Warning: Bonded Leather

By: Helene Rightor

If only there was a warning sign. Beware: this is bonded leather. This would be the truth, the deterrent, the red flag... Not Real Leather!  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to distinguish what is known in the industry as bonded leather; scraps of left over bits of the middle and lower level pieces of a real hide that is then glued, yes “glued”, together and slapped on some vinyl. Well, that’s one horrifying way to make it anyway.  I’ve even heard of a spray-on type out there, yuck!  So what does all this mean anyway, and how can you tell the difference?

Spreading his knowledge to the masses, Greg, now one of my top sales consultants, shared his story with me to hopefully prevent anyone else from having to learn the hard way, as he once did. Here is a story of a coworker who lived through the tragedy of accidentally buying bonded leather, the repercussions, and the lesson to be learned.

“In a former life, before I got started in the furniture/ design industry, I made a mistake that now I know is not all that uncommon of a mistake in the industry.  The worst-case scenario of… bonded leather : 0

Being recently divorced and in a new place, I found myself needing furniture.  Not knowing any better, my first stop was to a large national retailer who had plenty of variety in choices, and plenty of deals.  I found a set that met my needs; a sofa and matching loveseat to fit my new space.  At the time, I was not familiar with the term “bonded leather,” but I did make sure and ask the salesperson if it was “real.”  She was apparently unaware also, because she assured me it was real, and I purchased the set which I would later find out was bonded.

On top of the fact that it was not real leather, I had financed the pieces, interest free for a year.  11 months in, I discovered that the leather was fake when it started peeling off.  Peeling!  And I was still paying for furniture that was breaking down.  That hurt!”

Greg is not alone in his frustration.  Too many victims get duped like this every day.  So, my first bit of advice, is go to a reputable dealer.  Your consultant / salesperson should know and be able to tell you the difference in bonded and real leather.  If they can’t, Run! This is the first warning sign: lack of knowledge or awareness from your salesperson.

Next Warning sign? The price tag.  Look at the price… compare the tags of other, non-leather pieces in the room.  Say it’s a leather recliner that interests you. Is it similar to the price of a fabric recliners from the same store?  If it is, guess what? The probability is that it is not real leather.  The old adage stands, if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Leather is more expensive than fabric- bottom line.  I realize that this is a sad reality to swallow- there is no such thing as cheap leather.  But know that leather has so many advantages that justify the cost; ease of cleaning, durability, breathability, style.

Bonded leather, however, has none of these qualities (except maybe style, assuming this cheap imitation material is being put on an attractive frame).

But the main problem with bonded leather, just as poor Greg learned the hard way, is the peeling.  This is the final warning sign. Peeling is not fixable and it does not happen to genuine leather! This is usually how unknowing victims discover they have purchased bonded leather.  Unfortunately, because it obviously wasn’t peeling in the store, it goes undetected until it’s too late.  So make sure your salesperson knows the difference between bonded and real leather, and is upfront with you.

And on a side note: You would not believe how many people come across bonded leather furniture being sold online.  Usually there is no indication that this is not real leather except a “B” somewhere in the description or inconspicuously by the price page. The only indication that this is not real, is the price compared to other choices that don’t have a “B” in front of it.  The most important way to protect yourself from this deception is to be aware, and ask questions!

Here’s your warning ; )