The customer can have any colour they want, as long as it's black

In Article3 Minutes

Month: September 2023

“The customer can have any colour they want, as long as it's black” is a well-known phrase in automotive folklore, more commonly translated in today’s world as you can have any colour you want as long it's green. The truth is automotive leather companies can make leather in any colour you want. Whether it's for mass production, 20,000 hides a week where every one needs to be made to an exact specification, or if it’s a one-off run for a $3m hypercar. What you want, they can produce.

The automotive leather industry pays close attention to the current fashion and automotive trends to ensure they stay current and relevant and promote leather to new generations looking for the ultimate luxury car interiors. The colour of the interior is one of the most important decisions when designing a new car.

Colour and finish are the final parts of the leather-making process, where the magic happens. Automotive tanneries have specialist departments with highly skilled, qualified technicians who create the final colour and appearance, ensuring the leather in your car is perfect. It’s more complex than colouring other materials, such as bodywork, as each hide is unique and has its own characteristics, so ensuring colour consistency across a batch takes hard work and years of training.

Colour and finish are the final parts of the leather-making process, where the magic happens

The process usually starts with the customer sending in a request, whether a Pantone reference or an object to colour-match. Small samples are then made and sent for approval, followed by larger batches to prove consistency. Once the specification is met and production starts, each tannery has a process to check batches and ensure each hide is of the same quality and exact colour to ensure consistency. It is vital to ensure no deviations when making seats, as different panels used on a seat can come from other hides, and any variations would be unacceptable.

As well as being able to produce the required colour, the leather must also be made to very exacting technical specifications before it will be used on any car. Testing is carried out on thickness, strength, extensibility, adhesion and flexibility of the coating, abrasion resistance, light fastness, fogging, flammability and more, depending on the unique customer needs. Ensuring the quality and finish will look the same in 10 years or 100,000 miles is paramount.

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    Leather. The Ultimate Upcycled Material

    In Article, Fact7 Minutes

    Month: September 2023

    Increasingly, our daily actions significantly influence our planet, necessitating collective efforts to reduce this impact. Choices related to our holiday destinations, our choice of vehicles, our clothing preferences, and our dietary habits all play a part. The global demand for beef is rising and is expected to continue growing in the coming decade and beyond. Consequently, the generation of non-meat components, such as animal hides, is also on the rise. Without the leather industry, this waste component would find its way to landfills, decomposing and emitting methane gas.

    Leather has been produced for thousands of years, with the earliest examples of leatherworking tools dating back to 5,000 BC. Leather, renowned for its timeless beauty and remarkable durability, embodies the ethos of “buy once, buy well”. Over the last few years, billions have been spent trying to invent lower-cost alternative “fast fashion” materials to look like leather ($450m in 2022 alone), with most of these materials heavily reliant on fossil fuels like PU or PVC to make them. One might question why such significant resources are allocated to reinventing something that already exists.

    These new materials have been labelled as planet-saving alternatives to leather when the truth is the opposite. Leather is part of the circular economy, where every part of the cow is used, and nothing is wasted. The hides are upcycled into leather, a natural material with a biogenic carbon count of over 80%. Leather has an exceptional lifespan, boasts remarkable durability and easy repairability, and upon reaching the end of its life, it can be composted to enrich the soil. This, in turn, nurtures the growth of grass, providing sustenance for the very cows that initiate this regenerative cycle all over again.

    Leather has been produced for thousands of years, with the earliest examples of leatherworking tools dating back to 5,000 BC. Leather, renowned for its timeless beauty and remarkable durability, embodies the ethos of "buy once, buy well”

    Compare this to most new leather alternatives that are linear. Commonly, a plant-based material, like mushrooms or pineapple husks, is mixed with fossil fuels like PU or PVC (in the region of 80 – 90% of the total) to create a composite material. There is no simple or cost-effective way to recycle these products, so they end up in landfills, a “Take, Make, Waste” approach with a tangible impact on the planet, but we are led to believe they are more sustainable. It’s virtually impossible to find any mention of it containing PU or PVC or the percentages contained in the materials as the marketing teams ‘greenwash’ the credentials found on websites or labels.

    In 2022, the Market Institute at the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) claimed “Leather is entirely a by-product of the beef and dairy industries”, with the farmer receiving between 1-2% of the total value of the cow from its hide, yet leather must take an unfairly large portion of the CO2 impact of downstream farming when calculating its carbon footprint. Compare this to ‘vegan leather’, where the heavy impact of adding plastics and micro-plastics to an already polluted planet is not taken into account in the CO2 calculations. We need to take a look at the whole impact and not just a single number often taken out of context.

    When we consider the “cost per use” comparison between leather and alternative materials, it becomes clear that leather outlasts the rest, retaining its quality and functionality while others need to be discarded and replaced. This enduring performance gives leather a substantial edge in terms of sustainability credentials.

    The ’fast fashion’ materials have come under fire recently, with government watchdogs and mass torts calling out the greenwashing of the sustainability of these materials. There have been, and continue to be, demands to protect the consumer from deceptively calling alternative materials “leather”.

    The influential rating system, the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), was launched by a group of fashion industry heavyweights and maintained by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. They introduced a suite of tools created for the fashion industry to assess the sustainability of the materials used in their products. They have been said to strongly favour synthetic materials made from fossil fuels over natural ones like leather, cotton, or wool. The consumer portion of the MSI was suspended following a legal challenge to review the figures and get more accurate data independently, something the leather industry has collectively been calling on for a long time.

    Many are unaware of the remarkable advancements in automotive leather manufacturing over the past 25 years. Today’s automotive tanneries operate under strict regulations, utilising cutting-edge machinery to drastically reduce water and energy consumption, an area that has historically faced criticism, albeit wrongly. Furthermore, there’s a notable shift in the use of tanning chemicals, with tanneries actively exploring options incorporating higher or entirely biobased content. This transition aims to diminish their carbon footprint further while maintaining the performance standards demanded by automotive OEMs.

    So, when choosing a material for the interior of cars, should we select a fossil fuel-derived product that will end up in landfill or a natural, beautiful, circular by-product destined for landfill? The choice should be yours.

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      5 ways to tell if it's real automotive leather in your car

      In Article3 Minutes

      Month: September 2023

      When considering the purchase of a new or used car, there are many checks required to ensure you are getting your perfect car at the right price. An important thing to know is what the seat covers are made from. If you’re paying a premium to have real automotive leather, how can you tell if you are getting the genuine material or if it's fake leather?

      Imitation leather, known as pleather or vegan leather, has advanced to closely resemble genuine leather, making it challenging to distinguish between the two. However, here are five valuable tips to assist you in making an informed decision.

      1. What is the material called?

      • Real automotive leather will feature names like full-grain, Nappa or semi-aniline.
      • Fake leather will have more technical names and often contain words like luxe, ultra, tec, tech or tex.
      • If it doesn’t say, ask the seller. If it sounds natural or genuine, chances are it’s real leather.

      2. How does it smell?

      • Real leather has a unique and memorable pleasant smell that is often described as natural or earthy.
      • Fake leather with an artificial, chemical, or plastic odour will not smell as nice to most of us.
      • As hard as they may try, fake leather can’t replicate the distinct smell of real leather.

      Colour and finish are the final parts of the leather-making process, where the magic happens

      3. How does it feel?

      • If you touch and feel real leather, it will be soft, stretchy, and likely wrinkle and will feel warm to the touch.
      • Fake leather, on the other hand, will feel stiff and rigid and be cold to the touch.

      4. What does it look like?

      • No two pieces or real leather will ever be the same as leather is a natural material with natural characteristics and grain, with a distinctive look.
      • Fake leather is very uniform, often created to try and look natural, but the characteristics are synthetically created and very symmetrical.

      5. Does it absorb water?

      • Leather is a natural material that will help wick heat and sweat away from the body. Leather will absorb water on its surface, making for a more relaxing ride.
      • Fake leather is normally impermeable and will repel water that pools on the surface, leading to an uncomfortable journey.
      • Place a drop of water on the surface and see what happens.

      When it comes down to it, our best advice is to trust your senses, they will usually steer you to the right conclusion.

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        5 Reasons To Choose Real Automotive Leather For Your Car

        In Article, Fact7 Minutes

        Month: September 2023

        Purchasing a new car is an involved, emotive experience for most of us, and there are many choices we must make along the way before our purchase is finalised, and some can be hard or confusing.

        What brand? Electric, hybrid or ICE? What exterior paint colour? Which of the many accessory packs on offer do you select? There are so many choices, which can be overwhelming, so this article can hopefully help with one of your choices on interior materials and why leather is the best for your seats, steering wheel, and trim.

        1. Leather is a durable material.

        Performance automotive leather is high quality and made to last and, in most cases, will last longer than the car; many classic cars still have the original leather interior that was fitted decades previously.

        Interiors are subjected to many external factors during use, such as people sitting on them, getting in and out, sweat from our hands on the steering wheel, high/low temperatures, sunlight, staining and soiling. Automotive leather manufacturers must produce products to meet the exacting standards of the OEMs to ensure leather can withstand all these factors and more and look as good as it did on day one.

        Compare this to the new wave of alternative materials, often called ‘vegan leather’ (a term to greenwash their credentials). Many of these materials do not have the durability of real leather and deteriorate when exposed to these same factors. There are now studies, such as the FILK report1, that prove leather’s durability, and there are increasing stories on the internet2 of consumers who have major issues with their interiors after just a couple of years of use.

        2. Leather is easy to maintain.

        Very little is needed to be done to keep automotive leather looking fantastic. Its anti-soiling properties mean a spilt coffee, muddy dogs or children’s snacks won’t stain, smell, or ruin your seats.

        Post-pandemic, the easy nature of being able to kill bugs and viruses with a simple wipe is very reassuring; some companies now offer anti-viral finishes doing the job for you. Leather doesn’t trap pollen or dust, making it ideal for people who suffer from allergies.

        Regularly vacuuming the seats and wiping them with a damp, light soap solution will keep them clean and fresh, and once or twice a year, use an approved conditioner to ensure they remain in great shape.

        Performance automotive leather is high quality and made to last and, in most cases, will last longer than the car

        3. Leather increases the residual value of your car.

        Leather seats are near the top of the list of many people’s ‘must haves’ when they are looking at buying a premium second-hand car and are in demand with a higher perceived value that is often associated with luxury.

        Whether you keep your car for 1, 3 or 5 years before selling it, a leather interior will retain its look and feel due to its durability and ensure the residual value of your car remains high, giving you a better return on your investment when compared with alternative PU/PVC based materials that will not perform or look the same.

        4. Leather is the sustainable option.

        Contrary to the wave of opinion often portrayed in the media, automotive leather is the sustainable option to choose.

        Leather is a by-product of the meat industry and is the ultimate upcycled material, saving significant waste going to landfill. Modern leather manufacturing techniques and legislation have led to an ever-reducing impact on the planet, especially when compared to what’s involved in manufacturing PU/PVC, which makes up a large part of ‘vegan leather alternatives.

        Leather is part of a circular process where everything can be used, repurposed, or recycled. PU/PVC-based composite materials, often mixed with fruit or vegetables like pineapple or mushrooms, are part of a linear process as it’s extremely difficult and expensive to recycle once discarded, so they are destined for landfill.

        The durability of leather ensures a long lifespan, and retrims or seat covers are not required, saving unnecessary manufacturing of new materials by choosing right the first time.

        5. Leather is the most comfortable option.

        Passenger wellbeing is high on the agenda of modern car design, and with the amount of time we spend in a car, it’s important we are comfortable.

        Automotive leather feels great and has a natural flex or give, making it very comfortable on long (and short) journeys, unlike PU/PVC alternatives, which are generally rigid with no flex.

        The natural characteristics of automotive leather mean it will wick away sweat on a hot day, and modern perforated leather allows cooling systems installed in the seat to help. On cold days, the leather works well with heating systems to keep you warm.

        Whilst these 5 reasons should be compelling as to why you should choose real automotive leather for your next car, we respect everyone’s right to choose should you not want a natural animal product in your car. When choosing an alternative, please take the time to find out what the material is made of, as “vegan leather” doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable.

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