An Ostrich Leather Primer
Ostrich leather is the result of tanning the skins taken from African Ostriches. The leather is distinctive and known for the texture derived from the pattern made by quill follicles, or ‘bumps’. These will occur in varying densities, from almost smooth to extensively pebbled. The tanning process for this leather is very intricate, and, when coupled with the limited amount of skin yield per bird, results in a relatively expensive fabric. Availability has also been limited in the past due to cartel formation, export restrictions, and monopoly business practice.
In 2003, estimates put the number of commercially raised ostriches at less than one half million. Ostrich leather is regarded as an exotic leather product alongside crocodile, snake, lizard, etc. Ostrich skins are the largest in terms of volumes traded in the global exotic skins market.
Due to the limited area on the ostrich when the quill follicles are found, and also due to the fact that ostrich leather is among the strongest, as well as the extensive production process, its cost are high. Coupled with its inherent beauty, ostrich leather is a luxury item
To develop an ostrich skin into leather requires over thirty different process steps spread among three stages. The stages are 1) raw, 2) crust, and 3) finished product. The raw stage consists of at least 15 steps where the raw materials are pre-soaked, cleaned, re-cleaned to eliminate all flesh, trimmed, weight and tanned using a chromium salts process. The crust stage has at least 10 steps, including side trimming, fine cutting and dying. It is at this point it is measured, after drying. The finishing stage is where it is softened, graded, measured and packed.
The largest tanneries are in South Africa, which consume about 200,000 domestically raised skins per year. They also import another 15,000. Ninety per cent of its exports go to manufacturers in Europe and East Asia.