All animals are equal, but some are more equal

We are often told leather shoes are good because they are made of a natural, hard wearing and water resistant material. Traders in the UK are legally required to label the composition of footwear. However in an effort to simplify things for the consumer the system is both unclear and open to exploitation.

Clockwise from top left: Brooklyn in Burgundy Calf by Rupert Sanderson, Nude Peep Toe in Nubuck by Ted Baker, Elba in Python by Rupert Sanderson, Studded Black Court by Dune

If a section of the shoe is made of more than one material, they both have to be labelled, but unlike clothing which clearly defines the composition by percentage, shoes don’t. Potentially a plastic shoe could have a leather trim and still be labelled as being synthetic and leather, without you necessarily knowing which is which.

Neither does the rules require different grades of fabric, leather or leather sources to be identified, so for example embossed leather and genuine python skin are labelled as the same. This is why I prefer to buy in a shop to get the proper look and feel of the materials. By all means there are good deals online, but stick to reputable sources and safe materials that can be identified from a distance.

Unfinished and Exotic Leathers

Not only does leather come from animals other than cattle, different parts of an animal skin can have both desirable and undesirable qualities, for example cows hides (as opposed to bull) are a lot stretchier and make better long boots.

The best quality leathers look spectacular to the eye, they are not sealed so colours always appear really rich. A good leather is smooth and have a subtle sheen. High quality suede is soft and strokable to touch. These materials are soft enough that they will give over time, and mould perfectly to your feet.

The downside is that these materials are vulnerable to water, they will stain if they aren’t dried properly or exposed to salt. Some of the dyes may also fade. Regular use of leather cream will replenish the natural oils, and a protector well protect from staining, and also help retain it’s colour.

Treated Leathers, fabrics, and synthetics

To hide damage from scarring, leather can be treated more aggressively, sadly these leathers lose their natural characteristics. Making patent leathers however will seal up the surface leaving a shiny, glossy and resistant finish. The process does make them stiffer and less forgiving meaning it will take longer to break in.

Clockwise from top left: Dalinda in Polished Leather by Rupert Sanderson, Aquamarine pumps by Chinese Laundry, Red and White Satin Pumps by Charlotte Olympia, Tan Mary-Janes by New Look, Sequined peep toe by Dune.

Fabrics are popular especially for summer events and parties, satin and velvet can look rich in colour and feel luxurious. Fabrics will have a degree of natural give, but will not hold a shape. Of course like the unfinished leathers they are open and will absorb anything it comes in contact with.

Synthetics are much easier to mass produce, and they are considerably more eco friendly to produce than animal products. It is possible to produce artificial leathers that look almost as good as the real stuff. Synthetics however have no ablility to give, and will crack when over stressed.

It’s no page turner, however feel free to find out more about labelling.

Also if you would like to know about leathers, this is a useful read.


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