Mass produced leather furniture… An environmental disaster?

Posted on January 14th, 2014

Our philosophy is based around Maintain, Repair, Restore. As an organisation we have a strong belief that it is better to take something that already exists and make it usable for longer than to throw that object to landfill and buy another  to fulfil the same purpose. At the same time we completely appreciate the desire to surround oneself with objects that make you feel good! When it comes to leather furniture we understand that people chose leather as it is comfortable, looks great and feels luxurious.

People have been using leather as a material for upholstery for centuries, at first it would have been used for it’s durability in comparison to fabrics, and indeed pieces still exist from previous centuries with the leather still intact and perfectly functional. These pieces have proved to be completely environmentally sound; not only were they originally made from completely natural products, but they have been used for years and years meaning that the impact on the environment is minimal.

Now compare that with the mass produced, constantly discounted leather furniture that we are bombarded with every day through the TV. The frames are made of cheap farmed softwood stapled together rather than bolted. The cushions are made from cheap foam rather than properly sprung, meaning that the foam will collapse and deteriorate much more quickly than springs would. The “leather” can be plastic! Vinyl “faux” leather is now used in the construction of most leather furniture with only the seating cushions being made from true leather. Then we have “bi-cast leather”, this is a very thin split of leather with a a polyurethane layer applied to it then embossed to give a leather like grain. It can be sold as leather, but we have found it to be the least durable of all upholstery materials. The polyurethane coating delaminates from the leather split very easily and you are left with a peeling sofa!

We find that people that have purchased these cheaper, mass produced “leather” sofas are coming to us for repairs after only 4-5 years of ownership. They then have the option of restoring or replacing and in some cases it is simply not economically viable to restore something that was so badly made in the first place.

In short, many modern leather sofas are an environmental and economical disaster!

In the words of John Ruskin (1819-1900)

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When
you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay
too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you
bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The
common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a
lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well
to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will
have enough to pay for something better.”

This leads to a little dilemma… we want the luxury and comfort of real leather, but to buy a good leather suite, with a solid beech frame and long lasting, high comfort sprung cushioning can cost many thousands of pounds and is out of reach of many. We believe we have found the answer! E-Bay, Gumtree, and pre-loved are full of second-hand leather furniture, most of which The Leather Surgeons are capable of restoring to an as new condition for a fraction of the cost of buying good quality new. In some cases you can get the outstanding quality for less than the mass produced inferior furniture! Take a look and give us a call… Don’t let yourself be duped into buying something that looks great now, but you will want to be rid of in a couple of years!