Cowhide - The Anchor of the Leather Trade

Leather has been a ubiquitous material for the last several generations. We use it literally every day and in a lot of everyday items without paying particular heed to it. Its use by mankind dates back to more than 400,000 years. But its formal entry to mainstream civilization began somewhere in the early 1700s. At that time, it started doing the rounds regularly in matters of trade between countries and cultures.

Somewhat similar to spices but not considered nearly as prized back then, it began to be circulated steadily. The key growth drivers of the material were three European nations- Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. About a century later, it was the Industrial Revolution that truly saw Leather as a sunrise industry. It began to get produced with better speed, accuracy, and for a large range of uses.

Need we tell you which kind of animal was responsible for generating the maximum quantity of Leather? The most-consumed one- the cow. Cowhide, even today, makes up over 60% of the total leather industry. Besides being domesticated for its milk and meat, this animal is a highly useful resource for its skin.

cow leather

How does Cowhide become the Leather we know?

  • Cowhide, the skin of the animal left after the meat has been taken for processing, is actually a waste product. Considering this fact, it’s admirable how the ancient human civilizations even came up with the idea of utilising it.
  • The very first step in the process begins with shaving the skin of the animal to free it of all hair.
  • Since there’s quite a lot of moisture in it at this stage, next comes to the stretching flat and drying.
  • Then begins the chemical treatment of the hide by a process known as tanning. Interestingly, the earliest known tanning methods involved vegetables, barks, and leaves. This technique was apparently discovered by the locals in Greece. It continued for a long time until industrialization brought along vast improvements and specially formulated chemicals. Tanning essentially makes the Leather pliable and ready for use in various industries.
  • After this major step, the Leather is ready for aesthetic enhancement. It’s at this stage that it is designed in accordance with requirements. Some of the favoured art techniques include dyeing, embossing, cutwork, and metal stud embellishment.

How to Judge the Quality of your Cowhide?

While it may not become immediately evident to the untrained eye, Cowhide can come in a distinct quality range. It caters to different applications and budgets due to this. Here’s a brief overview of the various kinds:

  • Full-grain - You can’t get better Cowhide than the full-grain variety. It is plush, smooth, and luxurious in texture. It’s as close to organic as one can get because its surface isn’t subjected to any buffing or sanding. Since its grain hasn’t been touched, it retains its natural breathability. In fact, full-grain Cowhide protects itself from moisture through the development of a surface layer called the patina. Such Leather becomes the material of choice in premium furniture and footwear.
  • Top-grain- This is the most popular quality of Cowhide because it spells a winning combination of grade and price range. Its topcoat is sanded and replaced by a chemical finish that gives it a plasticky, cooler effect. It is more pliable than full-grain and is also able to withstand more stains than the latter.
  • Genuine-While the name may have one believe this is very good-quality Cowhide; that’s not accurate. This kind is made from the scraps left over after full-grain, and top-grain is obtained. Naturally, it doesn’t compare to the quality, durability, or looks of the other two varieties. However, it is comparatively much cheaper and therefore sells widely.
  • Corrected-grain-This is the most inferior quality of Cowhide. It has many flaws and imperfections that are covered up with the help of an artificial grain. It forms the base for making pigmented Cowhide, which is commonly available due to its low price.

Overall Characteristics

The hide and skin of many other animals are also used as Leather, but the statistics weigh in heavily in favour of Cowhide. If you’re wondering why then let’s have a look at its overall characteristics.

Strong and durable

This perhaps the first thing we look for while purchasing any kind of item. Nobody likes to own something that won’t last beyond the first couple of weeks. Cowhide is quite strong and naturally thick owing to its complex fiber structure. It also doesn’t crack as easily as some leathers obtained from other animals, such as sheepskin, lambskin, or goatskin. Its high level of durability makes it a great everyday material to own. This includes leather jackets and personal leather accessories. In addition, it also finds great industrial usage in marine applications and automobiles.

Supple and breathable

The Cowhide has the ability to take on the contour of the wearer’s body shape. It is quite flexible and stretchable, thus also performing well on the comfort metric of fashion. Like all kinds of animal leather, it is also quite breathable.


Cowhide, especially of the fine varieties, has a great degree of resistance to moisture. Treatment with certain chemicals raises this quality further, leading to its widespread use in jackets and other waterproof garments.

Provides Insulation

Cowhide offers a good first level of protection from the cold. Its natural ability to create an insulating layer makes it a sought-after material in fashionable winter-wear.


Folks in popular fashion greatly prefer Cowhide over other leather varieties for a good reason. Unlike others, especially the delicate ones, Cowhide is a highly adaptable material. It can be dyed, embossed, and embellished as desired without really causing damage to its quality. It can also equally be used in its natural form.

Common Applications of Cowhide

  • Footwear
  • Upholstery (for furniture and automobiles)
  • Fashion apparel (jackets, vests, trousers, skirts)
  • Fashion Accessories (belts, bags, purses, wallets, and gloves)
  • Rugs

Feel like you know a little more about that beautiful motorcycle leather jacket you own? You already love it, but we bet you’ll respect it even further!