How to tell if Ostrich Skin is Real or Fake?
Genuine Ostrich Leather is one of the most durable leathers. The natural oils that its fibres keep - even after a long tanning process - make sure that an item crafted in this beautiful material will never crack - unless exposed to apocalyptic weather conditions. Here are some expert tips from the Civitas Regis team to help you navigate the world of luxury leather - it's easy, once you know what to look out for!
1. One of the most important aspects of fake ostrich leather is to be wary of the fact that it can still be labelled as "Genuine Leather".
In cases like this, the famous ostrich pattern is simply artificially embossed onto a much cheaper base leather, like bovine leather. This is one of the most troubling marketing tricks that fake ostrich goods sellers use; stating their offering to be something along the lines of: "XX Product in Ostrich - Genuine Leather". The way to get around this trick is to consider one important thing: authentic vendors of real ostrich leather goods are not going to be hiding behind word-play in order to describe their product. They will explicitly state somewhere very noticeable something to the effect of: "XX Product in Genuine Ostrich Leather", for example. The claim of authenticity is pegged not to a general term of leather, as with some vendors of imitation ostrich goods, but specifically to the genuine nature of the ostrich leather itself.
So unless a fake ostrich goods vendor is illegally misleading you by specifically claiming that their product is anything other than a bovine leather imitation, then you should always be able to look out for these suspiciously-worded product titles and descriptions as a clue as to whether what you're being sold is authentic.
Conclusion: Unless the leather product in question is categorically stated to be genuine exotic leather, avoid it.
2. Texture, texture, texture: it's all about the texture
Genuine ostrich leather is a leather with a very specific texture. The "bumps" found on the ostrich skin, also referred to as "Crowns", are follicles out of which ostrich feathers used to grow. As mentioned before, fakes rely on an embossing process which literally heat-presses patterns into a base leather to give it the appearance of something else. But heat-pressing is by its nature a two-dimensional process, which can only extrude patterns either upwards or downwards into a base leather. Authentic ostrich leather, on the other hand, is distinctly three-dimensional, and each unique crown will lift or bend when pushing your finger against the leather. Try to fit your fingernail below the crown: if you manage to successfully insert your fingernail in the space where the crown connects to the hide, then your ostrich leather is a real one. If, on the other hand, you can't fit your fingernail below the crown, this means that the crown and the leather underneath are literally the same leather fibre (with one being the continuity of the other), just twisted in a different-looking way: this is the feeling of a fake, embossed leather with ostrich pattern.
Furthermore, the crowns also present a hole on their very top: this hole stands for the feather follicle that used to grown on that one crown - another incredibly small details that a fake embossed leather would not be able to provide.
Fortunately, once you know this it's easy to identify this difference visually without the need to touch the leather beforehand, which is very important when buying online. Below, you can really see the difference between an embossed fake and the real thing. The embossed leathers have fake crowns that do not stand up to the touch, that can't be felt as a separate, individual entity from the leather underneath - mostly because no embossing machine can come close to mimicking the rich detail and subtle natural variations that exist in the three-dimensionality of this particular type of leather.
Conclusion: If the texture of the ostrich does not appear to have the same three-dimensional characteristics mentioned here, walk away.
3. Get to know the three different leather patterns found in every ostrich hide
Being a very large animal, the ostrich subsequently produces a very large hide. This hide does not have the same pattern all over it. As previously mentioned, the most sought-after part of the ostrich hide is the Crown, where the largest-in-diametre crown follicles can be found. This represents only about 40% of the total of the hide and can be found right in its middle. This means that, for every ostrich hide, there is just so much of good-quality leather that an artisan or manufacturer can use.
Zooming out of this centred, high-quality area, we find large areas of "Full Grain" leather: this areas are the ones that lack feathers and for this reason do not have any crown follicles. The texture is very smooth and soft to the touch, with a great quantity of "leather veins". In most cases it can look a lot like dollar-printed bovine leather. Its thinness makes this part of the hide very easy to work with albeit not particularly marketable. At Civitas Regis, with the nature of our leathers being up-cycled, we often find ourselves working with parts of ostrich hides that have a majority of Full Grain leather. Since we like it very much, from time to time we decide to include it in the crafting of items such as our Ostrich 24 Hour Messenger Bag - where its use in the handles detailing makes for a subtle addition to the overall design of the bag.
Finally, the neck area (just above the crown area) together with all the extremities found around the border of the hide makes for the second type of texture described in the infographic below. This texture consists of much smaller-in-size crown follicles, with deeper and higher-in-numbers veins between them. Those follicles and the leather around them are also much stiffer than the other parts of the ostrich, that are instead incredibly soft (one of the many characteristics that has made ostrich leather so famous amongst its fans). This part of the ostrich is not really used in leather-crafting as its stiffness makes it a very difficult material to work with.
Conclusion: Once you know about the cuts of leather that can and can't be used in genuine ostrich goods, you'll never be fooled again.
Each one of these tips should be powerful enough to help you navigate the pitfalls of buying fake ostrich leathers, but even if you're not sure on one point, all three in combination should make you much more comfortable with your buying decisions. We will keep posting articles on everything that revolves around leather, from its identification to its final care and anything in between.
Civitas Regis is an Anglo-Italian leather crafting studio offering sustainable exotic leather goods designed in the Foothills of Florence.