Building hand crafted products varies widely. The marketplace for leather products is large and one size does not fit all. There is a wide variety of price points, quality levels and interesting designs. This means that a large segment of the marketplace can find products at a wide variety of price points and quality.
At Happy Hollow Farm TN, here in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains we stress using top quality materials. A product constructed from inferior materials often means a failure in durability, function or appearance. So, if a product fails often and soon it means the real cost is much higher than the initial acquisition cost.
Actually finding the right type of leather can be somewhat complex. There are grades of leather, quality of hides used and different methods of tanning and finishing. See below, a chart showing the various levels of leather quality:
As you can see the best part of a hide is called FULL GRAIN, shortly followed by Top Grain. Top Grain typically has the top or outer layer sanded to remove scars, brands and or damage to the hide. This provides a smoother finish. However, FULL GRAIN is the strongest and most durable part of a cowhide. If the picture is examined closely we can see that the densest part of the hide is the outer most or full grain area of the hide. The fibers there are the closest together meaning better strength, durability and appearance.
The grades seen above are: Full Grain; Top Grain; Suede: and Genuine Leather. These are the grades of leather that come from the hide. Bonded Leather and PU Leather are manufactured and often contain glues and other chemicals.
Here at Happy Hollow Farm TN we use Full Grain, Top Grain and suede leather. In the process of constructing our products there are several considerations: Quality, durability, appearance, strength and cost. Suede leather is used in some of our products as a liner in our bags and as an interior section in some of the briefcases.
All of the vegetable tanned leather that we use is full grain, or the outer or strongest part of the hide. So, once a type of hide is chosen the hides are then graded into categories. Typically there are four categories from most top level tanneries: #1 best quality of hide with least defects; #2 a bit more scaring or damage from scrapes or insects; #3 a lower level in terms of damage to the hide and TR or tannery run.
Better tanneries use the same process regardless of the grading of the hide. What the grading process does is it determines how much of the hide can be used for making products.
On our vegetable tanned products we use # 1 graded hides.
Vegetable tanning is an older process that, in our view, has not been improved on. Vegetable tanning uses, typically, tree bark and other natural tannins to tan the hide. This process is eco-friendly. It also produces the best leather that is durable, stronger and more attractive . Vegetable tanning from top tanneries typically takes 6 to 8 weeks.
The more popular modern method of tanning is called Chrome Tan or Oil Tan. This process uses, typically, chromium salts or oils (like fish oil) to tan a hide. This process usually takes 24 to 48 hours. Most of the leather used today is tanned with these methods. Since it is faster the chrome tan hides are usually less expensive.
Here at Happy Hollow Farm TN we do use some chrome / oil tanned hides in some of our products. For example, the medium tote we build is offered in a vegetable tan model and also in chrome tan. Both items are built to the exact same level of quality. But, since the chrome tan hides are less costly the same tote can be offered for about 40% less due to the difference in material cost.
While we could only offer products made with vegetable tanned leather we like to have items that are built the same level that can be obtained at a lower price point to provide more choice.
This same approach is also used for the canvas / leather products we build. For example, the large tote we make in leather is only (currently) built from vegetable tanned leather. However, we also make the same size tote that consists of heavy canvas sides, leather bottom, leather straps and a leather cell phone pocket. The canvas / leather tote costs much less than the large veg tan tote but is built the same with different materials.
Once a hide is tanned it is then "finished". There are multiple methods, like tanning, Some common methods or terms are "Bridle", "Harness", "Latigo", "Skirting", "Tooling" and "Traditional". The various type of finishing provides a wide variety of looks and uses. We offer multiple colors and styles to allow a wide a variety of choice.
On our site (click here) you will see a variety of finished products built with different products and in different styles in order to provide flexibility and choice to our customers.
We use leather and canvas from top suppliers in the world. Some might be surprised to learn that some of the best leather tanneries are located in the United States. These better tanneries produce leather hides that take time to produce. A better tanned leather hide will result in a better leather product.
As mentioned above we do prefer vegetable tanned leather because it produces the best overall leather products. However, since a vegetable tanned hide can take between 6 to 8 weeks, the vegetable tanned leather does cost more. So, some of the products we build we also offer in Chrome / Oil Tanned leather.
With our products they are ALL built with the same process. We build our products in-house in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains from the hide up. All of the products we build are hand made by two craftsmen.