A hide can be divided into three distinct layers. This is often done with thicker hides, especially from cattle. Technically each layer is known as a split.  

The 3 different layers are:

  • Top grain, or grain split - this is the outer layer with the hair
  • Drop split,or flesh split - this is the inner layer of the hide
  • An additional layer can be created if the hide is thick enough

After leaving the tannery, the term grain split is no longer used. It is referred to as aniline, Nappa, etc, depending on the type of leather. The lower layers are no longer referred to as flesh split, but simply as split leather, split velour or suede. Top grain splits are the most valuable. The fibre structure is much denser in the upper layers and thus more resistant to tearing.

            Cowhide split leather   Cowhide split leather hair   Split leather flesh

Different types of split leather

  • Processed split leather

Split leather is ideal for many applications, including shoes, clothing and some high-quality furniture.

                                   Pig Suede     Goat Suede

  • Coated split leather

Split leather is sometimes coated to make it easier to look after by gluing a plastic film over the split leather. Customers will often think it is high quality grain leather when in fact it is cheap split leather with a film coating. Can also be called PU Leather which is termed PU as the coating is a polyurethane coating.

By law, it should be declared as ‘coated leather’ when the thickness of the coating is greater than 0.15 millimetres.

There are some cases when split leather is stabilised with a textile backing. This material is known as Rodeo (image 1), pilot leather (image 2) or Tasan (image 3). This material should not be sold as genuine leather.

Split leather Rodeo   Split leather pilot   Split leather tasan

  • Embossed split leather 

This is when the split leather has been coated with a binder and then the grain embossed. Although it looks like genuine grain leather, the fibre structure is not as good as that of grain leathers and it can tear more easily. 

                                                 Embossed split leather

What is split leather used for?

  • Split leather clothing 

Suede from pig or goat skins are the most typical splits used for garments. Pigskin is cheaper than goatskin as it is stiffer and has less tensile strength.

  • Split leather shoes

Split leather is often used for shoes, especially for sports shoes because of its breathability.

  • Split leather upholstery

In low price furniture, contact surfaces like the back, seat and armrests are made with grain leather, but the rest is made from cheaper split leather or imitation leather.

  • Split leather car interior

Vehicle manufacturers don’t usually declare the use of split leather in their interiors. However, many steering wheels, door panels, parts of the seat and other areas in the vehicle are trimmed with embossed split leathers. Split leather does not have the strength of top-grain leather.

Split leather is fine when properly produced and used. Many customers are under the impression that their leather steering wheel or side panels have the grain side of the leather, when it is really coated or embossed split leather.

                                Suede shoe     Split leather wheel

Split leather damages 

As we have already mentioned, split leather is more susceptible to damage than grain leather. Due to its weaker fibre structure it can tear more easily and the top coating can dissolve when in contact with skin and hair. Damages on split leather are not easily repaired. Minor rips and tears can be repaired if dealt with at early stages.

    Split leather peeling damage   Split leather peeling PU   Split leather tear damage

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Top tips!

  • Make sure you know what leather you are really getting. Ask the staff. Read the fine print. A lot of times split leather is sold as 'genuine leather' - don't assume this means you are getting the higher quality top grain!
  • Remember, split leather is not a bad leather, but it is important to know what you are paying for.