ice Age. Tomb paintings have also shown that some of the earliest leather furniture was produced by the Egyptians. The Egyptians also used leather for sandals, gloves, and clothing.
The Tanning Process Has Evolved
The process of making leather has, from the beginning, involved physical, chemical, and biological treatments of hides. These methods were developed over time in order to preserve and soften the hide into a durable, pliable material. Historically, the tanning process involved scraping the hide and treating it with animal fat, tree tannin (which is where the term “tanning” originates), and even animal urine and other body parts. The historical tanning process was so noxious that tanners often had to set up on the outskirts of towns.
Native Americans had been tanning deer and cattle hides in North America long before the arrival of Europeans. Among the first immigrants to North America was an English shoemaker who landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1624. Within about 25 years, there were 50 tanneries operating in Massachusetts. The modern tanning process uses chromium salts and other chemicals to treat hides to produce the leather that we love.
The Modern Leather Industry and Its Uses
Today, China is the world’s largest leather producer. Other major leather producers include India, Brazil, and the United States. Together, China, India, Brazil, and the United States produce over 60% of the world’s leather supply. World leather production is a $40 billion per year industry that employs approximately 500,000 workers.
Did you know that the shoe industry used over half of the leather produced in 2013? After the shoe industry, the largest users of leather were manufacturers of leather clothing, leather furniture, and leather car seats. These four industries consumed over 90% of the world’s leather production in 2013 alone. Other uses of leather include saddles and tackle for horses, belts, bags, wallets, holsters, watch straps, and balls for sports. The National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball still use leather balls in official games.
The Future of Leather
Currently, there are efforts underway to produce a product that does not rely on animal hides and the chemicals used to tan animal hides to produce leather. One effort combines natural fibers, such as flax or cotton, with plant fats to produce a material that has a similar feel and breathability as leather.
Humans have produced leather for thousands of years. Leather remains a huge industry, with leather shoes, leather clothing, leather furniture, and leather car seats consuming most of the leather produced. When you want to invest in this historic product, rely on Urban Underpriced today.