The truth about the new "horrible hybrids" - Bonded and Bicast leather.
The U.S. furniture market has been flooded since about 2005 with relatively low-cost leather hybrid products: thick plastic imitation leather w/ weak leather glued to the back. It typically fails in a few months to a few years of normal use.
A. Plastic layer bubbling, cracking, flaking and peeling (delaminating) and/or
B. Splitting open, esp. along seams and in the middle of cushions.
Problems start on the parts used (flexed) most and enlarge quickly w/ continued use. Small problems are often visible in less than a year, and become significant within 1 to 5 years. The more it is used, the faster problems appear and progress.
That points to a shoddy material that fails after proper use because it is poorly designed. When it peels and splits, that’s the normal performance of a bad product and not a fluke or a flaw. It’s like a $2 umbrella that breaks apart in the 1st windy storm. But customers believe they bought a much more durable product, even if it was a bargain and not as lovely or soft as more expensive leather furniture.
Many customers are sold an extended warranty. Many warranties specifically exclude peeling. Whatever the problem, the seller typically blames the customer (or their kids, dog, cleaning person) for abusing the furniture or putting something harmful on it, so they deny warranty coverage and will not replace the furniture or refund the cost. Most customers believe they are at fault, even if they suspect unfairness.
To the average furniture buyer, the term “leather” means animal hide with a rich look, supple feel, high strength and durability. Most believe “leather,” by definition, must be a high quality material. Yet in the US, it is legal to advertise these weak hybrid materials as: leather, real, natural, or genuine leather, 100% aniline-dyed leather, aniline-dyed leather with a polyurethane coating – as well as the trade names: bonded leather, bicast leather, blended leather, ecoleather, duroleather, and more.
As Furniture Today magazine said in 2005: [Calling these products bonded leather] "is deceptive because it does not represent its true nature. It's a vinyl, or a polyurethane laminate or a composite, but it's not leather. If you tar and feather someone, does that make them a chicken?"
How to be sure you are buying REAL leather (top grain or full grain).
The leather tanning industry’s terms for strong, supple upholstery leathers are “top grain” or “full grain” leather. Look for these terms in ads and on tags, or ask seller to put it in writing. It is possible for a pro to be deceived by looks, smell, or feel. Purchase price is typically 2x fabric or imitations, however it’s so durable, that the cost/yr of use is significantly less, making it a much better value.
How to pursue compensation from the seller / manufacturer, no matter how old your furniture is, and even if warranty does not cover, is expired, or a claim was denied.
To pursue a complaint, you will need: The original sales receipt OR a credit card statement showing $ amount paid and store name.
If you have one of these, please send a photo of the whole item and closeups of the problems, plus your phone #, to email@example.com. I will send you a letter of evaluation to support your complaint to the seller or manufacturer. I will also provide information explaining what this material really is, and a guide to be sure you get real leather when you buy furniture.
If it turns out you actually have real leather, I can also give you an estimate re: possible repair / recoloring (including DIY recoloring kits). Please send a photo of the whole item and closeups of the problems, plus your phone #, to firstname.lastname@example.org
How to complain to local investigative consumer reporters if seller is uncooperative.
If you are denied compensation, or find the offer is too low, contact a consumer investigative reporter at your local newspaper, radio or TV station. I am happy to speak with any reporter to clarify the issues. I do this because more complaints and publicity are needed to pressure stores, manufacturers and government to stop allowing shoddy materials to be called leather.
How to influence regulation of leather upholstery labeling: share your story with Federal Trade Commission and Leather Industry lobby organization.
1. Send the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) an account of your personal experience to show harm: wasted money and furniture, wasted time and energy spent addressing the problem, inability to afford a replacement in actual leather, or to replace at all, etc. Request change specifically re: furniture in the FTC Guides for Select Leather and Imitation Leather Products
If the FTC receives enough personal accounts of consumer harm caused by confusing, misleading terms, and lack of needed info, then change has a chance.
Also send a copy to:
John Wittenborn, President (also attorney at Kelley Drye)
Leather Industries of America (LIA)