Introduction to Remnant Sourcing
This Blueprint will teach leather makers of all types to source the finest remnant leathers.
Why is this Blueprint significant? Well, when I first discovered the issue of leather wastage I had hundreds of alarms and light bulbs going off in my brain at once. I had discovered a room full of remnant leather that had no home, no further purpose. It had sadly reached the end of its journey, with so much potential left. Something wasn’t adding up. The important thing to understand is remnant leather can be absolutely pristine, each piece over two square feet in size, and coming from the most coveted tanneries in the world. Contrary to the belief that remnants are tiny scraps not worth your time, all of the remnants we have sourced have been big, beautiful and easy to work with. Just look at the photo below.
The fact is the fashion industry discards about 4 billion square meters of leather every year, 3 times the area of Los Angeles!
Immediately after I discovered that room full of remnant leather, I set out to create a marketplace for remnant materials, hoping Far From Lost could make a dent in the issue. I’m proud of the fact that we are able to source beautiful leathers, as remnants. Now I want to inspire others to source the way we do - cheaper, and more sustainably. There is an ocean of remnant materials out there, and it’s time Far From Lost does everything we can to create a marketplace for these remnant materials.
So what is in the Blueprint? I have traveled the world searching for unique, pristine leathers to use for our small leather goods. I’ve found premium remnants in my home town and afar, and this Blueprint is all of our stories and experience put into a digestible playbook of sorts. The playbook is built specifically for leather workers of all types - experienced craftsmen hand-making beautiful products, hobbyists who are getting into leather making, and small brands who make leather goods. We can all source pristine remnant leather. The leather you work with can have a greater provenance, be bought for less, and alleviate our wastage problem.
Take a read through, and I’m looking forward to chatting with you on The Sourcing Hub Facebook Group.
The Sourcing Blueprint
1. First things first, let's understand what you're making.
Ask yourself what leather characteristics are important to you as a maker, both in terms of aesthetic and durability - each will influence the finished product.
- What products do you make?
- Wallets, belts, purses, bags, small accessories, etc...
- What are desired characteristics in the leather you wish to work with?
- For example, type of hide
- Cow: most commonly used, easy to work with
- Buffalo: interesting texture, more durable and rugged than cow leather
- Sheep or lamb: very supple and soft, but harder to work with, as it is more delicate than cow leather
- Exotics: Crocodile, alligator, lizard, shagreen, and others are very durable, have an interesting texture and aesthetic. Very desirable by some, and avoided by others. Most expensive hide.
- If you are new to leather read up on the different hide types. Here are a couple places to start: Wild Tussah’s Blog and Octane’s Guide.
- Different tanning processes are also important to understand as they have different effects on leather.
- Vegetable and Chrome tanning are the two most common types of tanning, especially for luxury leather goods.
- Vegetable tanned leather can be stiffer, while chrome tanned leather can be more pliable.
- Vegetable tanned leather is viewed as a more sustainable option as fewer chemicals are used in the tanning process.
- Leather grains are another aspect to consider.
- Full-grain: The highest grade leather you can buy. A full-grain leather will absorb oils and patina over time.
- Top-grain: The second highest grade leather. The uppermost part of the grain has been split off, mostly due to any imperfections in the hide.
- This illustrates the grains quite well:
Image credit: https://www.octaneseating.com/leather-buying-guide
2. Make a sample.
Now that you have an idea of what kind of leather you want to work with, test it out.
- Make at least one sample product before you commit to purchasing leather.
- Consider making several items with different types of leather. As a maker, you will have your own opinions, and there’s no better way to learn your preferences than a little practice!
- I would recommend seeing and feeling the finished product in it’s intended leather.
- How much leather will you need?
- Depends on how many units you want to make
- Also depends on the pattern pieces of your product
- Adding up the total area of the pattern pieces gives you the leather yield per product
3. Time to search.
Now that you’ve narrowed your focus, let's see where you can find a source of premium remnant leather.
The next step is finding a place that makes leather goods and contacting them to acquire their remnants. Leather manufacturers exist in all sizes and are more common than you might think. It is possible that there are several relatively close to your location.
- Do your research. Online search terms include: leather goods manufacturers, makers, studios, leather craftsmen, and local brands making leather goods.
- I use Google Maps - it’s nice to keep it within a certain proximity to your location.
- Look in networks such as Maker’s Row - they have many manufacturers listed that have available remnants.
- Once you find a potential source, understand what they are making.
- Are they specialized?
- Do they make one single item, or do they make a variety of items?
- What do they make?
- Knowing what they make gives insight into what types and sizes of remnants they may have.
- For example: If they are making larger items that require bigger pieces of leather, they will have larger remnants. And vice versa, if they are making small items that require smaller pieces, they will be able to use more of the hide and therefore their remnants will be smaller in size.
FFL pro tip: look for belt manufacturers or makers. If a manufacturer only makes belts, then any piece of leather shorter than 30 inches (usually the shortest belt length) is of no use to them.
Here are a couple photos of remnants coming out of a belt manufacturer:
- I know this sounds cliche, but networking really does work
- Almost all of my leather remnant sources came from a referral.
- For example: I was getting fitted for a suit by a company called JHilburn. Carol, my fitter, was trying to sell me one of their belts. I started asking questions to get a sense of the quality. She told me more about the family-owned factory in Texas that makes all the belts. Carol sent me the factory owner’s email and I began the conversation.
- An example of the first email is below!
4. Start up a conversation with your potential source.
It’s time to get some premium leather remnants!
- A conversation can be done via email, phone, or social media (FB or IG).
- Try to get an understanding of what medium they typically use.
- For example: if they have an active Instagram presence, you could assume that’s a good way to reach them.
- Introduce yourself - tell them who you are and what you make.
- Be clear about what you want - don’t waste their time or indulge in vague conversation.
- The less work they need to do, the better.
- Understand that giving away or selling remnant leather may not be a normal part of their business model.
- Offer to come visit their facility.
- It’s important to see and feel the leather before purchasing.
- If they are busy or cannot accommodate a visit, ask if they can put together a box of an assortment of remnants.
- This is what Horween did for me initially.
- You can then see what types of remnants they can offer.
I've included a few email examples of our conversations with remnant leather sources at the bottom of this Blueprint.
If you have any questions at all in regards to The Sourcing Blueprint specifically or sourcing remnant leather in general, please post a question or message me directly via the The Sourcing Hub.
Founder Far From Lost