During a recent restoration of a pair of 50’s chrome chairs, my client decided to have them re-upholstered in recycled leather.

2 chairs re-upholstered in recycled leather

A pair of restored mid-century chrome chairs upholstered in recycled leather

As we pondered her fabric choice, we agreed that the look and feel of it is much like leather, but we both wondered “How is this stuff made?” She suggested that maybe it’s something like particle board or felt – a compressed composite of reclaimed pieces. I did a little research and found out this was a pretty accurate guess.

4 overlapping fabric samples

embrace™ is one brand of recycled leather

Two different brands used similar wording to describe their product, so I assume all brands may use a similar process. Here’s one description:

The recycled leather used in embrace™ goes through multiple, non-polluting cleaning process. First, the discarded leather is collected from the manufacture of apparel, shoes, handbags, furniture, etc., and is put through a series of scouring processes to achieve a consistently even texture. It is also cleaned to allow a uniform, natural color for the finished product. After the recycled leather is applied to the fabric, it is washed again to soften the hand. The end result is an environmentally safe and “clean” product which gives the feel, weight, and durability of leather, but does so without polluting the environment.

The end product becomes the “perfect” fabric because it is strong, cleanable, beautiful, and has all the best characteristics of leather without the negative environmental impact of producing leather. Additionally, embrace™ provides significant cost savings when compared to upholstering furniture with leather hides.

Offering the look, feel, and volume of traditional leather – but without the price – embrace™ represents a new category of furniture fabric. In aesthetic terms, this recycled leather fabric offers consumers similar colors, depth, luster, dimensional grain, and hand-rubbed layered tones as traditional leathers. The unique composite construction process delivers outstanding hand and touch along with care-free, high-performance reliability – year after year.

embrace™ uses excess leather headed to already overcrowded landfills and recycles it into a stylish and timeless product

I like that it is PVC free, with the same polyurethane ‘face’ (surface) composition as the eco-friendly vinyls. The cleaning guide recommends soap & water and says DO NOT USE ALCOHOL BASED CLEANING AGENTS (which would no-doubt melt the surface material)

First introduced in 2007, the early bonded leather products apparently left much to be desired, but improvements in the process and finishing have resulted in a better product, and brought it wider acceptance in the furniture industry.

2016 postscript: Keep in mind that the above quote is industry-written. See comments below for an upholsterer’s point of view. The thin surface may not hold up well to pet claws and sharp objects.

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