Shopping for Leather in Bali- Your Ultimate Guide

Your Ultimate Guide to Shopping for Leather Clothing and Accessories in Bali

Choosing which leather bag, belt or jacket to buy while shopping Bali can be overwhelming. How do you know whether you are buying something that is really authentic or not, of high quality or made with quality craftmanship?

The opportunities to buy leather in Bali are vast, from luxury designer boutiques, to sidewalk hustlers offering custom made creation within 48 hours; you will not be short of options. Read on to ensure how, with a little knowledge, you can find that exquisite leather item you have always been looking for.

Lots to love about leather in Bali.

The first step in shopping for leather in Bali is understanding how to differentiate between high quality leathers and inferior ones. A brief introduction into leather will equip you for your Bali shopping adventure. Secondly, taking some time to understand the way leather has been treated is useful to determine its quality. Lastly, we share some of the top spots to shop for leather in Bali and a selection of our favorite designers.

That Bali produces stylish quality leather products is of little surprise. Bali is already one of the worlds’ fashion hotspots, now ranking in the top twenty of creative centres and a rising star in swimwear, jewelry and leather design. Unsurprisingly, Bali-based designers produce a wide range of bags, footwear, clothing and accessories. Indonesia itself is one of the world’s largest exporters of leather products, with approximately 396 footwear manufacturers spread across the archipelago with a production capacity of 560 million pairs of shoes alone.

Bali itself has a rich eco-system of leather manufacturers, artisans and craftsmen, designers and retailers (and digital fashion platforms!) that have helped to shape it into a unique centre for fashion design and fantastic shopping.

Surprisingly though, Indonesia itself imports about 70 percent of its leather and exports almost all of its domestically made premium leather. So how does Bali sit within the leather supply chain? Simple, this is the place where craftsmen and women, artisans and designers creatively manipulate this versatile material into something truly special. More than just a raw material exporter, the quality and skills of local designers and craftsmen is unrivalled and is what has helped to raise it to rising global hotspot.

This is seen in the fact that many designers own their own factories which facilitates the merger of local artisanal craftmanship with avant-garde modern, fashion design. Bali-Based brand Lila Lane is a superb example. Over the years, Thora Moss, the creative force behind the brand, has continuously created attractive collections of leather handbags, clutches and sandals which are made by made and draw on the rich heritage of the island’s leather workers.

Knowing The Leather You Are Buying

Before we get ahead of ourselves, there is more to leather than just the bovine kind. Virtually any animal hide, or skin can be processed to become a leather. Depending on the animal it came from and the processing process it has followed, leather can have many different features. Here we will get you up to speed on the most common types of leather you will find during your shopping in Bali.

  • Cow leather

Let’s start with the most common and well known- cow or bovine leather. Cowhide is widely available for several reasons. It offers maximum value for comfort, durability, appearance and texture and can therefore be used to create almost any leather item. While it is tough, it does break-in easily creating a beautiful worn look. As a material whose appearance improves with age, it is also more resistant to water and dirt than other types of leathers. It is suited to pattern making and embellishments and can be dyed with any range of colors. While other leathers are more decorative and perhaps softer, cow leather itself also does not fold as easily. When purchasing anything made of cow leather, it is important to enquire about the leather grain which is a signal of quality. Top grain leather which comes from the outer layer of the hide is the highest quality. This type of leather features finer, more densely packed fibers which makes it more durable and of higher quality. 

  • Suede

Suede can be made from any type of animal hide, however the animal it comes from affects the finish and softness. Suede can come from lamb, goat, cows or deer. Larger animals with thicker hides, such as cow or deer, do not create as soft a type of suede as animals such as lamb or goat. The distinguishing feature of suede is its soft appearance which comes from the tiny hairs that cover the top of the material. Therefore, to come across as a real expert, it is worthwhile to enquire what animal it comes from since the thickness of the hide makes it more suitable for some fashion pieces and less for others.

  • Goat

Goat skin has many of the same features of bovine leather, in being strong, durable and with a smooth, pebble-stone like texture. The difference is that goat skin is slightly softer and lightweight and some say even tougher and more water resistant than cow leather. It is therefore one of the champion leathers and a go-to leather for some designers. It is more pliable, easier to fold and pleat than its tougher cow leather counterpart. It can therefore be used for more creative design features in high-end leather bags for example but is strong enough for more rugged use such as wallets or gloves.

  • Sheep

Sheep or lamb skin share many of the same qualities as goat skin in that they are also pliable, soft and durable. The lanolin in the skin is what makes it soft to the touch. Together with goat skin, sheep and lamb skin are finer grain leathers and not as thick as cow leather. Similarly, it is also lightweight and supple enough for pleating and folding. However, unlike goat leather, it is not as durable and does have a tendency to stretch over time.

  • Snake

In Bali the most common type of snakeskin used is python. This type of leather is extremely thin, does not tear easily and is most often used for its decorative qualities. The ornate hexagonal patterns on snakeskin are its defining USP and the reason it is often used for purses, handbags and boots for example.

  • Faux leather

Last but not least is Faux Leather. While not strictly a leather in that it comes from the hide of an animal, it shares many of the same features. It is primarily made from synthetic materials such as polyester, rayon or nylon with either a coating of polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride. It is worth checking closely the type of faux leather available to you, as these leathers can vary greatly in quality and appearance. It is important to check its breathability and the quality of the base material prior to purchasing to ensure the leather is sufficiently durable. Nevertheless, faux leather is very versatile, light and easy to wear.

Knowing the Tanning Process

All animal hides undergo a tanning treatment, which is essentially the process of turning skin into leather. This is perhaps the most important process in determining the coloration, pliability and durability of the leather. Bali does not have any tanneries, so it means that the raw material is imported and worked on locally after the tanning process is completed elsewhere. There are two main tanning processes which you will find in the leather products available in Bali, the most common being Chrome tan, followed by Vegetable tanning.

  • Chrome Tan

Chrome tans use artificial chemicals, salts and dyes to create vibrant colors while helping to texturize the leather to make it softer and suppler. Chrome tanning is faster than vegetable tanning and affects the suppleness of the leather by increasing the spaces between the proteins, or the fibres, in the animal hide. The main material used in this process is chromium sulfate, hence its name. This is the industrial and fast version of tanning and by far the most common.

  • Vegetable Tan

Vegetable tanning like its namesake, is a tanning process which use organic materials to dye and treat the hides. Vegetable tans can range from plant and vegetable dyes to almost any other natural material. It works by binding and coating the collagen proteins which softens the hide. It is a less aggressive form of tanning than chrome. Vegetable tanning can take more than a day to even several weeks or months and is a more traditional type of tanning. It does not affect the tight fibre structure as much as chrome tanning meaning that the leather will maintain its strong and durable qualities but will take more time to wear in.

Who and where to shop for leather in Bali

So where do you start? First you need to decide if you want to go for a custom-made piece or to buy something ‘off the shelf’. Each will have its own pros and cons, so here are our top tips. 

Buying a custom made leather item

For those considering a custom-made piece, there are plenty of shops to be found in the Kuta area or along XXX and XXX. You can enter most independent local leather shops to make enquiries. Leather shops will openly advertise the availability of custom-made leather jackets and other products along the main streets in Kuta and Seminyak. A good place to check are the forums on Tripadvisor for example where travelers share their recommendations on their favorite custom tailors and the price you can expect to pay.

One tip is also not to order directly from the shop or the person but to pay a visit to the factory. When we say factory, we don’t mean a mass industrial complex with hundreds of workers lined geometrically in neat rows. Most factories are smaller affairs, sometimes in a small house or workshop, with Balinese working diligently on desks intricately crafting each item by hand. Enquire if they are open to receiving visitors as it is your chance to ensure you are buying from a business with ethical working conditions. Many custom orders tend to go back to the same factories so there’s no harm to pay a visit to the factory to do some more investigation.

So what are the questions to ask when ordering your custom made leather item? Based on your knowledge above, here is what you ask:

  • Enquire about the type of leather first- is it cow, goat, sheep?
  • What is the grade? This is a sign of the leather’s quality.
  • Has the tanning been done through chrome or vegetable tanning?
  • If it is faux leather- what is the base material and the coating used?
  • Where was the leather imported from?
  • Can they show you other examples of pieces they have made?
  • How is the stitching and embroidery done? What type of yarn is used?

As with any custom piece, you will need to come armed with specific requirements, some knowledge of leather and the willingness to invest some time in finding the right tailor. Bring a picture of what you want and send it by WhatsApp to be sure of receiving your dream piece.

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