There are two broadly accepted definitions of genuine leather. Firstly, it can be used (or abused) as a catchall term for any leather product that contains traces of animal skin. There is no universal system for categorising leather. Regulations vary enormously from one country to another, and the lack of consensus about what constitutes genuine leather makes it an ambiguous label.
This vagueness poses problems for consumers. You might be tempted, for example, to buy a genuine leather wallet from a vendor on your summer trip to Tuscany. The wallet is costly and attractive in appearance, but the ‘genuine leather’ stamp offers no real insight into its quality. It could easily have been reconstituted from layers of inferior left-overs — and offer no lasting durability as a result. Sure, you could initiate a conversation with the seller and ask about the leather or the tannery in which it was manufactured, but this is a rare luxury.
Onto the next definition. In recent years, genuine leather has also become a byword for ‘split leather’ or ‘corrected-grain leather’. More on this in the next section, but split leather is essentially the worst cut of leather available, irrespective of which animal the hide comes from. Due to its inferior quality, split leather is also the cheapest.
Disclaimer: while the genuine leather tag is increasingly associated with lower-quality leather, there are always exceptions. Some premium artisan brands still embrace the genuine leather stamp. To avoid confusion, we recommend you always do your research; lookout for information about the cut and grade of the leather, this will help you to determine its quality.