What Is Nappa Leather and Why Is It Used for Automotive Upholstery?

What Is Nappa Leather and Why Is It Used for Automotive Upholstery?

Nappa leather is generally described as soft, smooth leather. Nappa leather is used as a premium material for car interiors because it promotes and accentuates a luxurious ambiance in vehicles. While Nappa leather is often used by luxury automakers such as Porsche and Bentley, it is also used by others like Hyundai and Toyota that offer more economical vehicles.

Full-grain leather refers to leather that has not had surface defects corrected in any way. When making full-grain nappa, it is simply processed, dyed, and then lightly embossed with the nappa grain.

Corrected Grain Nappa is also an option when outfitting more economical vehicles. Surface imperfections are corrected and then the nappa grain is embossed. This leather is usually at a slightly lower price because a slightly lower grade raw material can be used, but is visually the same.

History of Nappa Leather

One theory is that 'Nappa leather' was named after the place where leather gloves were being made.

In 1875, Emanuel Manasse, creator of gloves using goat skin, coined the term while working in Napa, California, at the Sawyer Tanning Company.

In Manasse's day, the process of making Nappa leather was particular: it required vegetable tanning agents and alum salts. The Nappa leather tanning process has not changed much since Manasse's day. Today, manufacturers use salts such as chromium and aluminum sulfate.

Originally, it is assumed that Nappa leather was describing smooth, soft leather. In modern tanning and leather manufacturing, “nappa” means a leather that has been embossed with a consistent fine grain. The reason for embossing smooth leathers with Nappa grain is to increase the yield per hide. If a hide was left in Natural grain, it would be very difficult to grain match all of the small panels needed for a vehicle interior.

Nappa leather has had an ambiguous meaning in marketing, it can also refer to “smooth-grain” or “corrected-grain leather”. 'Natural-grain' is actually another way to describe a leather that has not been embossed or altered'. In the next two sections, we will discuss full-grain in more detail.

What Is Full Grain Leather?

As mentioned above, full-grain leather is used to describe leather that retains its original surface. High-quality, relatively unblemished hides are most likely to become either full or natural-grain leather. Embossing the surface creates the differentiation between Full Grain and Natural grain leather.

Full grain leather is high quality leather that has not had it’s surface treated for imperfections, thereby leaving it as soft and supple as possible. When buying Full grain hides you will see the natural markings and defects, and sometimes even small holes. This assures you that you are getting a higher quality hide. Yes, you will need to cut templates around the defects, but you can be sure there are no imperfections hidden.

The leather with the fewest number of manufacturing steps is the leather that is the softest, and usually the most durable since the skin fibres are undisturbed.

Full-grain is the highest quality leather because it comes from the hide's top layer; moreover, full-grain has the most densely packed fibers, making it highly durable. Despite these dense fibers, full-grain leather is extremely soft to the touch: a truly luxe product. As expected, it is usually expensive and lasts a long time.

Nappa Leather Offers Exceptional Quality, Aesthetics and Softness

Like most leather, Nappa leather typically comes from cowhide, but it may also come from sheep, calf or goat.

Similar to human skin, animal hide reflects the quality of a given animal's lifestyle, diet and fitness. Animals treated humanely and kept in safe, comfortable conditions, who eat well and receive quality care often have very clean hides with few blemishes.

There is no standardized definition for each grade of leather, so many different types often appear on the auto market labeled as 'Nappa' when the term technically does not apply. At Hydes Leather, we only offer authentic, genuine Nappa leather.

How Car Makers and Car Buyers Refer to Nappa Leather

Although Nappa leather is typically 'full-grain,' some automakers may advertise 'corrected-grain' Nappa leather. Both are quality leathers with a look that is nearly impossible to tell apart. Full Grain Nappa may be slightly softer, but not always. They will both look amazing from new. There are many factors that affect the look and touch of nappa leathers. It’s like the bodywork on a car, both can appear the same on the surface, but what’s underneath?

Full-grain leather is very breathable, it absorbs moisture and dries quickly despite prolonged exposure. Full-grain leather tends to burnish as it ages, developing a desirable patina and becoming more aesthetically attractive.

Generally, premium full-grain Nappa leather appears exclusively in luxury vehicles. However, economical automotive brands such as Honda and Kia also used Nappa Leather for their interiors. Many auto enthusiasts specifically use Nappa Leather to upholster their vehicles because of the lush and soft feel and durability that Nappa Leather delivers.

If you are seeking genuine Nappa leather, we can help you choose the correct Nappa for your project.

If you are an auto trim shop looking for Nappa Leather, visit our wide selection of this deluxe material!