"Be not deceived with the first appearance of things, for show is not substance."
I like this old proverb because it's a classier way of saying if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. That certainly holds true with men's leather belts and the leather used to make them.
I blame the fashion industry a bit for the falsehoods people believe about one of my favorite materials. They've trained us to think that flawlessness is a superior characteristic in an item. That sleek and smooth is a sign of perfection.
And that anything that's "aged" in our wardrobes is not worth owning.
They forget that leather used to be a living thing, and that living things aren't in any way perfect or flawless. They've also forgotten that not everyone wants items that have a cookie cutter sameness.
Leather's unique natural properties include flaws like scars and color differences. These allow for what I like to call "perfect imperfections".
And aging? Fine wine and a finely crafted men's leather belt have a lot in common there, only getting better and more distinct as time goes by.
Today, I'm going to take on the falsehoods and myths surrounding the so-called "genuine leather".
It's an important subject to tackle, especially if you want to be a better informed leather belt shopper. It'll help you make better buying decisions, as well as help you understand why we stand by our products in the ways that we do.
So, get set to learn the truth behind the falsehoods and myths of genuine leather.
Table of Contents
False Truth 1 - All Leather is Equal
Here's a handy graphic that shows exactly where in the hide the various grades of leather originate.
As you can see, genuine leather is not top quality. In fact, it's what's left after the top quality, top grain leather is removed from the hide. Genuine leather is, in reality, leftovers.
Now as much as I love a good cold turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving, there's a limit to the amount and quality of the leftovers I enjoy. And leftover leather doesn't make the list.
That's why at Popov Leather, we only use top grain leather for our men's leather belts and other products.
False Truth 2 - The More Perfect the Grain, the Better the Leather
A leather's natural grain is the outside of the hide. It's what you see when you look at the animal, minus the hair, of course. It contains the hair pores and other natural elements of the hide.
Top grain leather contains the natural grain of the leather. You see the outside of the whatever cow-type critter the leather is sourced from.
That means that if the cow got a scar from a brush with a fence barb or another cow's horn, it's there. If the cow had a freckle or other blemish, it's there. Natural grain, by its very nature, is neither perfect nor uniform.
Genuine leather, on the other hand, is from the inside of the hide. There is no grain to be had. So genuine leather manufacturers give it a fake grain, to simulate the natural grain of better quality leather.
The "perfection" of genuine leather is a man-made illusion. It's taking something of poorer quality and trying to make it appear as something it's not.
The leather we make our men's belts and other products from may not be perfect, but it's perfectly top grain, high quality stuff.
False Truth 3 - If It's Genuine Leather, It's Strong and Durable
It's true that most leather products can withstand years of moderate use. Top grain leather, however, is the strongest and most durable leather on the market.
That's because it is the outside of the hide. The fibers that make up the upper levels of the hide are thicker and stronger, making them longer-lasting and more "breathable" too. Breathability in leather is its ability to expel moisture.
Those pores in the top grain act just like your own skin's pores, allowing sweat and moisture to be wicked away to the outside. This helps keep the wearer, and the leather itself, drier.
Genuine leather doesn't have those pores or those thicker, stronger fibers. That means it traps moisture inside. This trapped moisture breaks down the genuine leather product over time, and shortens its lifespan.
All that makes genuine leather weaker and certainly less longer-lasting than top grain leather. Our men's leather belts and other items carry a lifetime guarantee, because we make them from leather that could last several lifetimes.
False Truth 4 - Genuine Leather Isn't "Processed" Leather
Genuine leather is real leather. It's made from the hide of a cow, or sheep, or other critter, just like top grain and full grain leather. It's not glued or bonded in any way, so it is real leather.
Once the tanning, finishing, and the smoothing of the inside of the hide is complete, top grain and full grain leathers are ready for use. Genuine leather, on the other hand, takes a bit more work.
There's that man-made grain we discussed. It has to be embossed on. Sometimes, spray painted effects are added, to give the appearance of a real grain or the color variations often found in top grain leather.
Because it's a part of the inside of the hide, genuine leather typically has to have some sort of coating added, too. This is often some sort of plastic, like polyurethane to make it look shiny and polished. It can also make it look smoother and more "perfect".
Look at the inside of one of our full grain leather belts. It's "fuzzy" like suede from the sanding it receives on the inside or underside of the hide. The upper surface, however, is beautiful, natural, barely-processed, high-quality full grain leather.
TLDR: A Quick, Visual Summary of Genuine Leather vs. Top Grain Leather
I know that some of you are more interested in buying a leather belt rather than reading about leather. Maybe your pants are falling down as we speak. Maybe you're not a leather geek like me.
Whatever your preference, here's a handy table with the bare facts about genuine leather.
|Top Grain Leather||Genuine Leather|
|Outermost layers of the hide||Inner layer, deeper in the hide|
|Stronger and longer lasting||Weaker and short-lived|
|Less processed||Highly processed|
|High quality and worth every penny||Overpriced and lower quality|
Why Care So Much About Top Grain Leather vs. Genuine?
You may be saying to yourself: Does it really matter? A belt's a belt. If it holds up my pants, who cares?
I started Popov Leather at my dining room table, as a hobby. Something to keep me busy and give me a creative outlet. I have a personal stake in the quality of the products we make, and the materials we use to make them. I won't sell something I wouldn't buy.
The 20 some Popov Leather team members do.
My team is proud of what we do, proud of what we make, and proud to call our community home. The fact that we make every order to order and answer questions personally, gives us an old-fashioned yet forward-thinking company culture.
Lastly, our customers care. They want long-lasting, good-looking, high-quality products. Sure, their belts just hold up their pants, but they also do it fashionably, and for years and years to come.
Here's what a couple of them had to say about the quality and looks of our top grain men's leather belts.
Here's Rory B., a high-quality leather belt convert.
"I've bought inexpensive belts my whole life. When I first handled this belt, the difference was immediately obvious. It feels and looks fantastic. Customer for life"
And here's Jim B, who couldn't stop at just one Popov Leather item.
"Great belt. I have it in Black as well Heritage Brown. Both fit exactly the same, which speaks to the QC at Popov."
Why not join these guys and hundreds others? Become a men's leather belt convert like Rory, or a repeat customer like Jim and many more. We promise you, at Popov Leather, we're all about the substance and the style.
Article by Ryan Popoff
Ryan Popoff is the CEO and Co-Founder of Popov Leather. He has absolutely no business background, in fact, he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Ryan's leather goods business was born from a hobby at the dining room table and a passion for technology (ecommerce in particular). Ryan calls Nelson BC his home where he's raising his family and enjoys spending the odd afternoon at a local craft brewery.