The leather symbol on shoes denotes quality, right? Maybe not

You may want to think twice before shelling out for 100 per cent leather boots this winter.

Poor quality leather - mixed with wood chip, resin, adhesive and even cardboard - is flooding into New Zealand and lax regulations mean it can be labelled "100 per cent genuine leather".

Worse still, manufacturers have become so deft at replicating leather it has become nearly impossible for untrained eyes to detect it - until the material begins to diminish.

Advertisement

Karl Thornley, from Auckland repairer Alex the Cobbler, says the material is now common in trusted shoe shops - he has seen $400 boots made of it.

"It's basically compressed cardboard with a very thin sheet of leather glued over the top. It's like a veneer. It's filth, really," he says.

Traditionally, leather was made from the full thickness of the animal skin Now manufacturers split the skin into thin layers to make it go further. Split leather can scuff, crack and peel - and is difficult to repair.

Last year, the Herald on Sunday revealed reputable furniture stores were selling "100 per cent leather" furniture made from the same material.

A large number of readers who had paid thousands for lounge suites complained that they had become worn and torn after just a year.

Michael Rowse, a cobbler from Howick Heel and Sole Bar, says he wants regulations tightened to protect consumers. He believes a product should not be labelled "100 per cent leather" or "genuine leather" unless it is made from the top-grain of the skin.

"People are having the wool pulled over their eyes. A lot of brands have cheapened their manufacturing in the past few years. It's changed the quality, but the price hasn't changed," he says. "They see the leather symbol and assume they are buying a premium product. I don't think it's fair. People aren't aware."

Textures are printed on and scent added to fool consumers further, he says.

Advertisement

He says it is difficult to detect split leather and recommends asking the shop manager specific questions about what leather is used or taking the shoes to a cobbler for a second opinion.

Commerce Commission spokeswoman Allanah Kalafatelis says there is no legal definition of leather but a company cannot make claims that mislead people.

"Anybody who feels they have been misled in relation to such a claim should make a complaint to us so that we can make that assessment," she says.

Meanwhile, the price of shoes made from top-quality leather is coming down.

Brooke Monks, who imports footwear from Italy and Spain for fashion retailer David Elman, says the retail prices are around 10 per cent lower this winter because our dollar is strong against the euro.

Retailer warned over label

The Commerce Commission has formally warned a retailer for misleading people with its "full-grain leather" labels.

In its recent sale on children's school shoes, Number One Shoe Warehouse advertised two styles as being "full-grain leather". One was vinyl, the other was a lesser-quality leather.

It was the second time Number One Shoe Warehouse had been investigated by the commission for misleading claims.

The legal definition of "leather" is ambiguous, but the commission deemed it was misleading to call a product "full-grain leather" unless it was made from the full thickness of an animal skin. Some brands use "full-grain leather" to assure customers the product is not made from split leather.

Number One Shoe Warehouse's commercial general manager said a mistake had been made in the terminology used. The company mainly sold synthetic shoes, he added.

Customers who bought the "Ally School" shoe or "Titan" sandal can get a refund in-store.