• Cindy W. Hodnett

Upholstery 4 things to know about leather

Suppliers weigh in on what retailers should learn about this popular upholstery option

1455Crest Leather is expanding its warehouse operation and adjusting product cycles to meet shorter lead times.
HIGH POINT — The popularity of leather upholstery endures with consumers, and new sourcing options allow manufacturers and retailers to hit additional price points other than the high-end category.

The myriad of leather choices provide ample opportunity for retail associates to develop talking points around the category, and Furniture Today recently queried several leather suppliers — Moore & Giles, Universal Leather, Conneaut Leather and Crest Leather — for the four things retailers should know about leather.

Moore & Giles’ leathers are produced in small batches in family-run tanneries. “We have a community garden at our headquarters,” said Daryl Calfee, director of marketing and creative services, “and the team all pitches in to grow, water and harvest. We have a 1973 Airstream that acts as our mobile showroom, and our core values are kindness, creativity, persistence, authenticity and humility.”

Universal Leather is not limited to one country or resource. For 50 years, for price and supply continuity reasons, the company has been following leather sourcing through the continents of South America, North American, Europe, Africa and Asia. “We now source in Mexico and India due to the stability of their governments over South America,” said Ken Kochekian, CEO.

Conneaut Leather takes its name from the town where it has been producing upholstery leather for 114 years — Conneaut, Ohio. “We are the exclusive provider of Leather Powered By Crypton, with a lifetime of performance built in,” said Jack Prause, president.

“Crest Leather is one of the largest producers of upholstery leather in the world,” said Lucio Esposito, president, “and one of the very few that handles its own distribution operations.”

Top trends

Moore & Giles

UniversalUniversal Leather sources its leather globally for price and supply continuity.
The movement toward sustainability is by far the largest shift we have seen. We believe this will continue and moves from concern for the environment to personal health and wellness.

Leather is the most sustainable material in the world; it’s just naturally better. It is a byproduct and lasts generations longer than any other material, all the while getting better with time and wear.

To take this a step further, we subjected our Olive Green collection of leathers to rigorous testing … to receive a DECLARE label (see story at right).

Universal Leather

Better full-grain, full-aniline leathers; brighter more contemporary colors; and distressed leathers using oils and waxes to add character to monotone leathers.

Conneaut Leather

We’ve noticed customers reaching for more vibrant, fresh colors. Of course, the warm browns remain strong, but people are definitely branching out to orange, bright greens, blues, etc.

Crest Leather

I see consumers looking for leathers that look natural but are durable and safe for a family environment. People want to know where the leathers come from and where were they made — in short, who’s behind them. They want to make sure the company or companies behind them are environmentally responsible. This awareness was simply not there a few years ago.

What buyers want

Moore & Giles

LeatherConneaut Leather lines include Como, shown in Rustique (left) and Java (center), and Florence, shown in Oceano (right).
Our high-end clients are constantly asking for something unique, truly one of a kind. With natural leather, each hide is different so the leather on your sofa, chair or in your yacht will never look exactly the same as your neighbor’s.

Our clients are always asking for color — always. So our approach is to launch meaningful colors and leathers seasonally with at least two large launches a year. This helps to always push the boundaries of our creativity and offer something fresh each time we call on our clients.

Universal Leather

They want two things:

Better selection for lower-waste factors. We now source hides from North Mexico, the U.S. and India, where bovines — cows that are raised in pens and buffalo that live in water — are free from brands, tick bites and mesquite scratches.

Continuity of delivery. Universal Leather has partnered with the Collazo tannery of Mexico offering continuity of hide supply not influenced by the economics of South America and much shorter trucking transit times than by boat from Brazil.

Conneaut Leather

We see more and more demand for performance leathers. The word is spreading quickly that customers no longer have to compromise between the look they want and cleanability — now they can have both.

We are also noticing a greater willingness to experiment with the finest-quality leathers at significantly higher price points in an effort to appeal to that segment of the market.

Crest Leather

They are requesting shorter lead times. They need their orders now. Sometimes they may need same-day shipping. We live in the Amazon era.

We are complying with these requests by expanding our warehouse operation and adjusting our stock levels and production cycles accordingly.

Common misconceptions

Moore & Giles

MooreMoore & Giles produces its leathers (Eden Moss shown here) in small batches in family-run tanneries.
That it comes on rolls like fabrics.

That all hides are the same size, shape and makeup.

That the animals are killed for their hides. Our leather is a byproduct of the beef industry. If we did not use these millions of hides, they would have to be immediately buried or burned, causing greater harm to both people and the environment.

Universal Leather

Brands and natural markings of leather are seen as defects, and some consumers think that leather will not have dye-lot color variations. They do not understand that a fibrous material such as skin absorbs both pigment or aniline dyes differently in thicker or thinner areas of the hide.

And many consumers don’t think that buffalo hides are leather, but water buffalo is a bovine species, same as cow. In fact, because they live in water, buffalo hide strength is 35% stronger than cow hide.

Conneaut Leather

The misconception we hear most frequently is that leather is an expensive luxury that is purchased by people who love the look and feel of leather. This causes companies offering furniture to the middle market to avoid offering leather.

While it’s true that leather is luxurious and has a higher upfront price, when you take into account its longer lifecycle, it can offer a better value than other options and so is a good option for companies targeting every segment of the furniture market. And the Millennials value natural materials and purchase leather furniture at a higher rate than previous generations.

Crest Leather

That leather is too expensive, not durable and there are not that many choices anyway. Needless to say, this is not really the case.

Educating manufacturers & retailers

Moore & Giles

We offer the only online CEU course in leather. It is ASID-approved. Users can take the course for free and earn one credit hour.

Universal Leather

Moo To You — Step-up panels showing hides as they arrive at the tannery with hair on, and each stage of tanning and finishing, from corrected-grain pigmented finish, light-corrected combination aniline-dyed crusts with pigmented top coat to full-grain aniline-dyed.

Light explanation cards — Color being a reflection of light, the same color will look different under light bulbs, whether incandescent, florescent or outdoor.

Conneaut Leather

We offer technical sheets and consulting on all our leathers. As a U.S. manufacturer, we are intimately knowledgeable about the production process and treatments for all leathers, so we pay particular attention to educating customers on where each is most applicable.

Crest Leather

At the moment we are offering online literature, with basic concepts adapted to a retail environment. We would move on to online training as well.

Cindy HodnettCindy W. Hodnett | Upholstery/Style Editor
chodnett@furnituretoday.com

As the Upholstery/Style Editor for Furniture/Today, I spend my work hours studying the sloping curves of sofa frames, the intricacies of fabric and the nail head trim and button accents that function as jewelry on a piece of upholstery. I research the companies that bring these things together for retailers, and ultimately consumers, and interview industry leaders about their business strategies and where they think furniture is heading in the future. And when traveling, I provide a sneak peek at what I'm seeing, whether at international markets or in High Point or Las Vegas.

I look forward to sharing what I see and I hope you'll feel free to do the same. Email me at chodnett@furnituretoday.com or follow me on Twitter @CynthiaWHodnett.

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