Fortunately, Bali has no shortage of options when it comes to buying leather fashion items, whether it is a luxury handbag, a biker jacket or any variety of skirts, tops or accessories. For those planning their next shopping trip to Bali, a bit of knowledge can make the difference in finding something that is authentic, of high-quality leather and made with quality craftsmanship. Therefore, read on to discover how you can find that exquisite leather item you have always been looking for.
The first step in shopping for leather in Bali is understanding how to differentiate between high-quality leathers and inferior ones. Bali’s ability to produce quality leather items, whether custom-made or more mass produced, is well known. However, something of real quality and something that is not, should also be reflected, perhaps most importantly, in the price you pay for it.
Bali is not a manufacturer of the leather itself. In fact, Indonesia, as a whole export, the vast majority of its domestically made premium leather. Therefore, Bali is the place where a rich eco-system of leather artisans, designers and retailers come together to produce truly unique fashion pieces. The quality and skills of local designers and craftsmen are unrivalled and are what has helped to raise it to the rising global hotspot.
As a consequence, many Bali-based brands have their own factories on the island. Bali-Based brand Lilla Lane, for example, is one such brand that produces collections of leather handbags, clutches and sandals which are made by hand and draw on the skills of the island’s leather workers. This includes unique stitching and folding techniques that require an artisan’s touch.
So while shopping, it is worthwhile to know the main types of leathers that are available. Perhaps the most common and well known is the cow or bovine leather. Its unique features are its durability and a tougher structure which allows it to be broken in naturally, which enhances its natural qualities. Ask for top grain leather, which is the highest quality type available. Suede, another common feature in Bali, can be made from any animal hide and has a softer appearance and a layer of fine hairs that will cover one sheet of the hide. The most common type of suede is not the bovine kind, but from lamb, goat or deer- hides which are generally thinner and suppler.
Goatskin has many of the same features of bovine leather, in being strong, durable and with a smooth, pebble-stone like texture. The difference, however, is that goatskin is slightly softer and lightweight, and perhaps even more durable than the other types of leather. It is therefore perfect for heavy wear items such as jackets, handbags, gloves or wallets. Sheep or lambskin also share many of the same qualities as goat hides but is not as durable and does have the tendency to stretch over time. Snake is also a common leather used in Bali. It is very thin and used more for decorative purposes.
Lastly is faux leather, is primarily made from synthetic materials such as rayon or nylon with a coating of polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride. These come in a variety of qualities and therefore greatly impact the appearance and the wearability of the item. Always check that you will feel comfortable wearing a particular item made of faux leather in the hot tropical weather!
Next, learning how to spot the hide has been treated will help you understand the quality- and the price of the item. All animal hides undergo a tanning treatment, which is essentially the process of turning skin into leather. This is perhaps the most important step of the process of turning an animal hide into a genuine piece of leather as it impacts the final pliability, colour and durability. There are two tanning processes which you will find in the leather products available in Bali, the most common being Chrome tan, followed by Vegetable tanning.
Chrome tanning using a chemical called chromium sulphate, and other salts and dyes to break down the tough fibres in animal skins. It is a faster technique than vegetable tanning and the most common. Vegetable tanning uses organic materials ranging from a plant, vegetables and even bark to treat and dye the hides. It is a less aggressive form of tanning and can take from a day up to several weeks to complete. The end result with vegetable tanning is that the skin will maintain more of its natural qualities, as unlike chrome tanning, it does not affect the fibre structure as much. Some designers, like Bali-based Kmana Concept, for example, a maker of high-end luxury travel gear, rely exclusively on vegetable tanned skins. Supporters of this approach will say that while the process does not make the leather as supple as would chrome tanning, the natural wear and breaking in over-time enhances its natural features and the leather’s longevity.
How and where to shop for leather in Bali
A good place to start is in the boutiques of Seminyak, where you will be able to find hand-made, locally produced leather goods from Bali. Focus your shopping along the main shopping streets of Jalan Kayu Aya (also known as Oberoi Street). Alternatively, head over to Canggu, which has been attracting numerous high-end designers of late such as Milk and Roses, Lilla Lane and Lily Jean among others. Vintage Century and Johnny Ramli are other notable names you can scope out on your next shopping trip to Canggu. The main retail activity is focused around Jalan Batu Bolong which is where you will find most of the brands.
Now, what are the main things to look out for when selecting that unique leather fashion item? Here is our checklist:
- What type of leather is it? Cow, goat, sheep, faux leather?
- Is it the right type of leather for the item you are buying?
- What grade does it have?
- Have the skins been treated through chrome or vegetable tanning?
- What is the base material used if it is faux leather? Check if it is breathable for the tropical climate.
- Where was the leather imported from?
- Check the embroidery and stitching to ensure that is durable enough to maintain the shape and structure of the item.
Hopefully, by now you are armed with some more knowledge to make your next Bali shopping trip a success. Happy shopping!