A Leather Glossary: Decoding "Full-Grain," "Kodiak," "Pull-Up," etc.

New to KMM & Co.? Then we've got to apologize for something: Your head is probably spinning right now thanks to all the new terms you're reading. Is Kodiak a color or a kind of leather? Are Bison leathers really buffalo hide? What does "pull-up" mean? And what's the deal with custom orders? 

That's why we've put together this handy glossary. Think of this glossary as your secret weapon for decoding all of the terms you're not (yet!) familiar with as you search for the bag of your dreams. 

Belting-weight leather: Think of a classic leather belt and you already have a good picture in your mind of what "belting-weight" or "heavyweight" leather looks like. It's thick and sturdy, and is made to stand up to years of heavy use. That's why KMM & Co. leather totes all have belting-weight straps. The handle leather is thicker than the leather that makes up the body of the bag to make sure that you can carry all of your essentials – tablet, books, water bottle, lunch, you name it – everyday without ever worrying about the handles stretching or wearing out.

Bison leather: Bison leathers are made of the hide of an American Bison. These hides aren't stretched, so bison leather is typically thicker and more robust than leather made of cowhide. (All KMM & Co. leathers other than Bison leathers are made of cowhide.) Bison leathers also often have a pronounced grain and a rustic appearance, perfect for a bag you'll enjoy for years to come.

Branded: A branded tote (or mini tote or market tote) is one that's made of a piece of leather with a unique brand on it. The brand was applied to the hide during the lifetime of the cow, typically by the ranch where the cow was raised. Brands can be a letter, a number, or a symbol – just about anything goes. We make bags out branded pieces of leather in an effort to use every single piece of leather that comes into our studio – and branded bags are 100% unique!

Custom orders: Here at KMM & Co., we love custom orders! Unlike many other brands (especially those who have outsourced their manufacturing overseas), we make every single one of our products to order. So naturally, we offer some custom options. First of all, you can select the handle length and choose add-ons – a snap closure or crossbody strap – when you add a tote to your cart. You can use our Secret Menu to change the color of your bag's straps. And if you see a color or leather you like and want it in a silhouette for which it isn't listed, you can email us at hello@kmmco.com to place a custom order.

Drop length: The drop length refers to the length of the handles on a tote bag. It's a simple way of quantifying how much space you have between the top of the bag and the top of the handles. For that reason, we measure drop length from the top of the handles to the top of the bag, with the ruler held perpendicular to the top edge of the bag and the handles unstretched. We offer a range of drop lengths for our leather totes, market totes, and carryalls so that everybody can find a comfortable fit. 

Full-grain leather: If you're going to remember only one term from this glossary, this is the most important one! Full-grain leather is leather that retains the entire thickness of the top layer of the hide, without any sanding or buffing. That way, it retains its natural character *and* its natural strength. Full-grain leather grows more beautiful with age and use. So it's the only kind of leather that we use at KMM & Co. Because it isn't sanded or "corrected," full-grain leather has natural markings and variations that you can see when you look at the leather. When you're shopping for a leather bag, you should always look for these natural variations to figure out if you're looking at full-grain leather. (We're always suspicious of anything that looks too uniform, too flat, or too fake!)

Grain: A leather's "grain" is the outermost layer of the hide (which full-grain leather retains, because none of it is sanded off or buffed away). The grain might look smooth, or it might looked pebbled, or it might be somewhere in between. It all depends on both the natural characteristics of the hide and the way that the leather is processed at the tannery. 

Heirloom quality: Heirloom quality is the lodestar that guides all of our decisions when we're designing bags, selecting leathers, or fine-tuning our craftsmanship. While other brands focus on making bags that look good for a season or for a year, our goals are bigger. Our goal is to make bags and accessories that will last a lifetime and beyond – items that you can pass on to the next generation. 

Kodiak leather: Kodiak is one of KMM & Co.'s signature "tannages" or collections of leather. Kodiak leather is full-grain leather made of cowhides. It's soft to the touch, with a pebbled grain and a slouchy temper. That makes it perfect for the kind of leather tote that will be comfortable to carry everyday, one of the reasons that Kodiak bags are a perennial bestseller.

Lacing: A piece of leather lacing is simply a thin piece of leather, like you might use for leather shoelaces. We offer leather lacing as one of the options for attaching your leather tag to your bag. Lacing is cut out of the same full-grain leathers that we use for our bags and accessories, and it's best secured with a simple square knot.

Limited-edition: Some of the leathers that we order are leathers that we're planning to keep around as long as the tannery can make them. (See "Permanent Collection" for more details there!) Others are limited-edition leathers: colors that we plan to have only for a limited time, whether a season or a holiday. Limited-edition leathers are available in limited quantities. So if you see a limited-edition color you love, be sure to get your order in quickly before the color sells out.

Monogramming: Here in the South, we all love monogramming! So a wide range of KMM & Co. accessories can be hand-stamped just for you. We don't monogram totes or bags themselves, but our full-sized totes come with a coordinating leather tag that can be stamped with your name, initials, or a short phrase (up to 16 characters). Other items – like our notebooks, wallets, clutches, and some key accessories – can be embossed with four characters. The stamps we use for monogramming are all the same size and style, so we recommend putting your initials in first-middle-last order.

Pebbled: A pebbled leather is one that has a visible grain that looks like pebbles across the surface of the leather. All of KMM & Co.'s pebbled leathers are pebbled because of the natural grain of the leather, so the grain varies across each hide of leather. But many other brands use lesser-quality leather that's embossed with a fake pebbling pattern – keep an eye out for anything that looks too unnatural or uniform to detect this artificial graining.

Permanent collection: KMM & Co.'s permanent collection is the collection of bags and accessories that we plan to make for, well, as long as we're making leather goods! The permanent collection consists of our most beloved and classic items, like the Tan Kodiak tote, the Brown Kodiak mini tote, the Black Kodiak crossbody bag – you get the picture.

Pull-up: Pull-up is the characteristic of some full-grain leathers that causes the leather to lighten in areas of wear and use. Pull-up, which some people refer to as "marbling," comes about because of the natural characteristics of full-grain leather and the way the leather is processed at the tannery. Leathers with a lot of pull-up – like Crazy Horse or Autumn Harvest – have a lot of contrast between the light areas of pull-up and the darker base color of the leather. Pull-up enables a piece of leather to develop a wear pattern that's unique to you and the way you carry your bag, which is one of the reasons it's a beloved characteristic of many KMM & Co. leathers. 

Range marks: Range marks are one of the most common natural markings on full-grain leather. A range mark is a result of things that happen both during the life of the cow and during the tanning process. They come about when the dyes and oils used during tanning sink into a scratch that already existed on the hide. They're a natural part of any full-grain leather, and they're one way that you can tell that you're buying the best-quality leather, with its natural grain intact.

Rivets: We designed our totes to last for decades, so one of the things we thought a lot about was how the handles should be attached. Many brands stitch their handles on with seams that will unravel under heavy use, or use lesser-quality hardware that will wear out over time. We use traditional copper rivets, which are impossible to break and are each hand-set the old-fashioned way. Speaking of which, watch out for brands that set their rivets backward, with the smooth side of the rivet on the inside of the bag. They're about 90% easier to set that way, but we don't believe in taking shortcuts! Clean lines and classic hardware are always the right way to go.

Scratch-and-dent: When we order leather from a tannery here in the U.S. or abroad, we go through each side of leather and designate it either a first – suitable for standard totes and accessories – or a second, which has markings and imperfections more extensive than what's a normal and natural part of any side of leather. We use these sides to make scratch-and-dent bags, which have markings like scratches, scars, grain irregularities, color variations, or extensive range marks. The only thing that doesn't go in this category would be a branded piece of leather – see "Branded" to learn more about this separate category.

Secret menu: Ever heard of the secret menu at Starbucks? (If not, you need to Google it! Go ahead – we'll wait.) The KMM & Co. secret menu takes the same idea, that people want to customize their drinks – errr, leather totes – to make them perfectly unique. The secret menu makes it easy to place a custom order for a bag with a different-than-standard handle color or for a clutch that isn't listed on our website. The secret menu doesn't have every possible customization we offer, like a carryall in a color that isn't available online in that collection, but it does cover the bases of the most common custom order requests.

Slouchy: This one is exactly what it sounds like! A slouchy tote is one that won't stand up on its own if you set it down empty. Throw in your essentials and you won't have any problems with it flopping over! But when the bag is empty, you'll be able to see just how supple and soft the leather really is.

Smooth-grained: A smooth-grained leather is one that doesn't have a prominent grain. It's the opposite of a "pebbled" leather. Some people prefer smooth-grained leathers, and others are all-in on pebbled leathers. Others try some of each – it's really a matter of personal preference, especially since every KMM & Co. leather is a robust and beautiful full-grain leather.

Stretch marks: Cows get stretch marks, just like people! Stretch marks are some of the most coveted markings on full-grain leather. They typically introduce some beautiful but subtle variation into the color, and you can see them striping their way across many full-grain leathers. Some people refer to them as "neck rolls," "fat rolls," or "striations." But whatever you call them, the consensus is that they're absolutely gorgeous, and a sign of heirloom-quality full-grain leather.

Structured: A structured bag is one that's the opposite of a slouchy tote. A structured tote holds its shape when you set it down, even if it's completely empty. Some people prefer a bag that's softer and slouchier, and others prefer a bag that's more structured. Luckily, the range of leathers that we keep in stock gives everybody plenty of options to choose among.

Vegetable tanned: A vegetable tanned leather is one that's tanned using natural tannins, without added dyes. If you want a bag that will acquire a deep and unique patina, a vegetable-tanned leather is the perfect blank canvas. Vegetable tanning takes a lot longer than most other tanning processes, which explains why vegetable-tanned leather is relatively rare. But it's the perfect choice for a beautiful and durable leather that will last a lifetime and beyond with proper care.

Did we miss something? Is there another leather term that has you scratching your head? Drop us a line at hello@kmmco.com! We're always happy to answer questions, help you find the perfect leather, or just talk shop.

February 09, 2022 — Jess Bolluyt