How to designate leather correctly – Designation regulations

We are committed to providing leather processors, consumers, authorities, journalists and other interested parties with objective information on leather and its production. This seems all the more necessary as there are many misunderstandings, much misinformation and a lack of knowledge in this field. The term leather is not uniformly protected in Europe. In Germany, standards (RAL 060 A 2 / DIN EN 15987:2015) and the Law against Unfair Competition help to protect the term leather. However, imitations based on synthetic polymers are increasingly being provided with marketing-promoting additives (e.g. apple, cactus) or manufactured from completely different basic materials such as mushroom mycelium or cellulose, such that the materials have no relation whatsoever to leather, i.e. tanned animal skin. Discussions on this do not always proceed in a factual manner.

In the following, we have brought a little structure into the jungle of designation regulations, standards and ordinances and briefly explain the RALs, DINs, ISOs and Co.

Note: All RALs and standards according to DIN, EN and ISO listed here can be obtained from Beuth Verlag. Beuth Verlag GmbH, 10787 Berlin, +49 30 2601-0,,

RAL (Quality Assurance for All Market Participants)

In 1925, the German private sector and the German government of the time founded the “Reichsausschuss für Lieferbedingungen” (RAL) as a joint initiative. The common goal was the standardization and specification of technical delivery conditions. To this end, defined quality requirements and checks on these requirements were needed – the system of quality assurance was created. The creation of a neutral institution as a self-governing body of all parties involved in the market was required for its implementation. This was the birth of RAL. Since then, the authority for issuing quality marks remains with RAL.

The correct and binding designation regulations for leather and various types of leather are laid down in the following sets of rules to protect consumers from misleading advertising.

The term leather – RAL 060 A 2

Differentiation of the term leather from other materials

The designation regulation RAL 060 A 2 – Differentiation of the term leather from other materials (last edition: March 2012) specifies what material may basically be called leather. Here are excerpts of the most important provisions:

Leather, genuine leather or an expression which, according to public perception, refers to leather or to a type of leather (cowhide, nappa, nubuck, saffiano, etc.) may only be used in the offer or sale to describe a material which has been produced from the unsplit or split animal skin or hide by tanning, while preserving the natural interweaving of the fibres as they have grown. In the case of leather with a surface coating of, for example, plastic, foil or varnish, the layer that is applied must be no thicker than 0.15 mm. In the case of a thicker finish or coating, the designation regulations apply as given under: Coated leather.

Other materials
Word combinations with the term leather or with expressions which, according to public perception, refer to leather or a type of leather are not permitted for leather-like materials which are not made from grown animal skin or fur (e.g. “textile leather”, “recycled leather”, “PU leather”). This also applies to materials in which the tanned hide or skin has been mechanically and/or chemically broken down into fibre particles, small pieces or powder and then processed, with or without binders, into sheet materials or other forms of material. Word combinations using the term leather are only permissible for the commercial designations leather fibre material or artificial leather.

Coated leather
The term “coated leather” shall be used in cases of leather or split leather where the surface coating applied to the outside does not exceed one third of the total thickness of the product, but has a thickness of more than 0.15 mm. The term “patent leather” may also be used instead of this designation if the leather has a mirror-like surface. The surface coating must also not exceed one third of the total thickness.

Leather in composite materials
If leather is firmly bonded to a layer of a non-leather material (e.g. plastic, textile) by bonding, sewing, etc., the composite may only be designated as leather if the surfaces essential for use are made of leather and the proportion of leather in the total thickness is at least 80 %. Otherwise, both materials must be designated (e.g. watch strap: leather outside/plastic inside or belt: leather outside/textile inside). This 80 % rule does not apply to products invisibly laminated on the reverse side, e.g. with PUR foam, such as finished car seats or upholstered furniture, if the visible side is leather and the leather is of a thickness customary for the application.

Products made of leather and other materials
If an article is only partly made of leather, word combinations including leather to designate the product are only permitted if leather is the predominant component and the most important one for the performance characteristics. If this is not the case, the other materials must also be designated. Under no circumstances may the impression be created that all parts are made of leather. Examples of correct designations when combining leather with other materials: leather sofa – back and sides made of imitation leather; leather saddle with plastic inserts; plastic case with leather decoration.

Furniture sector – RAL 061 A 1 – The quality grades of upholstery leather

Designation and quality regulations for the differentiation of quality classes of upholstery leathers in the furniture sector

Purpose and scope
These designation regulations and quality specifications apply to the unambiguous definition of upholstery leathers in the furniture sector and the products made from them, which vary in quality, texture, structure and surface. This is to enable binding designations which, through their clarity, exclude any risk of misunderstanding and/or being misleading for consumers, as well as all parties concerned, such as leather manufacturers, upholstered furniture manufacturers, in the trade or testing institutes, and which meet the current requirements of the market.

Leather, genuine leather or an expression which, according to public perception, refers to leather or a type of leather (cowhide, nappa, nubuck, saffiano, etc.) may only be used in the offer or sale to describe a material which is made from the unsplit or split animal skin or hide by tanning, while preserving the natural interweaving of the fibres as they have grown. In the case of leather with a surface coating of, for example, plastic, foil or varnish, the layer that is applied must be no thicker than 0.15 mm. Furthermore, the definitions of DIN EN 15987 apply.

This is the outer surface of the leather after removal of the hair or wool and epidermis, which is characterized by a hair pore structure that is specific to the given animal species.

Aniline leather (natural)
This is leather with a natural grain that is clearly and completely visible, where the finishing thickness of any surface coating with an unpigmented finish is less than or equal to 0.01 mm.

Aniline leather finished (optimized for use)
This type of leather has been finished with a finish containing minimal amounts of pigments for colour glazing, its natural grain is still clearly visible and the hair follicles are not completely sealed with the finish. The thickness of the surface coating must not exceed 0.01 mm.

Semi-aniline leather
This is leather that has been treated with a finish containing pigments in such a small quantity that its natural grain is still clearly visible.

Pigmented leather
This leather has a natural grain or surface which is completely covered with a finish containing pigments.

Requirements (example of the different quality demands for leather)
Requirements¹ Aniline leather (natural) Aniline leather finished (optimized for use) Semi-aniline leather Pigmented leather
Rub fastness²
-Felt dry

-Felt wet

-Felt sweat

50 cycles
≥level 3
40 cycles
≥level 3
30 cycles
≥level 3
100 cycles
≥level 3
40 cycles
≥level 3
30 cycles
≥level 3
500 cycles
≥level 4
80 cycles
≥level 3-4
50 cycles
≥level 3-4
500 cycles
≥level 4
250 cycles
≥level 3-4
80 cycles
≥level 3-4
Light fastness ≥level 3 ≥level 3 ≥level 4 ≥ level 5
Continuous folding behavior³ ≥ 20.000 folds ≥ 20.000
≥ 50.000 folds
  1. ≥ 50.000 folds
Tear resistance ≥ 20 N ≥ 20 N ≥ 20 N ≥ 20 N

¹tested according to the applicable DIN EN ISO regulations
²colour black ≥ level 2 for aniline leather (natural)
³no cracks in the finish

RAL GZ 430
Gerneral quality and test specifications for furniture – quality assurance

DIN (German Industry Standard)

The German Institute for Standardization e.V. (DIN) is the independent platform for standardization in Germany and worldwide. Together with industry, science, the public sector and civil society, DIN makes a significant contribution towards opening up future fields. As a co-shaper of the digital and green transformation, DIN makes an important contribution towards solving current challenges and enables new technologies, products and processes to establish themselves on the market and in society.
Around 36,000 experts from business and research, representative of consumers and the public sector, contribute their expertise to the standardization process, which DIN manages as a privately organized project manager. The results are market-driven norms and standards that promote global trade and serve the purpose of rationalization, quality assurance, protection of society and the environment, and safety and understanding. DIN was founded in 1917.

Leather trade
DIN EN 15 987
Leather – Terminology – Key definitions for the leather trade

Leather for furniture
DIN EN 13 336
Leather – Upholstery leather characteristics – Guide for selection of leather for furniture

DIN EN ISO 68 871
Furniture – Designations and their use

DIN EN 16 223
Leather – Requirements for the designation and description of leather in upholstery and automotive interior applications

ISO (International Standard Organization)

ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization with 165 national standards bodies as its members.
Through its members, it brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market-relevant international standards that promote innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.
The Central Secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.

ISO 16 131
Leather – Upholstery leather characteristics – Selection of leather for furniture

BS ISO 2094
Leather. Full chrome upper leather. Specification and test methods

EN (European Standard)

European standards are developed by the European standards organizations CEN, CENELEC (electrical engineering) and ETSI (telecommunications). DIN represents German interests at European and international level by delegating German experts to the European committees. Taking into account the so-called national delegation principle, German experts contribute the national position to European standards.

Votes on European standards are weighted. In accordance with the Treaty of Nice, this is essentially based on the population of the respective country. DIN is one of the five CEN members with the highest voting power.

The CEN members – including DIN – must adopt European standards unchanged in their national body of standards and withdraw conflicting national standards. As a consequence, all CEN member countries work to the same European standards. This is an essential building block of the European Single Market.

The application of European standards is voluntary.

Due to increasing globalization, experts develop many standards at an international level. International standards can be adopted at European level or introduced simultaneously as an International Standard and a European Standard through parallel voting procedures. The basis for this is the so-called Vienna Agreement, concluded by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Note: All RALs and standards according to DIN, EN and ISO listed here can be obtained from Beuth Verlag. Beuth Verlag GmbH, 10787 Berlin, +49 30 2601-0,,

Textile Labelling Regulation

The European Textile Labelling Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1007/2011, hereinafter referred to as the TextilKVO) regulates, in particular, the manner of labelling and marking textile products that fall within the scope of this Regulation. It also lays down rules on the use of textile fibre names and on the labelling of non-textile parts of animal origin (e.g. fur or leather).

Article 12

Textile products containing non-textile parts of animal origin
(1) Non-textile parts of animal origin in textile products shall be indicated, using the words ‘contains non-textile parts of animal origin’, on the labelling or marking of products containing such parts when they are made available on the market.

Regulations for footwear marking

EU VO 94 /11 / EC marking of footwear products

DIRECTIVE 94/1 1/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 23rd March 1994 on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to the labelling of materials used in the main components of footwear for sale to the consumer.

The EU Footwear Directive 1994 / 0011, including its articles, has been incorporated into the Commodities Ordinance of Germany:

Bedarfsgegenstände-Verordnung (implementation of 94/11)

Paragraph § 10 a Marking of footwear products

(1) According to Annex 11 No. 1, footwear products must be marked with the information according to paragraph 2 sentence 1 in conjunction with paragraph 3 by the manufacturer or his authorized representative established in the European Union or, if neither the manufacturer nor his authorized representative has an establishment in the European Union, by the person who places the footwear products on the market in the European Union for the first time before they are placed on the market for commercial purposes. The information according to sentence 1 shall be affixed to at least one footwear product of each pair in a legible, durable and clearly visible manner. Any person who sells footwear products on a commercial basis must ensure that the marking in accordance with sentence 2 is affixed at the time of sale. The information may be supplemented by written information.

(2) Footwear products shall be marked specifying their components and the materials used for this purpose and determined in accordance with paragraph 3 by pictograms or written indications in accordance with Annex 11 No. 2 and 3. This shall not apply to

  1. second-hand footwear,
  2. safety footwear covered by the Ordinance on the Placing on the Market of Personal Protective Equipment,
  3. toy footwear.

The provisions of the Chemicals Prohibition Ordinance shall remain unaffected.

(3) The labelling pursuant to paragraph (2) shall indicate the material that covers at least 80 percent of each of the following:

  1. the area of the upper material,
  2. surface area of the lining and insole, and
  3. the volume of the outsole

If no material accounts for at least 80 %, information shall be provided on the two materials with the largest shares of the footwear component. Determination of the materials of the upper shall be independent of accessories or reinforcements, such as ankle protectors, edging, trim, buckles, lugs, eyelets or similar devices.

Annex 11 (excerpts)

  1. Definition of footwear:

Footwear products are products with soles that protect or cover the foot, as well as the components listed in number 2, provided they are separated, and each of which are intended to be supplied to the consumer within the meaning of Section 3 No. 4 of the German Food and Feed Code (Lebensmittel- und Futtermittelgesetzbuch), whereby tradespersons, insofar as they obtain a commodity for consumption within their business premises, are not equal to the consumer.

  1.     Definition of the individual components of footwear with the corresponding pictograms or written information:

The general term for tanned hides and skins, the original fibre structure of which is substantially preserved and made imperishable by the tanning process. The hair or wool may be preserved or removed. Leather also includes gaps or portions of the hide that have been separated before or after tanning. However, when mechanical or chemical means are used to break down the leather into fibres, small pieces, or powder, a resultant material that is made into sheets or other forms without or with binders is not leather. In the case of leather with a surface coating of plastic or with a glued-on layer, the layer that is applied must be no thicker than 0.15 mm. When the term “full grain leather” is used in additional written information pursuant to § 10a, para. 1, this means hides which have their original grain side after removal of the epidermis, without any parts of the grain layer having been lost by grinding, sanding or splitting.

Coated leather
A product in which the surface coating or bonded layer does not exceed one-third of the thickness of the leather, but is thicker than 0.15 mm

Natural and synthetic textiles (textile)
Textiles are all products that fall within the scope of the Textile Labelling Act and Regulation (EU) No. 1007/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 September 2011 on textile fibre names and related labelling and marking of the fibre composition of textile products, and repealing Council Directive 73/44/EEC and Directives 96/73/EC and 2008/121/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (OJ L 272, 18.10.2011, p. 1).