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Leather
Leather is a material created through the tanning of hides and skins of animals, primarily cattlehide. The tanning process converts the putrescible skin into a durable, long lasting and versatile natural material for various uses.

Leather is an important material with many uses. Together with wood, leather formed the basis of much ancient technology. The leather industry and the fur industry are distinct industries that are differentiated by the importance of their raw materials. In the leather industry the raw materials are by-products of the meat industry, with the meat having higher value than the skin. The fur industry uses raw materials that are higher in value than the meat and hence the meat is classified as a by-product. Taxidermy also makes use of the skin of animals, but generally the head and part of the back are used. Hides and skins are also used in the manufacture of glue and gelatin.

Forms of Leather

There are a number of processes whereby the skin of an animal can be formed into a supple, strong material commonly called leather.

  • Vegetable-tanned leather is tanned using tannin (hence the name "tanning") and other ingredients found in vegetable matter, tree bark, and other such sources. It is supple and brown in color, with the exact shade depending on the mix of chemicals and the color of the skin. Vegetable-tanned leather is not stable in water; it tends to discolor, and if left to soak and then dry it will shrink and become less supple and harder. In hot water, it will shrink drastically and partly gelatinise, becoming rigid and eventually brittle. Boiled leather is an example of this where the leather has been hardened by being immersed in hot water, or in boiled wax or similar substances. Historically, it was used as armour due to its hardness and light weight, but it has also been used for book binding. This is the only form of leather suitable for use in leather carving or stamping.
  • Chrome-tanned leather, invented in 1858, is tanned using chromium sulfate and other salts of chromium. It is more supple and pliable than vegetable-tanned leather, and does not discolor or lose shape as drastically in water as vegetable-tanned. More esoteric colors are possible using chrome tanning.
  • Aldehyde-tanned leather is tanned using glutaraldehyde or oxazolidine compounds. This is the leather that most tanners refer to as wet-white leather due to its pale cream or white color. It is the main type of leather used in chrome-free leather often seen in infant's shoes and in automobiles that prefer a chrome-free leather. Formaldehyde tanning (becoming historic due to its danger to workers and the sensitivity of many people to formaldehyde) is another method of aldehyde tanning. Brain-tanned leathers fall into this category and are exceptionally water absorbent. Brain tanned leathers are made by a labor-intensive process which uses emulsified oils often those of animal brains. They are known for their exceptional softness and their ability to be washed. Chamois leather also falls into the category of aldehyde tanning and like brain tanning produces a highly water absorbent leather. Chamois leather is made by using oils (traditionally cod oil) that oxidise easily to produce the aldehydes that tan the leather.
  • Synthetic-tanned leather is tanned using aromatic polymers such as the Novolac or Neradol types. This leather is white in color and was invented when vegetable tannins were in short supply, i.e. during the Second World War. Melamine and other amino-functional resins fall into this category as well and they provide the filling that modern leathers often require. Urea-formaldehyde resins were also used in this tanning method until dissatisfaction about the formation of free formaldehyde was realised.
  • Alum-tanned leather is tanned using aluminium salts mixed with a variety of binders and protein sources, such as flour, egg yolk, etc. Purists argue that alum-tanned leather is technically "tawed" and not tanned, as the resulting material will rot in water. Very light shades of leather are possible using this process, but the resulting material is not as supple as vegetable-tanned leather.
  • Rawhide is made by scraping the skin thin, soaking it in lime, and then stretching it while it dries. Like alum-tanning, rawhide is not technically "leather", but is usually lumped in with the other forms. Rawhide is stiffer and more brittle than other forms of leather, and is primarily found in uses such as drum heads where it does not need to flex significantly; it is also cut up into cords for use in lacing or stitching, or for making many varieties of dog chews.

Leather—usually vegetable-tanned leather—can be oiled to improve its water resistance. This supplements the natural oils remaining in the leather itself, which can be washed out through repeated exposure to water. Frequent oiling of leather, with mink oil, neatsfoot oil or a similar material, keeps it supple and improves its lifespan dramatically.Leather with the hair still attached is called hair-on.

Leather Types
In general, leather is sold in three forms:

  • Full-Grain leather, made from the finest raw material, are clean natural hides which have not been sanded to remove imperfections. Only the hair has been removed. The grain remains in its natural state which will allow the best fiber strength, resulting in greater durability. The natural grain also has natural breathability, resulting in greater comfort for clothing. The natural Full-Grain surface will wear better than other leather. Rather than wearing out, it will develop a natural "Patina" and grow more beautiful over time. The finest leather furniture and footwear are made from Full-Grain leather. Full grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline.
  • Corrected-Grain leather, also known as Top-Grain leather, is fuzzy on one side and smooth on the other. The smooth side is the side where the hair and natural grain used to be. The hides, which are made from inferior quality raw materials, have all of the natural grain sanded off and an artificial grain applied. Top grain leather generally must be heavily painted to cover up the sanding and stamping operation. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
  • Suede leather is leather that has had the grain completely removed or is an interior split of the hide/skin. During the splitting operation the grain and drop split are separated. The drop split can be further split (thickness allowing) into a middle split or a flesh split. In very thick hides the middle split can be separated into multiple layers until the thickness prevents further splitting. The strongest suedes are usually made from grain splits (that have the grain completely removed) or from the flesh split that has been shaved to the correct thickness. Suede is "fuzzy" on both sides. Suede is less durable than top-grain. Suede is cheaper because many pieces of suede can be split from a single thickness of hide, whereas only one piece of top-grain can be made. However, manufacturers use a variety of techniques to make suede appear to be full-grain. For example, in one operation, glue is mixed with one side of the suede, which is then pressed through rollers; these flatten and even out one side of the material, giving it the smooth appearance of full-grain. Latigo is one of the trade names for this product. A reversed suede is a grained leather that has been designed into the leather article with the grain facing away from the visible surface. It is not a true form of suede.

Indian Leather Industry
Leather Industry occupies a place of prominence in the Indian economy in view of its massive potential for employment, growth and exports.There has been increasing emphasis on its planned development, aimed at optimum utilisation of available raw materials for maximising the returns, particularly from exports. India is the largest livestock holding country 21% large animals and 11% small animals.

  •   A source for 10% global leather requirement
  •   Annual production value over U$$ 4 billion
  •   Annual export value over U$$ 2 billion
  •   Export growth CAGR 8.20% (2000-04)
  •   About 2.50 million workforce (30% women)
  •   Promising technology inflow and Foreign Direct Investment
  •   Top priority to occupational safety and work environment
  •   Meticulous concern for consumer safety
  •   Compliance to environmental standards
  •   Enormous potential for future growth (domestic as well as export)

Products Exported    

  • Leather Footwear
  • Footwear Components (Shoe Uppers, Soles, etc.)
  • Leather Garments
  • Leather Goods (Including Harness & Saddlery, Leather Gloves, etc.)
  • Finished Leather

Major Production Centres of Leather and Leather Products

Southern Region

  • Tamil Nadu:Chennai,Ambur, Ranipet, Vaniyambadi, Trichy and Dindigul
  • Andhra Pradesh:Hyderabad
  • Karnataka:Bangalore

Northern Region

  • Punjab:Jallandhar
  • Delhi:Delhi

Eastern Region

  • West Bengal:Kolkata

Central Region  

  • Uttar Pradesh:Kanpur and Agra

Western Region      

  • Maharashtra:Mumbai

Estimated Production Capacities

Item

Capacity

Hides 65 million pieces
Skins 170 million pieces
Leather Footwear 909 million pairs
Leather shoe uppers 100 million pairs
Non-leather footwear 1056 million pairs
Leather Garments 16 million pieces
Leather Goods 63 million pieces
Industrial Gloves 52 million pairs
Saddlery  0.10 million piece

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