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.
Table of contents
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!”
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.
|Soaking the hides in water concentrated with salt
|To prevent bacterial and fungal growth
|Soaking the hides in milk of lime
|To remove grease and fats
|Passing the hides through rotating scraping rolls
|To remove meat residue and connective tissue
|Applying sodium hydroxide and calcium hydrosulfide
|To remove hair
|Adding acids to the hides
|To reduce alkalinity and shrink the fibers
|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.
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
- 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.
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!
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.”
“Tanning on the leather is beautiful. Nice finish along the edge. Very comfortable and glides through the loops easily.”
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.
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.