Why Should I Choose Genuine Leather Over PVC or PU?

Questions and comments like this are sometimes asked of us at Keleen Leathers.  There is a sea of misinformation about what’s better for the environment and it’s far too much content to cover here, so lets just look at the raw material required to make leather and to make PVC.

When the young climate activist Greta Thunberg was photographed at home a few months back sitting in an iconic leather chair the animal rights groups were up in arms, calling her a hypocrite.  The comments suggested if she truly cared about the environment, her chair should be covered in simulated-leather, otherwise referred to as faux leather, leatherette or some other misleading term.  The reason imitations don’t label plastic leathers by their real name is because their names read like a chemistry book.  PVC stands for Poly Vinyl Chloride and PU is Polyurethane.  Understanding how PVC is made is the reason for far greater concern than a leather hide that was woven by nature, responsibly tanned into upholstery leather, which will last for decades, and is biodegradable at the end of its useful life. 

The raw material for leather is a cowhide.

The raw material for PVC is Ethylene, a natural gas derivative, captured during thermal fracking; next you need Chlorine that is found in salt water extracted from the sea.  The chlorine extraction takes place by sending a strong current of electricity through the seawater to change its molecular structure. The Ethylene and Chloride are reacted together to create Ethylene Dichloride; at this point the chemical processing plant now has the raw material to begin the process of making PVC, that’s just the start.  This material, along with PU is a product of the oil industry.

A leather cowhide is a byproduct of the meat industry, regardless of your views on eating meat or a vegetarian diet, global meat consumption increases year over year.  

There are millions of people around the world who would love to have some meat with their beans and rice more than just on special occasions. The food chain will raise cows because there is demand for meat and without the leather industry hides would be burned or end up in landfills.  The leather maker starts with cowhide, and through responsible tanning converts the hide into the strongest and most luxurious upholstery material known to man. The tannery is also extracting valuable byproducts from the cowhide: collagen for makeup and creams, proteins for human consumption, medicine, vitamins and fertilizer, gelatin for everything from Gummy Bears, to fruit pies, to gel caps vitamins and medications. 

At Keleen Leathers, we believe leather to be the best upholstery material.

It is long lasting, produced by nature, environmentally friendly, circular, and biodegradable at the end of its life.  Our tanneries in the US and Europe produce our hides under the highest global standards.  Keleen’s tanneries meet and exceed all of the industry gold standards such as Leather Working Group certifications and European REACH standards. 

How Do I Determine How Much Leather I Need?

Designers & upholsterers using their own leather for re-upholstery or custom made furniture are often challenged with determining how much leather is required. To understand the quantity of leather needed to cut for a job you will learn proven formulas to make the calculation. Cutting yield is the mathematical equation used to determine the gross square footage needed to have enough to cut out the net SF for all patterns. For example, say you’re reupholstering a club chair that has 100 net SF in the piece.

How do you find the gross square footage of leather required for a given project?

The very best cutting yield in a furniture factory, cutting large and small pieces, is around 70%. Meaning 70% of the leather ends up in the piece, and 30% is waste. The waste factor is due to the irregular shape of a cowhide, plus any holes or unhealed natural markings. Therefore, you need 142 SF of leather to retain 100 SF required for the club chair. (100 ÷ 0.70 = 142 SF)

Note: Natural markings are “nested” on the hide with seat tops, back cushions, armrests, and facing patterns laid out first in the prime areas, then cushion boxing, no show areas, and outside backs get strategically placed on the remainder of the hide.

Net SF ÷Yield Factor = Gross Leather Required

Cutting yields range from 70% on the high side to 50% on the low side.

A yield of 70% would be a piece with most patterns on the smaller side, generally with many seams in the finished piece. Small leather pieces are seamed together to create larger leather panels. Larger pieces with 30”- 40” seat cushions and large seamless backs, will have the highest waste factor. Most people prefer the seamless look, large leather panels, and very few seams. Making a piece this way is more expensive as it requires a larger quantity of leather to cut. The chair example above could take 200 gross SF if it were upholstered with only large leather panels. (100 / .50 = 200 SF)

Typically a seam is every 10 inches. Most retailers have 84″ long sofas.

Understanding this concept and the appearance of the finished piece, many seams or large clean seamless panels can easily be viewed at any furniture showroom. Typically a seam is every 10 inches. Most retailers have 84” long sofas in the $2,000 price range. Look at the cushions or its back and count the seams. Next, look at their more expensive 84” sofa, the cushions will be full pieces of leather. The entire back may have only one seam. It takes twice as many hides to cut solely large panels to make a clean seamless piece of leather furniture. This concept is not unlike large floral repeats in a fabric where it requires more fabric vs a solid to meetup the match lines of the pattern.

COL’s tend to be between 50-60%.

Most COL’s where we work with custom workrooms for higher-end clients the yields tend to be between 50-60%. To be safe you can figure 181 SF of leather is required to cover a piece requiring 100 net SF. At Keleen Leathers, we’re happy to review your cut sizes to estimate yield so that you’re not running short of leather or faced with having to add seams just to increase the cutting yield.