Ostrich leather stands out among other types of exotic skins used in the fashion industry due to its unique look and texture. But the appeal of ostrich leather goes beyond the purely aesthetic. This highly coveted material is known for its toughness, flexibility, durability, and suppleness.
Its rich content of natural oils helps it resist cracking and stiffness, adding to its allure and making it a choice for many luxury items—handbags and purses.
Below, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of ostrich leather to explore its characteristics and prized properties that set it apart from traditional cowhide leather.
Ostrich Leather History & Origin
Ostrich leather has a long and exciting history among the most recognizable of exotic leathers. It originates from South Africa, where it emerged as a unique byproduct of ostrich farming in the 1850s, an industry primarily focused on feather and meat production.
A distinguishing feature of ostrich leather is its distinctive bumps or ‘crowns,’ found in the skin’s central area, where the ostrich’s neck meets its body. This ‘crown’ constitutes about one-third of the entire skin and gives ostrich leather its unique texture.
Ostrich leather’s rarity and distinctive look make it highly desirable and expensive, often used in luxury items like the now legendary Hermès Birkin handbag. However, the market is also flooded with cheaper imitations known as ‘ostrich print leather.’
Created by embossing indentations into leather or polyurethane (PU) during the tanning process, this imitation leather mimics the bumpy texture of ostrich leather. Still, it lacks the uniqueness of the natural bumps found in genuine ostrich leather, providing a way to distinguish between them.
What Makes Ostrich Leather Great?
Ostrich leather is valued for its unique appearance, marked by a distinct pattern of bumps and quill sockets. It contains natural oils that maintain its soft touch while being very durable and flexible – a perfect combination for a luxury bag. Below are a few other factors that make ostrich leather a desirable material.
Ostrich leather comes in various colors that other leathers simply can’t match. As a chromium-based leather, it can be dyed in virtually any shade, resulting in bold, vibrant colors that set ostrich leather products apart from the crowd.
Ostrich leather can be tinted to have a uniform color or to enhance its natural hue. The dye penetrates deeply into the leather, ensuring a long-lasting color that does not fade easily. Ostrich leather can be further customized with different finishes, from a glossy sheen to a soft matte, accommodating various aesthetic preferences.
Ostrich leather, especially pieces that feature the ‘crown’ or bumpy texture, is a premium product with prices that reflect this rarity and appeal. Depending on size and grade, these pieces can range vastly in price.
The cost of ostrich leather also reflects the time and effort invested in the tanning process. Each ostrich hide undergoes a meticulous process that involves salting, liming, pickling, and tanning, which can take several weeks to complete.
This process ensures the quality of the finished leather and contributes to its exclusivity and high cost.
Lower-grade ostrich leather, which may have imperfections like holes or uneven dye, comes at a lower price. Despite being smaller and lacking the bumpy texture, ostrich leg leather offers its own unique scale pattern and is more affordable.
Ostrich leather’s high natural oil content keeps it from drying out, even with prolonged exposure to sunlight. Despite its softness, the leather doesn’t easily crack or wear, making it a durable choice for many products.
Its durability makes ostrich leather an excellent material for high-traffic applications like upholstery, which must withstand repeated use. It’s also common in the automotive industry for car interiors, demonstrating its robustness and long-lasting appeal.
Ease of Maintenance
Caring for ostrich leather is similar to caring for cowhide leather. It requires regular cleaning and conditioning, although its natural oils may help it stay hydrated longer.
One of ostrich leather’s most remarkable features is its flexibility. This highly pliable material is ideal for products like bags, which require bending, and it doesn’t crease or crack easily, unlike some other leathers.
Sewing ostrich leather can be challenging due to its stretchy and uneven texture. It requires careful management of tension to achieve optimal results. The quill bumps that give the leather its iconic look can be flattened for a smoother surface.
Despite its bumpy texture, ostrich leather is surprisingly soft to the touch. The leather from the neck or legs of the ostrich may not be as smooth as the main body, but the overall feel is luxuriously supple.
The quill follicles that remain in ostrich leather create a unique bumpy texture. The rest of the hide is smooth, offering a pleasing contrast in surface textures.
Ostrich leather isn’t waterproof. Small amounts of water may bead off the surface, but larger quantities or untreated areas can darken the color of the leather.
Ostrich Leather vs. Cow Leather
There are some key differences to consider when comparing ostrich leather to the very familiar cow leather (or cowhide leather).
Cowhide Leather is one of the most common types of animal leather and is produced through a reasonably typical cowhide tanning process. It’s a popular choice for making everything from durable work boots to luxury bags due to its toughness and resistance to tearing or punctures. It can also be printed to imitate exotic leathers such as lizard and snake skin, making it versatile for various fashion applications.
Ostrich Leather, on the other hand, is unparalleled in its firmness. Known as one of the toughest leathers available, ostrich leather can be sliced into thin layers while still maintaining its strength, creating lightweight garments despite the improved durability.
The most notable characteristic of ostrich leather is its quill mark, resulting from large follicles, each housing a feather. ‘Full quill’ ostrich leather, featuring a pronounced quill pattern, is considered the most expensive type of ostrich leather. It sets it apart from ‘half quill’ leather, which has a less noticeable design and visual appearance.
Regarding craftsmanship, ostrich leather is beautiful when appropriately crafted or restored. An item made from ostrich leather is not just a functional object but a piece of unique art that showcases the distinctive charm of this genuinely exotic material.
The artisans at Margaret’s provide expert cleaning, repair, deodorizing, restoration, and services for couture leather goods, including women’s and men’s shoes, handbags, and select leather garments for luxury retailers and consumers nationwide. If you have a unique item that needs to be cleaned and rejuvenated, we would be happy to assist you in caring for any of your ostrich leather goods.