Italian leather is famous around the world, as are a multitude of products made from it, ranging from shoes to car upholstery. Given the diversity of leather products available on the market, and the very high cost of Italian leather, some people are led to wonder what makes it unique, and whether or not it is worth the added cost. The primary distinction of Italian leather is its quality. Leather producers in Italy consistently produce very high quality products, in contrast with sometimes spotty production in other regions of the world.
Leather is made by subjecting the hide of an animal to a lengthy treatment process. People have been working with leather for thousands of years, and Italy has been famous for leather production for centuries. Florence is particularly famous for its leather, and in Milan, Italy's capital of fashion, Italian leather is used almost exclusively by high fashion houses. Italian brands tend to dominate the fashion world, so Italian leather has come to be closely associated with quality, fashion, and good taste.
Producers in Italy use a variety of labor sources, with much of the process of leather production being done by hand. Hides are carefully inspected before treatment, with only the best hides being accepted, and quality checks are carried out at every stage of the way. Many producers specialize in full grain leather — leather from the top of the hide, which is famous for its suppleness and quality. Italian producers tend to use high quality dyes and chemicals in their products, producing consistent, durable, long-lasting leather products.
Italian leather does not just dominate the fashion community. It also a standard in luxury cars, many of which are made in Italy or by Italian companies, and for home furnishings. Thanks to the associations with chic culture, some people are willing to pay a premium for products made with Italian leather, perpetuating the market and promoting the maintenance of high standards at facilities which process it.
There has been some controversy over leather production techniques used in Italy. Some critics have suggested that producers may contract much of the work out to overseas companies, finishing the leather in Italy so that it can be stamped "made in Italy," which can detract from the overall quality. In Italy itself, several producers have been accused of using illegal labor, and of maintaining unsafe working conditions to cut costs. This is a perennial problem in nations with tough labor laws, as producers want to save money where they can while capitalizing on the appeal of products which originate from particular countries and regions.