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Have you ever wondered what makes luxury footwear truly premium?
Like when you’re shopping in real life or online, and see a gorgeous pair of shoes or boots that you just have to touch or on impulse click zoom to get a closer look. Or when you try them on and they give just enough, yet hold their great shape. And what about that one pair you’ve had for years, that’s still worth what you paid, and even better for the wear.
Each of these experiences points to the allure and value of premium leather, which is where the art of crafting luxe shoes and boots begins. For Two24, that means sourcing the finest leathers from tanneries across the U.S. and around the world – and there are a few we love best.
Full grain leather is the highest quality grade of leather out there. It’s the top layer of the hide that has not been sanded or buffed so it retains all of the beautiful, natural grain. Two24 sources many of its premium full-grain leathers from our friends at Adelaide Leather in Bassano del Grappa, Italy. Northwest of Venice, at the base of the Italian Alps, Bassano del Grappa is famous for its long, rich history in leather craftsmanship.
Such high-quality leather is challenging to use, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. It gives any style of shoe or boot a richer look and feel. See the difference full grain leather makes in the Two24 women’s Wilder (pictured above) and Jane Western booties (pictured below).
For more than a century, Charles F. Stead in Leeds, England, has been deeply passionate about producing superior-quality natural suede leathers. What distinguishes a Stead suede from other suede? The difference is in the raw materials, time and effort put into developing the finished product. Stead uses only the best raw materials to craft suede in the tried-and-true traditional way. Cutting corners is not an option, and Stead always prioritizes quality over quantity. The finished product is premium because starting with a premium product ensures a rich look and feel that will wear consistently throughout the life of the footwear.
Rich, deep color and a tight velvet-like nap are signature characteristics of a Stead suede, as seen here in the men’s Webster low-cut, lace-up boot.
Nubuck and suede may look alike but they are fundamentally different. Nubuck is cowhide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the hide’s topside, resulting in a smooth, velvety texture similar to suede. By comparison, suede is actually the underside of the skin that has been sanded. Nubuck tends to be more durable because the skin’s topside is stronger. The Two24 women’s Victoria hiker (in white) is a fine example of nubuck crafted to be the best.
With its rugged and remarkable strength that can last for decades, bison leather is more resistant to ripping, stretching, and heat damage than traditional cow leather. Bison is also more breathable than cow leather, making it considerably more comfortable in a wider range of temperatures.
The tanning process also sets bison leather apart from cowhide. Tanning cowhide typically employs modern techniques and the use of chemicals. But for bison leather, tanning involves the use of organic materials, and the skin is not usually stretched during the process because it’s significantly stronger than cowhide. This simpler tanning process and lack of stretching results in more vivid natural variations and grain patterns, which make each pair of handcrafted bison boots luxuriously unique. See how beautiful bison can be in Two24’s made-in-America men’s Highlands lace-up boot.
Based in Chicago for five generations and operating for more than a century, Horween is the oldest tannery in the U.S. They craft luxury-quality leathers for the world’s largest footwear brands, and are famous for supplying the leather used to make footballs, basketballs and baseball gloves. Horween’s goal has always been to make the world’s best leather. Today, Horween leathers are still made by hand, the same way as generations ago, which explains its cult following everywhere from Texas to Tokyo. The men’s Merritt back-zip boot by Two24, shown here, is made of Horween leather and it’s easy to see what all the buzz is about.
The Conceria 800 tannery in Pisa, Italy, specializes in vegetable tanning. They use the traditional pit tanning method, which maintains the natural characteristics of artisanal, untreated Italian leather. This type of premium quality leather is produced using tannins, oils and waxes derived from vegetables or other natural extracts. This means the leather is “living” which makes it more valuable.
Vegetable tanning is the true “chromium-free” method, so it does not use harmful chemicals. It is an old-world, artisanal process that takes advantage of the tannic acids, naturally found in some plant species, by using barks, branches, leaves and even some fruits for specific techniques. The natural appearance before the leather is “painted” has a slightly brownish tinge over a beige color, as seen in the Jubilee English-inspired mule, below.
With a natural woody and earthy scent, vegetable-tanned leather offers colors and textures with an organic look that tends to become more remarkable with age, acquiring a distinctive patina over time. It’s more durable than most synthetic materials so it can last a lifetime, though it’s also biodegradable.
The use of Conceria 800 veg-tanned Italian leather creates a different take on Two24’s Victoria in black and cordovan (as shown below).
As a testament to the exquisite care taken with the functional details in every shoe, Two24 sources its welts – the long strips of leather that secure the sole to the upper – from Barbour Welting Company, a 126-year-old private company based in Massachusetts. Barbour uses the best vegetable-tanned leathers available and is known for providing luxury-quality welting to the finest shoemakers worldwide.
Butyl is synthetic and short for butyl rubber. Unlike conventional leather, butyl-treated outsoles (the bottom surface of a shoe that touches the ground) are oil-infused for enhanced flexibility and durability in any weather. The result is an outsole with the traditional look and feel of leather, but that’s more water resistant and offers longer wear between resoling. The butyl leather outsole for the Two24 men’s Highlands and 580 features an antiqued finish for a serious touch of refinement.
The use of old, deep oak-lined pits and vegetable tanning agents like fruits and bark mean this tanning method is among the most pure and natural. Depending on the thickness of the hide, the process can take between nine and 12 months. There are no chemicals, heat or mechanical movement used in this natural tanning process. Two 24’s ruggedly handsome, made-in-America 580 Engineer Boot is a testament to the beauty and strength of oak-bark tanning. The handcrafted, premium American Bison leather used is not only beautiful but also durable and comfortable. It’s also water repellent, especially breathable and absorbs perspiration. Now that’s a hard-working boot to add to your collection.
There you have it, the back-story on premium leather and how it makes luxury footwear so darn hard to resist. Plus, you may have picked up few new reasons to make (a.k.a. justify) the investment. So, what will it be? An American bison boot? The English suede derby? Or Italian veg-tanned leather mule? Choices, choices, choices, but now you can make a better one.