Handmade vs. Mass-Produced Leather Belts: The Pros and Cons

Handmade vs. Mass-Produced leather belts

Ever bought a leather belt thinking it was the real deal, only for it to peel months later? I can assure you that wasn’t a genuine leather handmade belt.

Handmade leather belts are manufactured from the highest grade of leather, which produces aesthetically pleasing, durable pieces with a fine texture and authentic smell.

Mass-produced leather belts are pocket friendly and look shiny and glamorous on the surface, but the same can’t be said of their durability.

Let me ask you several questions about your belts:

  • Do they have irregular natural markings, or is the pattern the same?
  • When you bought each of your belts, did it smell organic or like plastic?
  • Was the price high or suspiciously low for a belt labeled ”genuine leather”? 
  • Do your belts live to acquire a beautiful dark shade, or do they wear out before?

As we go through the pros and cons of each type, you’ll find answers to these questions and hopefully be able to differentiate the two belt types in the future. 

1 - Handmade Leather Belts

Handmade leather belts have a natural look. They’re made from genuine leather with blemishes, stretch marks, and scars, the signature of fine leather.

Leather belts can be considered the holy grail of leather accessories, and if you’re looking for quality and durability, I recommend handmade ones. However, they’re not without a few disadvantages.

Let’s take a look at their good and not-so-good sides.

handmade leather belts
Popov Leath​​er belts

Advantages of Handmade Leather Belts

Superior Quality and Durability

Hand-made leather belts are superior in quality and last for more than a decade with proper care, due to the high grade of leather used.

Leather is graded according to which section of the animal’s hide it comes from, and there are three categories:

  • Full grain: The highest quality that has natural markings and blemishes and is used to make high-end leather goods
  • Split grain or “genuine leather”: Lacks natural markings and is mainly used to make footwear and upholstery
  • Bonded leather: The lowest grade from remnant leather scraps and is used to make cheap bags, books, and office supplies

At Popov Leather, we use full-grain Horween Leather to manufacture our high-quality hand-made leather belts.

Our belts are burnished (rubbed to smoothen the edges) and then polished to give them a classic finish and increase their durability.

We also use solid brass buckles, and because brass is hard to break, it adds to the overall durability of the belts.

Their Flexibility Is Amazing

flexible belt
Popov Leather belt​​
flexible belt
Popov Leather Bourbon belts​​

Handmade belts can be manipulated without damage, a quality that’s hard to find in faux leather belts that crack over time.

You may have experienced this firsthand while tying your belt. You pulled it a bit tight, and it cracked. That doesn’t happen with genuine leather belts.

Their flexibility can be traced back to the tanning process when enzymes are added to the rawhide to soften it, resulting in a soft material that feels warm. 

Genuine leather may portray a rugged look, giving the impression that it’s stiff, but it’s actually soft and pliable like skin. After all, it is skin—animal skin.

Real Leather Will Develop a Patina Over Time

Genuine leather changes to a darker shade over time. This darkening is called patina and becomes deeper and more interesting as the years go by.

new and aged wallet
Popov Leather wallets​​

Several factors contribute to the patina:

  • Oil, dirt, or sweat transferred from the hands 
  • Heat from the body, sun, and other sources 
  • Natural wear and tear from friction
  • Contact with water or spilled drinks

Only full-grain leather can develop a patina. Other leather grades don’t because they don’t have pores, so they can’t absorb anything that would make them change color.

Genuine leather lovers know the feeling of owning classic leather items that have rich patina. It’s a feeling that can’t be expressed in words.

Natural Pleasant Smell

I can’t leave this point out because smell is an important consideration for people who genuinely love leather goods.

You can try the smell test the next time you shop for a belt. Real leather has a distinct aroma that’s pleasing to some people.

Did You Know This About the Smell of Leather?

Leather acquires its unique smell during the tanning process. The traditional tanning method, known as vegetable tanning, uses tree barks, leaves, and other natural ingredients. The aroma of these ingredients is infused into the hide and remains long after the rawhide turns to leather. That’s why you can smell it on finished leather goods.

For some, the aroma evokes childhood memories of rustic cabins in the countryside. Others imagine rugged terrains, open spaces, and wild adventures, all of which bring positive feelings.

These leather enthusiasts describe the aroma as “leathery,” “woody,” or “oaky.” No matter how they describe it, it’s an organic smell that can’t be replicated on faux leather.

Popov Leather belts come with that fantastic smell of genuine leather.

“The first thing you notice when you remove the belt from the bag is the awesome smell of quality genuine leather!”

Bobby Diaz ★★★★★ Verified Reviewer

Disadvantage of Handmade Leather Belts

Expensive Due to the Costly Process Involved

Handmade leather belts are expensive because of the process involved during the tanning stages and belt manufacturing process.

The traditional tanning method (vegetable tanning) is quite expensive as it can take months to complete all the stages.

The table below gives more details about the tanning stages.

Stage Procedure Objective
Curing Soaking the hides in water concentrated with salt To prevent bacterial and fungal growth
Liming Soaking the hides in milk of lime To remove grease and fats
Fleshing Passing the hides through rotating scraping rolls To remove meat residue and connective tissue
Dehairing Applying sodium hydroxide and calcium hydrosulfide To remove hair
De-liming Adding acids to the hides To reduce alkalinity and shrink the fibers
Pickling Treatment with enzymes To soften the hides

After the leather is ready, the process of hand making leather belts begins.

That lengthy process is why you’ll pay more to have a coveted handmade leather belt on your waist.

2 - Mass-Produced Leather Belts

I’ve worked with leather for over six years, and I can tell you that mass-produced leather belts lack one ingredient, character

They lack natural scars and blemishes that give genuine leather that character. Instead, they have a shiny plain surface prone to peeling, or a machine-embossed surface that imitates the texture of genuine leather.

worn out bonded leather
Bonded ​​leather
machine-embossed leather imitation
All​​igator print genuine leather

These leather imitations smell like plastic because they’re mixed with chemicals such as polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Despite this, mass-produced leather belts have their advantages too, and we shall compare it against their disadvantages.

Advantage of Mass-Produced Leather Belts

Low Cost and Availability

Since mass-produced leather belts aren’t made of genuine leather, you won’t pay extra to cover the cost of leather production.

The mass production process is simple. Leather scraps are shredded and bonded with polyurethane, then the mixture is spread on fiber and sprayed with a glossy finish to give it a classic look.

The process is fast and that’s why it’s possible to produce faux leather belts in such large numbers, making them readily available.

Disadvantage of Mass-Produced Leather Belts

Low Quality and Durability

Mass-produced leather belts are of poor quality due to the cheap materials used. 

These leather imitations go by names such as:

  • Artificial leather
  • Pleather
  • Synthetic leather
  • Bonded leather

Bonded leather, for example, is leather leftovers mixed with polyurethane and spread onto a piece of fabric, then finished off with a glossy spray.

worn out bonded leather
Bonded leather scraps ​​and slurry

This kind of leather feels like plastic, can’t stand friction and weather elements, and will often peel within months to a few years to look like this:

I can’t imagine anybody wanting their leather belt to look like that!

unique texture smell and patina

Get Yourself Genuine Leather Belts

For durable belts that can be passed down generations, I recommend you get several from Popov Leather for different occasions. You’ll appreciate the unique texture, smell, and patina your belts will acquire as they age gracefully.

If you don’t know what length to order, this quick video will help you find your correct measurements.

Features of Our Handmade Leather Belts

  • Thick nine-ounce Horween leather that’s durable and develops patina 
  • Burnished and polished edges for a refined look
  • Solid brass buckle to keep your belt in place
  • Strap of 1.5” width to fit through all standard belt loops

Our other addition, the Olive Leather Belt, has all the features of the other belts except it’s made of 9/10 oz. Wickett & Craig leather and the buckle is black instead of brass.

What are customers saying about our handmade leather belts?

“Very impressed with this addition to my wardrobe. Great product and fast shipping. I’ll be buying a brown one next.”

Terry Sawchuk ★★★★★ Verified Reviewer

“Tanning on the leather is beautiful. Nice finish along the edge. Very comfortable and glides through the loops easily.”

Gaile Brathwaite ★★★★★ Verified Reviewer


Handmade Leather Belts Are the Durable Option

Handmade leather belts may be costly and not readily available, but once you acquire several pieces, they’ll last you for years.

Mass-produced leather belts are cheap and readily available, but that’s as far as their advantages go. Their lifetime is short.

I believe by now you’re knowledgeable on how to distinguish genuine leather belts from imitations. If so, you can order several handmade belts from Popov Leather.

Call us for assistance and speak to someone who knows our products and uses them daily. I also welcome you to join our Patina Club and earn exclusive rewards. 

Written by Ryan Popoff

Ryan Popoff is the creative mind behind Popov Leather wallets, iPhone cases, belts, watch bands and journals since 2013. With a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts, my leatherworking journey began at home. I wanted to create a simple leather wallet that could fit into my front pocket and — to my delight — it was a hit with family and friends. Hopefully you love our honest, quality leather goods too! Reach out with questions.

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