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, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.beuth.de.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)