Fake Leather

Reporter: Rodney Lohse

Leather is a $200 million a year industry in Australia. Whether its handbags, belts, wallets or shoes, we all like to think we're buying the real deal. But are we getting what we paid for?

Its nearly impossible to tell the difference and even leather and vinyl experts like Dean Reid, who makes his living repairing leather and vinyl, finds it difficult, :Its something that you have to know what you're looking for. The average family wouldn't be able to tell what would be a vinyl and what would be a leather in a lot cases", Dean said.

And that's exactly what unscrupulous manufacturers are counting on. Darryl Schwarz couldn't refuse the opportunity to purchase two Armani leather jackets worth $3,000 for just $300. They looked genuine, they even smelt genuine.

They weren't altogether legit, but they weren't Armani and they weren't even leather. Perhaps Darrel should have known better to buy leather jackets out of the boot of a car, but he's far from alone. In fact most of us are being duped into buying vinyl -- or other shoddy versions. "A good example is bicast leather -- that's leather that has been reconstituted, much like particle board fabricated, and pieces of leather put together with glues, made into a sheet, then its layered and laminated with a plastic film over the top and that hides very poor quality leather and makes it look good", Dean said.

Top grain leather is what you want your couch and clothes to be made from, "You can't rip, you can't tear it. It's very, very strong and will last for that 20/30 years", Dean said.

And then there's the rest, which diminish in quality starting with bicast leather which looks all shiny and new. Don't think your leather couch isn't part vinyl many are. "Some leather couches are leather, but only in some places -- on the top cushions its leather but on the back and sides it's all vinyl. The problem with that is its not as durable and you get bumps and scratches and it deteriorates a lot faster", Dean said.

And there's another trick. Some manufacturers put the good stuff on the front and the cheap reconstituted leather on the back. Its not just couches. Tests we've conducted have found bags, wallets and belts all to contain plastic and vinyl, disguised as leather. And then of course you've got pig skin, sheep skin and kangaroo skin, none of them require labelling to tell you exactly what they are.

Until there is national standard, these are Dean's tips:

  • § Buy from a reputable store and ask exactly what each part of the furniture is made of.
  • § Feel the couch. Generally if its made from two different materials you can tell.
  • § Look at the grain. The more consistent and perfect the grain is, the more likely its not genuine top grain leather.

Dean believes you need to spend $6,000 and up to be sure you're getting the real thing.