Horween leather has been synonymous with unparalleled quality for over a century — “For more than 100 years and five generations our goal has been to make the world's best leather.”
So, what is Horween leather in a nutshell?
Horween Leather is the leather made by the Horween Leather Company and is widely regarded as the best leather available. It's also a leather that we at Popov Leather regard as among the best full-grain leathers in the business. We will explore the various types of Horween leather below.
Horween uses hand-tanning methods passed down over generations which prioritize the true spirit of craftsmanship over speed.
While it's certainly a slower and less convenient way to manufacture leather, few would argue that it isn't the best way. The results offer a bespoke outcome of full-grain leather that just cannot be matched by a machine-tanning process.
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Full Grain Leather Essentials by Popov
|Best Full-Grain Leather Wallet||Best Full-Grain Leather Belt||Best for Maintaining Full-Grain Leather|
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What Is Horween Leather?
As mentioned above, Horween Leather is simply leather that is manufactured by the Horween Leather Company, but why is that actually significant?
Well for starters, the quality of leather produced by Horween is regarded as some of the best available in the leather industry and is certainly considered among many to be the premier American leather.
Primer Magazine writes: “If you’re looking for something more rugged, leather that’s thick and scuffs in a way that adds character, you want American leather. And that means you want leather from Horween.”
The leather is also used in equipment for the NFL and NBA where premium quality is absolutely necessary to ensure a rock-solid product.
The types of leather made by the Horween tannery include:
- Horween Genuine Shell Cordovan
- Football Leather
- Essex Leather
- Baseball Glove Leather
We will talk more about some of the specific types of Horween leather below.
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Is Horween Leather Full Grain?
All Horween leather is full-grain leather.
In fact, they are one of the few tanneries left that process from a raw state in the USA. They hand-select clean, unblemished native hides for their manufacturing process.
They do their best to make as much usable leather as they can from each hide, selecting the part of the hide that makes the most sense for the crafter.
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Does Horween Leather Patina?
Yes, Horween Leather does Patina. Elements that include oils from your skin, dirt as well as the general stress that the leather is put through when in use lead to a gorgeous Patina that is unique to each owner. Often the Horween leather will go through slight color changes as the leather oxidizes, not to mention taking on unique markings from scratches and scrapes.
As a result, this Patina effect with Horween leather leads to some of the most stylish and best men's wallets and belts available in the world.
Full grain leather like that manufactured by Horween and used by Popov is quite a bit more revered for its patina than products made from so-called "Genuine Leather" which tend not take take on those aging elements (in fact, they are manufactured to not change at all with time). Companies like Horween and Popov embrace a piece's history as a valuable element of what sets it apart.
If you'd like to take a look at how this plays out in reality with our leather products, then take a look at the gorgeous examples in our patina gallery where you will get a sense of how Popov creates some of the most unique pieces on the market today.
Examples of Gorgeous Original Leather Patinas Showing the Elegance of Age
What’s the History Behind the Horween Leather Co.?
Horween has been producing beautifully-tanned leather since 1905.
Isadore Horween came from the Ukraine, where he spent years learning to tan hides. He immigrated to Chicago to further develop his art.
He founded Horween Leather Co. in 1905. Back then, the company specialized in creating durable leather strops to sharpen knives.
Growth and Expansion
Isadore Horween had two sons: Arnold and Ralph Horween.
Both men played for the Chicago Cardinals in the National Football League. This inspired them, and they helped expand Horween Leather Co. to create quality sporting balls.
To this day, the NFL uses their pebbled leather for their footballs. The NBA also works with Horween Leather to produce official Wilson basketballs.
Endurance of a Quality Brand
In the early 20th century, Chicago had dozens of quality tanneries on its outskirts. They were forced to the edges of cities due to the smell of the materials used to tan leather - often to a place known as "tannery row."
With rising labor costs, many American tanneries moved their operations overseas to take advantage of cheap and unskilled workers elsewhere. That also meant that many of those tanners started introducing inferior tanned products into the market.
By contrast, Horween Leather stayed put and refused to compromise the quality or reputation of their product, even though it meant sacrificing some profit.
These days, they are in the same Chicago building that they have been in since 1920.
Today at Horween Leather Co.
These days, it's the fifth generation of Horweens who run the show with Nick Horween being the current Vice President of Horween Leather Co. since 2008
Nick's loyalty to the traditional Horween Leather tanning process still stands with their traditional tanning process being used to this day.
Many of the Horween Leather Company's 160 employees have been honing their craft for decades. That is not to say that they don't use modern techniques when they make sense but rather to emphasize that traditional methods of work are still very much in place at the factory.
Perhaps one of the most important updates to the Horween Leather way of doing things brought about by Nick Horween, however, was to make the leather tanning process at their factory more environmentally friendly. This also happened to help Horween exceed industry safety standards in leather production.
Nick has also greatly opened up communications out of the Horween Leather Co. with regular updates on social media, this blog as well as press releases which keep Horween's customers well up to date.
This recent post is a great example of showing the process of Horween and how it deals with the extra leather produced in its process:
Under the leadership of Nick and his modernized approach to classic leather production techniques and business, Horween Leather Company is thriving while staying true to its roots.
Let's take a look at some of the varieties of leather that Horween offers.
What Is Horween Chromexcel Leather?
Chromexcel leather is one of Horween’s best-known leathers.
The formula was created in 1911. It has remained largely the same ever since.
Horween originally used their Chromexcel leather to make work boots. In fact, Doc Martens made their boots from Horween's Chromexcel Leather.
Today, people use Chromexcel leather to create not just shoes but many other items
Characteristics of Chromexcel leather include:
- The pull-up leather has a rugged look that develops a rich patina, just like your grandfather’s best leather wallet
- Available in a range of weights. This includes 2-3 oz horse front leathers and cowhide leathers from 3.5-4 oz all the way up to 9-10 oz.
- The oils worked into the pull-up leather give it a nice sheen
- Very durable, but soft and supple to the touch.
- Has an oily feel from the tanning process.
- Can be dyed in a variety of colors
But the most famous characteristic of Chromexcel leather is that it is the original pull-up leather.
How Is Chromexcel Leather Made?
It takes 28 working days to tan Chromexcel leather. During the month-long process, 89 different techniques are used.
It starts with choosing the hides. 90% of the hides that come through Horween Leather are cowhides. The other 10% are horse hides. Chromexcel leather can be made from either type of hide.
The hides are tanned in a chrome tanning solution. This makes them supple and blue in color.
Then, they use bark retannage from an exclusive recipe to re-tan the hides. Just as twice-baked potatoes bring in a new richness and full-flavor palette, leather that has been tanned twice has superior quality.
The first round of tanning keeps the leather from decomposing and creates some durability. The retanning process softens the leather, giving it a buttery-smooth feel. It also lightens the color of the leather, which makes it easier for the leather to take on dyes in the future.
The twice-tanned leather is hot-stuffed using a mix of fats, oils, and waxes. Then, it’s hand-rubbed using aniline dyes. This gives the hides their rich color.
Finally, the leather is left to air dry.
The air-drying process is an example of Horween Leather putting quality above all else.
When leather air dries, it shrinks. Since tanneries sell leather by the square foot, many would balk at the idea of air-drying leather.
But air-drying leather gives the hide a tighter quality. Horween Leather Co. believes the more durable leather is worth the effort.
With so much that goes into the process of creating Chromexcel leather, it’s hard to believe that this isn’t even Horween Leather Co.’s top-tier product. But Shell Cordovan leather, Horween’s luxury equine leather, takes even more care to tan than Chromexcel leather.
What Is Horween Shell Cordovan Leather?
Shell cordovan leather was produced in the city of Cordoba. This is where the name “shell cordovan leather” comes from.
Genuine Shell Cordovan leather is produced from the hindquarters, or “shells” of a horse. The shell is split from a membrane between two layers of skin in the horse butt. A single horse hide produces only two shells.
Horween Leather sources its horse hides from Canada and Europe.
Shell cordovan is characterized by:
- Water-resistant leather due to pores so dense that they can’t be seen with the naked eye
- High-gloss finish when buffed and shined
- Very tight grain
- Leather that ripples rather than creasing
- Each piece is unique
How Is Shell Cordovan Leather Made?
Tanning shell cordovan leather takes six months. It involves more than a hundred processes.
It starts with a vegetable tanning process. Employees dip the hides in a solution made from chestnut and quebracho tree bark. The hides sit in this solution for at least thirty days, constantly agitated so the tanning job is even.
After tanning the hides initially, they remove and shave them down to size. Only three people in the facility have the training to do this job.
After trimming, the hides undergo a re-tanning process that takes another 30 days which involves an even stronger vegetable tanning solution.
After that, it's time for one of Horween's craftsmen to infuse the hides with tanning oils and great before hanging the hide. This hanging takes a further 90 days which gives those oils and greases time to soak into the leather.
Finally, the leather is stained, glazed, and pressed.
The process results in a glossy leather finish and the leather is somewhat stiffer than its Chromexcel counterpart. Shell cordovan leather also tends to crease rather than wrinkle when bent.
This Shell Cordovan tends to be favored by artisans for use in jackets and shoes due to its naturally water-resistant properties.
Everyday Carry (EDC) items also often end up being made of Shell Cordovan leather due to the look and feel of the final product.
What Is Pull-up Leather?
Pull-up leathers are dyed using aniline dyes.
When you pull or bend the leather, the dyes migrate and the stretched parts become lighter in color. If you massage the leather, the color will return.
Leather Is Not One-Size-Fits-All
If you don’t work for a leather company, it’s easy to think that all leather is basically the same. This could not be further from the truth.
Some leather is high quality and long-lasting. However, there are manufacturers that cut corners leading to predictably disappointing results.
Horween Leather’s emphasis on using time-honored techniques has allowed them to make a name for themselves as one of the top tanneries in the world.
Discover the difference in craftsmanship by exploring our collection of full-grain leather products today.
Article 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.