I was just on The Design Files, where I found this great post on Melbourne-based leather merchants, Leffler. So I headed over to the Leffler website and stumbled upon a shocking (am I being dramatic?) article I just had to share with you. Eye opening stuff for anyone who's ever bought a leather lounge...
"A Today Tonight investigation has discovered an increasing number of cheap seconds are being sold as genuine leather. Although looks can be deceiving, there are different grades of leather. It can determine whether the product you buy lasts a lifetime, or just a few years.
Technology now allows up to four layers of leather to be taken from a single hide of an animal. 'Bycast' is the leftovers after the final layer has been removed. Paul Guyett is the CEO of Leffler, an (Australian) supplier and distributor of leather. He describes bycast as "the flesh of the animal without the skin and a piece of polyurethane laminated over the top of it".
"It has increased over the last few years," Guyett said. "It is engineered to look quite fashionable so it can look quite nice and it’s very difficult for a consumer to tell the difference. The motivation would be profit."
"We don't deal in bycast but I have a piece of leather here that has a film on top of it which is very similar to a bycast and you can see that is quite loose." Up until 18 months ago almost all major retailers in Australia sold by-cast leather.
Sydneysider Rima Leas and her husband thought they were getting a good $4000 deal at a Nick Scali store five years ago. "His exact words; this is natural Italian leather and we thought beauty," Rima said. "We bought this thinking its going to be in our family for many years to come - within two to three years it totally fell apart."
Nick Scali initially told them their warranty was no longer valid because they had moved home, before offering a discount on another purchase. "Fair trading told us to mediate, sort it out for ourselves. We're getting the lounge and going straight to his tip," Rima said.
Just 6 months ago, Lucy and Gordon Brenkovich spent their savings on a new lounge, spotted on the floor of a Melbourne Nick Scali store. "Really good quality leather - nice hard wood frame - we were really impressed and he said it was $6000. The sales person said we can do you a deal so then $4500," Lucy said. But what was delivered six weeks later was not the lounge that had been ordered. "Absolute cheap and nasty - I don't know how they could call the two things leather." Lucy said. "It took two, three phone calls at least to the state manager to say, 'Yes, we'll come pick it up and yes you can have your money back."
The UK, New Zealand and many countries throughout Europe have banned retailers from describing bycast as leather. The problem here is the industry is self regulated, meaning there's no legislation protecting you from being sold a cheap second rate product at a genuine leather price.
Paul Simmons is a leather tester from Furntech: "It fails to satisfy the international council of tanneries definition for what is in fact genuine leather because it is essentially more polyurethane plastic than leather proper. It's not just consumers that are confused, some people within the industry have trouble spotting real leather from imitation."
Nick Scali no longer sell bycast leather and are trying to make amends by offering credit to customers. If the product is less than three years old they're offering 100 per cent, otherwise a it's 75 per cent discount on any new purchases.
Freedom still sell bycast, Ikea call it 'split leather', Oz Design call it 'corrected grain' and Fantastic Furniture have a similar product known as 'bonded leather'.
Geoff Brown, Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria, says significant penalties apply for misleading advertising.
"We do get a lot of calls about refund rights and misrepresented products. $60,000 for an individual and double that for a business," Brown said. He says consumers should do their own research, and keep all documentation.
"You need the receipts and any detailed invoices, if there's no success with the trader. 80 per cent of matters we do successfully negotiate," Brown said"