If you’re in the market for leather goods, but don’t want to shop the usual suspects, you’re in luck. Exotic leather is not hard to come by these days and often gives you a look that is fresh, unique, and eye-catching. Here are just a few of our favorites.
Eel: Believe it or not, eel skin provides amazing leather. Not only is it supple, it’s durable, and holds vibrant color like you wouldn’t believe. Often, this leather is used in furnishings like desks, side tables, and dressers. It can also be used in accessories like bags, wallets, and totes.
Shagreen: Sharkskin provides leather that is unlike anything you’ll ever feel. From afar, the leather looks smooth but untanned, it’s granular to the touch. Much like eel skin, shagreen holds vibrant color beautifully and holds up well over time.
Snakeskin: This leather is far from rare, but it’s exotic as hell. With the variations in natural colors that occur in this skin, there are endless ways to use and wear this stunning leather. Tough, but sleek and smooth, it’s the perfect material for shoes, belts, and structured bags.
Horsehair: People are always surprised to learn how versatile horsehair is. From lamp shades to shoes and purses, this hide works across the board. We love how fantastic it looks in natural colors like black, white, and cream. The only fallback is, if the piece isn’t made well, over time, it can shed or begin to break down, so make sure you’re buying a well manufactured, preferably handcrafted piece.
Kangaroo: Believe it or not, kangaroo leather is totally legal and makes for great conversation pieces in the home (or on your arm). Interior designers favor this leather because of how luscious and it is; it’s buttery soft, almost like deerskin. Its durability makes it a hit when used for chairs and stools, but of course, we love to see it in a wallet or clutch.
Elephant and Rhino: Although these leathers are a strict “no no” the allure can be explained by the hides’ durability. Shoes made out of these hides will last several lifetimes, only needing to be re-soled, never patched. Unfortunately, irresponsible and inhumane hunting tactics mean that if these leathers are ever commercially available again, it’ll be a long, long time from now.
Pineapple: Vegan and can’t get behind real leather? Well, that doesn’t mean you can’t go exotic too. Believe it or not, manufacturers are now deriving leather from the flesh of pineapples. Sure, the buttery, supple feel of animal hide is missing, but the look of leather is not. We can’t speak to the durability, but we can call this one an intriguing alternative to the real thing.
How To Wear Leather In The Summer
In the South, summer temperatures are unforgiving. In thinking about wearing leather when it's in the upper 90s, it’s hard not to picture a complete outfit disaster. Leather in the summer just seems wrong; all sweat and awkward squeaking. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are great, easy ways to work leather into your daily ensembles without missing the mark. Here are a few of our favorite ways to work leather in on the regular when temperatures soar.
Our backpack is perfect for summer months, keeping your essentials close by. This design is great for festivals and for trips out of the house when hands free is a must. The enclosure makes this a simple and secure way to carry your stuff; it would be nearly impossible for someone to open the drawstring without catching your attention.
Sometimes, you just want to run out of the house for something iced without a big bag. Our wallets are a great way to look fab while keeping your money, cards, ID, phone, and lip balm close. Our customers love to keep these in their purse, work tote, or diaper bags as an awesome grab and go alternative to a clunky wallet.
Nature is so magical with all of its brilliant colors. I've been deep in my creative realm designing the Fall/Winter collection and for the first time ever, I've gotten really into color, mixing colors, and textures, just like nature. A friend recently dropped off a 10 foot python skin that I've been racking my brain with ideas on how to use it. Needles to say, I've been on a bit of a snake obsession.
How to Care for Your Leather Bags
I’m often asked how to care for leather, especially the lighter colored leathers like white, off white, caramel, and tans. First things first, I tend to be extra cautious with whites and my personal rule of thumb is don’t leave your bag on dirty surfaces, floors, or wear with new clothing items that have dark dyes such as black or navy. The new dyes tend to bleed onto just about anything they touch, including your hands. However, life sometimes has its own agenda for us and our light colored bags. There’s the unexpected coffee spill, you trip and fall into a puddle, etc. Some of you may like those little stains/patina’s that enrich your leather with color and life’s stories of where you were in that moment while others may want to preserve their leather as if it’s forever new. Here are some helpful tips to help preserve your leather for many lifetimes.
1: If leather gets dirty: Just use a damp cloth. You don’t want to be putting any soaps or foreign substances in there. If leather gets too wet: Dry it slowly. Speed drying leather changes its chemical structure, and you end up with stiff crinkle leather. So room temperature with gentle air works better than direct heater time with hair-dryer. And keep it in the shape you want it to end up.
The key to removing dirt and other such marks is not to use too much pressure, it’s much better to lightly rub a mark 100 times with low pressure than 10 times with a lot of pressure. The high pressure maybe likely to remove the finish and damage the leather.
2. Scratches cannot be prevented, so if you don’t like the antique effect that scratches will give to your leather then it’s advised that you keep it away from sharp or metallic objects and generally give it careful consideration when handling and placing it down on the ground, etc.
3. If leather gets too dry: Rub something moist into it. There are various brands you can buy online or check in with your local leather shop. Leathers can have paints, waxes, oils and all sorts of things applied to their surface, so you probably want to pick something similar to how it came. Please note that applying ANY form of polish, even a clear or natural color, will almost always change the color of your leather. So test a small area of leather first (such as the tag/key-ring we supply with your bag), allow 24 hours to dry, and then check on the final color before applying to the remainder of the bag.
All leather looses moisture and oils over time and with handling. As a hide dries out it’s more likely that the fibers that make up the surface of the skin will break rather than stretch. Every animal hide is unique and some will have less natural oils than others. The more we handle a product made from leather the quicker it will lose it’s natural flexibility due to it’s oils and moisture being transferred to our hands, etc.
If your applying a water proofing product then it’s strongly recommended that you first apply a care product to help lock in moisture and to keep the fibres of the skin supple before making it waterproof. Only apply the waterproof to areas that will be exposed to moisture. This will result in you still being able to treat the inner of the bag with care products so it can remain supple and wont crease, crack or peel, due to drying out.
4. Leather stretches out, but not back: If you start to overfill a wallet, it will never really return to it’s former taut self. If you stretch a leather bag when wet or very humid, it will move even faster. Just learn to carry the right amount, and this takes care of itself.
5. Keep your leather bags stored in places that are dry and clean when you’re not using them, ideally in the specially designed dust bag that came with your bag to help protect it. Keep it out of hot temperatures, especially extreme heat, and out of direct sunlight for long periods of time. Heat exposure can cause the pigmented finish to bubble and to peel away. Freezing temperatures can really damage your leather and the natural structure of it’s fibers that give it strength, and make them brittle. Cold temperatures can also cause the pigmented coating to crack excessively.
The Only Eco-Friendly Leather is Actual Leather
True, we may be biased, but you know what? Real leather is the shit. Although some purchase faux-leather, pleather, vegan leather, whatever you choose to call it, with good intentions, the end result is never good. The assumption is that choosing faux-leather saves the lives of animals who would otherwise die solely for their hides. Unfortunately, not only is this belief unfounded, but the environmental impact of faux-leather is far greater than some realize.
The manufacturing alone of fake leather pumps chemicals and gasses into the environment that can have a detrimental effect on the surrounding land. Here’s a take from the Mother Jones blog about faux leather and PVC,
“Most fake leathers are made of some kind of plastic product—which was almost certainly derived from petroleum. Some faux leathers are even made of polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC), a product that contains, among other not-so-nice chemicals, phthalates.”
(Mother Jones, accessed 7.12.16)
These chemicals do real, tangible harm. Chemicals leached into soil can harm crops, and a tarnished water supply can wreak havoc on animals that sip from affected streams, lakes, and even puddles.
Purchasers of synthetic leather are also guaranteed to cycle through items far more quickly than those who buy the real thing. A well-made leather item can last a lifetime, whereas faux items wear out quickly. And although this is true and faux pieces do tend to fall apart at the seams, these items do not break down quickly in a landfill. Nope, these synthetic materials behave like any tough plastic or styrofoam, staying intact for years and years, clogging up our landfills. Anyone who does the math with this in mind can understand that purchasing four faux items consecutively instead of one, responsibly-made, high-quality piece means the environmental impact of your purchases are quadruple what they could be (unless you’re cutting up your faux leather pieces for a really big collage).
In the same vein, there’s the myth of cost-savings. Sure, a $30 pair of knee-high faux leather boots might seem enticing, but you have to remember that you’ll be tossing these boots after just a few wears. If the seams hold together, the soles may give you trouble. If it rains, you can expect to have wet socks when you arrive at the bar for cocktails. Four $30 purchases add up to a greater value than one, solid pair of boots will run you, especially if you find something on sale.
If you’re concerned about making responsible purchases, consider instead real leather goods that are vegetable tanned. These items will last longer, keeping synthetic materials out of our overflowing landfills. The manufacturing process is natural, keeping chemicals out of our precious water supply. For those who find themselves endlessly conflicted, unable to get past the idea of parts of an animal being worn, I like to offer reminders of our ancestors. These were people who honored the animals they killed by using every bit of them; never letting one bit go to waste. In our culture of consumption, it’s tough to connect with that idea. But it is possible to consume this way and to make purchases knowing that you are doing so with a real, conscious regard for life. Sometimes, the most responsible choice isn’t the most obvious. In this case, it’ll give you an item you’ll cherish for a lifetime and will allow you to honor a life given for utility, and of course, beauty.
On The Hunt
Sometimes in the summer on days that are too hot to think, there’s nothing more satisfying than hunting. Yes, I talk a lot about where leather really comes from, but I’m not talking about actual hunting. Not sure I could take it that far. Nope, I’m talking about hunting for vintage leather.
Let’s be clear, I’m talking real, in the trenches hunting for vintage. I’m packing my hand sanitizer and hitting up Goodwill and Southern Thrift, digging through bins and flipping through racks. Not scouring the shelves at consignment shops or retail stores that are stocked with marked up vintage finds. I’m doing the digging myself! Today’s assignment, to find a small leather bag that’ll fit the essentials.
When you walk into a thrift store, you may be tempted to look behind the counter where you assume they keep the good stuff. I say, don’t bother. Those who sort through donations don’t typically know what they’re looking at, so oftentimes designer goods make their way into the heaps. I always go straight to the racks and bins that look like a disaster.
The first item I pulled is an interesting example of a good attempt at making fake leather look good. Note the edges are cut to make it look like this is from a hide, and the metal details have been used to give it an elevated look. However, these pieces will just barely fool you and only from a distance. They still undeniably feel like plastic. My hands soon find a Buxton wallet with awesome stamped details.
Then I spot this great brown bag. The leather is in awesome condition and you can tell this is a piece that will age well because of its structure. However, I had something a little less rigid in mind, so I decide to pass.
Then, I lock eyes on this little beauty.
Immediately I feel the welcoming textures of real cowhide; pebbly and supple. The bag has a few little dings, but nothing I can’t polish out with some oil. The lining is intact, and all closures look perfect. At $8.99, this is a no-brainer. Back home, I stuff my new find with essentials for a day out and about and can’t wait to hit the pavement with it tomorrow, knowing full-well this piece is sure to become a wardrobe staple.
Your Epidermis Is Showing
If you’re like most people, you probably pretend that the leather in your closet is a completely separate entity from the animals you see in a petting zoo. In fact, many people even feel this way about the meat they consume. Pork is totally not derived from a completely adorable pig with a twitchy little nose. Nope. Pork + Pig = unrelated.
The thing is though, if we are unable to break down the mental blocks we place between us and the things we consume, we fail to appreciate these items for what they really are. In fact, leather’s quality and key, defining characteristics are fully dependent on the life the hide once lived.
You may have heard the terms, “full-grain” leather or “top-grain” leather. This refers to the upper section of the hide, which is where the epidermis, or actual skin of the animal, lives. Full or top-grain leather comes from hides that are not sanded or treated in any way, leaving the lovely imperfections brought on by life’s little knocks. For example, in a previous post I mentioned cowhides with tough spots caused by tick bites. In this, life is ever-present in the hide long after the animal ceases to exist.
In full/top-grain hides, the only “treatment” to the hide is to remove the hair from the epidermis, leaving only the grain as a foundation of the piece’s character. Leather often described as “pebbly” comes from an animal hide with imperfections. The treatment creates a raised effect on the leather, which masks these blemishes and causes the "pebbled" look as well as its super soft texture. Sometimes the pebble look is embossed into the leather to add texture. Naturally smooth leather is typically deerskin, lamb, or sheep.
Deerskin Sheepskin Cowhide
The lack of bumps indicates that it’s a Top Grain Leather. Top grain leather is the second highest grade because it is split from the top layer of blemished hide then sanded and refinished. This is how they get rid of scars and scrapes and light cow brands.
With the grain in its natural state, the leather is primed for durability, allowing the garment to age gracefully, taking on a second life. Full grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: aniline and semi-aniline. Aniline Leather is tumbled in vats so the dye is completely absorbed by the skin. There is no other colouring agents or process, thus the finished leather tends to look and feel more "natural" - the unique markings and character of each skin are apparent. By way of analogy, this treatment is akin to the "staining" of wood. Usually, the best quality hides are reserved for this process, as aniline leathers are valued highest by consumers. Semi-Aniline Leathers combine both pigmented and aniline dyed; a very light pigment is added to even out the colour and increase the durability. Most garments are made with semi-aniline leathers.
Because the quality of a full-grain or top-grain leather relies so heavily on how the leather looks in its natural state, only the best hides are chosen to be sold this way. The others are treated and sold, beautiful in different ways.
Treated or untreated, the beauty of a hide hinges on a life once lived. The connection between animals and the hides they leave behind is undeniable. To put up a protective boundary is to deny oneself an understanding of the connection between humans and the animals we share the planet with. Sure, it may help stave off guilt, but it also creates discord between the life we think we live and the life we actually live. Remove the goggles and take a look; you might just find something more beautiful than you expected.
Recycling Is Not Just For Cans
If you look at a hide and you imagine the shape and size of my bags (even the biggest ones), one thing is certain: when I create a piece, there’s a lot leftover.
The problem is that leftover leather isn’t something a designer can always reuse. It’s not that the leather isn’t as perfect as the rest of the hide was, it’s that the shapes and sizes of the scraps creates huge limitations. So what’s a girl to do with a pile of beautiful, supple leftover material and nothing to do with it? Thankfully, there are ways to get it into the hands of people who won’t let it go to waste. At Bone Feather, we sell our scraps by the pound to companies that put these little beauties to use in some truly incredible ways. Here are just a few little treats that celebrate the versatility of supple leather scraps.
It may sound like a generalization (because it totally is) but women tend to shop with their hands. If you watch a man and a woman walk through a store together, the man will browse with his eyes first, giving an item a once-over before reaching out. The woman will lead with her hands, grabbing at something pretty before it even comes into focus. I am no exception to this rule, which is why working with leather is so satisfying. The relationship between leather and the bag’s style is incredibly important and, when done properly, can allow a hide to perform the way it’s meant to. My goal is always to let the leather attract my customers before the design.
Leather comes in tons of textures, and with that, different hand-feels. There are leathers that feel sleek and smooth when you run your fingers over the hide, but provide a strong structure that can put up with lots of abuse without losing its shape. There are also leathers that feel like butter, molding to your hand, even taking on the temperature of your flesh. And just like the bags I create, each hide has its own story. For example, the deer hides I use are sourced in the USA and are processed from wild deer. Bullet and arrow holes will be present on some skins, quietly juxtaposing the whimsy of the soft and supple feel. No matter where or how it’s sourced, every hide has little markings that make it unique. This can even include tick bites that have caused tough patches to emerge on the skin. These little imperfections and variations mean that even when hides are batch dyed in the same vat of color, each hide will take the dye a little differently and colors may vary. These are just a few reasons I like to hand-select my hides. I want the feel and color to be just right.
My favorite leathers are rustic ones. Leathers that look already old, worn, and aged and lend themselves to practical, everyday use. My first choice to work with is a Kodiak oil tanned cowhide. Not meant for a delicate bag, it's as rugged as its name implies. Thanks to the oil-tanning, the leather is waterproof, and is therefore perfect for product that is going to be regularly exposed to the elements. The pronounced grain on these hides is attractive and gives character to my creations. I love to use this leather for my heavy tote bags and any bag that is meant to be tossed around and daily use.
Occasionally, I like to use a more delicate leather just because the texture is so beautiful that it needs to be showcased. The tundra sheepskin is a perfect example of this and has been a favorite for many years. It's soft to the touch with the most beautiful pebble surface and has just the right amount of sheen to catch your attention.
I love deer skin because the hides are sourced in the USA and are incredibly soft and buttery to the touch. Deerskin is best used for garment leather but I love to use it for smaller items like makeup bags, lining, and interior details. It's used as the drawstring bag interior on the bucket bag in the current Spring/Summer 16” collection. I love the juxtaposition of soft deerskin against structured vegetable tanned leathers. Deerskin garments have a sophisticated charm and lasting beauty.
Sometimes I look down at my hands and wince. Regardless of how many manicures I get or how many scrubbing and moisturizing treatments I do, my hands will always be a little rough, knotty, and sometimes even look a little beat up. My hands seem to have aged twice as quickly as I have, bearing the brunt of the work that I do, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My hands are involved in every step of the construction of Bone Feather bags from cutting, sometimes dyeing the leather (depending on the leather and style of bag) to sewing the finished product.
Many people assume that I sit hunched over a sewing machine for hours on end, but creating each bag is actually an extremely active process. I use hammers, mallets, screwdrivers, all kinds of tools to create a beautiful finish on each bag. I'm waiting for the day I hammer a fingernail or cut a finger tip off. I feel like it’s inevitable, which stops me from rushing my work. A quick decision often leads to a mistake, which isn’t only risky but always means starting over from scratch. I want each bag to be as perfect as it possibly can be and that requires time. Sometimes a clean finish requires some elbow grease and a pair of pliers. Other times it requires some meditation, a glass of wine, and an all-nighter. There’s no way to know how the process will go until I’m really in it.
In the end, the personal relationship I have with each bag runs deep. The small details that require punching each hole by hand and threading those holes by hand, sometimes with string I’ve dyed by hand, forever connects me to each piece.
My hands never let me forget what I do. Some days I feel arthritis more than others. Some days it’s tough to get my hands to want to start working. I want to be able to carry out my craft for a long time and that means taking care of myself and giving my hands a little love. I make time throughout the day to stretch my hands and wrists. I use new construction techniques that are less intensive on my joints and take breaks instead of powering through when I know I need to stop. It’s a good exercise in restraint for me because it forces me to hit the pause button, which isn’t easy for me.
I love the undeniable satisfaction of finishing a project; the tangible evidence of my time and effort right in front of me. Hopefully, I’ll never lose the ability to work this way. After all, learning to curb the desire to make hasty decisions should mean I won’t cut one my fingers off with a vintage tool. The operative word there is should. I guess there are no guarantees in life, but I’m hoping for the best.* * *
Your Life, Our Pieces
There's a little flutter of excitement unlike anything else when you find a special piece you connect with. What we love about the work we do and the products that go to market is that we know the materials so well, we can wave goodbye to a bag, clutch, or wallet and know exactly what it'll look like in 5, 10, even 20 years time. When you find that special piece in our collection, what moves us is that despite the time we spend hand stitching and getting details just right, your life will provide the character that makes it truly yours. It'll become something you can recognize with your eyes closed; a piece that you're proud to tote around. Whether you're running errands, dashing from meeting to meeting, or taking some time to lounge with friends and family, our pieces fit seamlessly into your life. So stuff them with makeup, books, animal crackers, and sippy cups. Plop them on barstools, benches, and blankets. Our pieces are durable enough to take anything you got and go with you wherever you go. So hit the streets and strut your stuff. We'll be right here by your side.
Changing The Way We Shop
It’s not hard to understand the allure of fast fashion. You’re in a bind and need an outfit for date night or cocktails with friends and you run into the mall, only to see that big, glowing Forever 21 sign. You choose a piece, spend $14.99, wear it once, and it sits in your closet for months on end. It’s not long before the evening is all but forgotten and that mystery stain on the collar and loose hemline beg you to toss it into the “donate” pile. . . or maybe the trash.
This is not an uncommon behavior, nor is it an uncommon way to shop. It’s tough to resist the idea of buying an entire season’s worth of clothes for less than $200. But if we don’t stop and think about what that $200 is going to, what we’re supporting and the investment we’re making, we continue to inadvertently provide legs for businesses whose practices are damaging and a system that is completely broken. These large corporations make billions of dollars a year while they negotiate such low rates with their factories that the laborers make on average $2.50/month.
When we’re in the throes of shopping, we forget about the workers in the sweatshops in third world countries, the conditions they’re working in, and the real, tangible effect this has on the workers, their families, and the global effects. Workers who try to organize trade unions face harassment and physical abuse. Over 1,100 garment workers were killed in Bangladesh in 2013 when a garment factory building collapsed and hundreds more have been killed in garment factories since.
We also forget that next season, when these clothes are pulled out for another run, many of the items will not fit right after the past season’s wearing and washing cycle. Some will have warped from time in storage, and some things will completely perplex you (re: was that neon tribal print REALLY in style last summer!?). So into the heap these clothes go, and it is then they become a part of a system we know little about, because once these clothes leave the closet, it doesn’t really matter to us where they go.
Thankfully, although Americans purchase 5 times as much clothing as we did in the 80s, as a whole, we are becoming more educated on where our clothing comes from. This allows us to make real, informed decisions about whether or not we support the system or choose to do things a little differently. The alternative to fast fashion is shopping ethically and/or locally, purchasing items that may be at a higher price point, but that will last long enough to make the process of shopping one of actual investment.
It’s important to the Bone Feather team to be an ethically conscious brand that supports locally made products that are quality over quantity and withstand a lifetime. It’s important to us to know who makes our products, where they’re made, and making moral and ethical decisions in regards to humanitarian and global practices. Here are a few companies whose products and practices we love:
For more on fast fashion, next time you’re on the couch looking for something to watch on Netflix, check out The True Cost. This documentary will give you insights into the clothing and textile industry that will leave you forever changed.
No matter how you choose to shop, having the information is what matters. Knowing where your dollars and donations go empowers you to make decisions based on facts rather than on convenience. After all, once you know, it’s hard not to know, you know?
Raw and organic materials, and the weathering, peeling, and creation of textures with time.
Rusted, heavily-used tools passed from family member to family member over time. We also love textured handles and intricate detailing in unexpected places, like the blades of sharp knives.
Well, I must admit, this feels a little silly. Bone Feather has been in business in Nashville since 2011, and here I am, saying “hi,” all over again. I’ll be honest. Social media, blogging, all this Internet stuff just feels a little unnatural to me. Although it allows me to promote my brand and connect with you all, there has always been something about it that seemed forced and maybe just a bit narcissistic.
Recently, however, I’ve had a bit of a perspective change. I know how much I love hearing other brands' stories, their passions, and process of creation. I’ve realized that if I don’t stop to tell my story and share my thoughts, opinions, and inspiration behind my brand, I’m relegating the control of storytelling to someone else. Then, what others think about the items I create with my hands may be skewed. In reality, there are truths behind what I do, who I am, and how I got to where I am that I want to share and those truths are the essence of Bone Feather.
The Bone Feather collection changes from season to season (fall-winter & spring-summer) giving our customer new products to choose from throughout the year. Each collection has grown and developed out of a different theme and inspiration. I appreciate my readers and customers and am thankful for the time you take out of your day to get to know the brand and explore the collection and its story. Bone Feather is a product of love, hard work, and achy hands. But there’s more to tell, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
We are proud to announce our new location . Come join us:
1201 4th Ave South, Suite 103
Nashville, TN 37210