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What is Nappa leather?

May 31, 2020

There are a lot of controversies about what exactly Napa leather is – some people think it is leather made by a brand called Napa; others think it’s an expression of quality, but the truth is much simpler. Napa leather is refined leather known for its characteristic softness. It’s so popular that it has become a sort of a generic word.

However, this still does not answer the question of what Napa leather is, so let’s take a step back to where the idea of refining leather, which would later become Napa leather, first came to be.


 The most accurate description of the reason why Napa leather is called as such is that it originates from Napa in California, USA.

It’s important to note that Napa leather is not a finished product – it’s a type of material that is integrated into various products alongside other components, which means that its production is no longer tied to the Napa County exclusively.

 In that respect, a refined leather product can still bear ‘Nappa’ in its title even if it wasn’t refined in the city of Napa.

This type of leather was first refined by the STC (Sawyer-Tanning-Company) by a tanner of German origin called Emanuel Manasse.

How to differentiate Nappa leather from other leather types?

There are so many obstacles to determining the authenticity of Nappa leather that most laymen would simply give up. In a nutshell, the sheer term ‘Nappa leather’ was never patented, it’s no longer tied to the city itself, and it gained in popularity to that extent that many people use it to spit-shine the product they want to sell.

First and foremost, Nappa leather was never officially tested for its characterization due to several reasons.

Firstly, they’ve patented the refining process, but they never patented ‘Nappa leather’ as ‘Nappa leather’; that means that pretty much anybody could use the term for as long as it isn’t associated with the company itself.

Secondly, Sawyer Tanning Company has been operational for nearly a century, which means that they’ve withstood various changes in leadership, working staff, and obviously technologies. The quality and the main characteristics of the ‘original’ Napa leather changed and evolved throughout the years.

After the company closed down, others have tried to replicate the process in hopes of achieving the same quality.

Thirdly, due to the fact that the ‘original’ morphed without being backed by adequate patents and licenses, various other companies and smaller brands took it up to themselves to try making it.

Fourthly, retailers and numerous salesmen also recognized the hype and have used the term to advertise their products; since no official ‘tests’ ever took place, no one could dispute (or approve) the fact that such products actually featured Nappa leather or not.

That being said, it’s pretty hard to tell Napa leather from top-tier boutique leather materials. However, even though you can’t be certain whether you’re looking at the real deal or not, there are still ways to differentiate Nappa leather from refined leather products of similar quality.

Characteristics of Nappa Leather

It’s a little-known fact that Nappa leather was primarily dominant in the US market. Only a quarter of Napa Leather products were shipped overseas, and it’s safe to say that only a small portion of it was able to grab the attention of other tanners and leather manufacturers in Europe, the Orient, and Africa.

Even though a century of development and evolution had an impact on what Nappa leather is today, the best way to recognize it is by the following qualities:

What is Nappa leather?

  1. Softness

Nappa leather is one of the softest and lightest leather types available. Its sleek texture is the result of not only the refining process but also the particularity of ingredients. Namely, Napa leather is obtained from lambs mainly, but it’s not uncommon for brands to use similar ‘ingredients’.

It’s often sanded and grained multiple times so that it can feel as smooth as possible. This is also the reason why most top-tier and boutique car manufacturers favor using Nappa leather over similar products.

What is Nappa leather?

  1. Look and feel

Nappa leather is typically natural or slightly pigmented, and it’s almost never colored with artificial dyes. The reason for this is very simple and obvious; Nappa leather is aniline leather type, which means that it’s open-pored. This further means that it’s incredibly breathable; furthermore, this also means that Nappa leather, if colored, wouldn’t feel the same and it wouldn’t be as durable.

Apart from the fact that only a handful of brands and tanners actually color Nappa leather, you can easily recognize it by its plush-like feel. It’s astonishingly smooth, especially if the brand decided to repeat the sanding process multiple times over with high-quality tools and technologies.

  1. Simple maintenance

Nappa leather is easy to advertise as it doesn’t get dirty as much as other leather products. It will repel nearly all but the toughest, most persistent stains, and even if it does get dirty, it’s incredibly easy to clean it.

On the flip side, Nappa leather isn’t as durable. Simply put, it’s made of thin leathers obtained from lambs or calves, which means that it can’t endure the roughness of industrial cleaning. Again, this is very easy to notice, especially if you want to buy a Nappa leather product and are watching a commercial/ad – if the advertiser ‘avoids’ touching it, you are free to doubt its authenticity.

  1. Price tag

Genuine and authentic Nappa leather typically costs thousands of dollars. Essentially, there are no ‘cheap’ versions of Nappa leather, and rightly so; the process of refining this particular brand of leather is extremely delicate, and the end result is unlike anything that the market has to offer.

Most people are relatively unsure whether Nappa leather is worth investing in. Again, rightly so; it’s not a patented, licensed product, and it’s very difficult to affirm whether it’s real or not. However, if you do happen to find yourself in the position of buying it (or for example a phone case with Nappa leather), it’s well worth the buck.

What is Nappa leather?