Depending on where you’re from, camel leather may seem like an unusual, exotic choice of material. But, there are a few reasons why you should consider this fine leather for your next purchase, be it a camelhide bag, boots, or belt. There are also a few potential reasons not to — like the occasional “funky” complaint . Here’s your guide to camelhide.
Pros and Cons of Camel Leather
Camel is one of those “high-character” materials that are uncommon even when compared to other “exotic” leathers. While rare and unusual certainly describe camel leather, it is also extremely durable — more on that below — with a lovely grain, lovely patina, and soft temper.
- Unique look, nice texture, ages well
- Limited supply
- Possibly smelly
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Camel Leather Durability
One of the biggest pros of camel leather is its durability. The toughness of an animal’s hide is largely determined by the environment they live in, and camels live in some of the most extreme environments in the world. So it’s not too surprising that camel hide is tough, and you can use less of it to produce a durable product. It’s common to read that camel leather is durable and lightweight, not unlike calf leather.
The lightweight, strong nature of both calfskin and camel skin is due to the number of fibers per square centimeter of the hide. I’ve read reports of camel hide being anywhere from 3 times to 10 times as strong as cattle hide, with one UNESCO report saying 5 times as strong.
Camel Leather Sustainability
The same UNESCO report claims that supporting the camel industry in arid environments has a positive effect when combating desertification. UNESCO states that camel farms,
will contribute combating desertification, assist with the recovery of desert ecosystems, and reduce freshwater consumption in the area.
However, a lot of what is sustainable or environmentally friendly in leather production is due to how the tannery handles tannage. One of the larger camel leather suppliers is the Al Khaznah Tannery in Abu Dhabi. They ethically source their hides, meaning the camels are raised for the food industry not specifically for leather. This way, the skin is a byproduct that’s making use of something that would be discarded. They also tan with a chrome-free process that leaves it chemical-free. Water from this process is recycled, and waste is composted.
There may be tanners that don’t use sustainable processes, so if you’re concerned about this check to see where the company sources their leather from.
[Learn more: Chrome tanning vs vegetable tanning – is one better?]
Camel Leather Look and Feel
As camels are traditionally found in desert communities and used for transportation, food, and clothing, the camels may be up to 40 years old before they’re slaughtered. Like other hides from older animals, camel leather has unique stretch marks and scars if left in its natural state.
Most full grain camel leather has a pebble-like texture. Roughout camel can have a short nap. Camel leather is also known to develop a beautiful and unique patina with a nice “honeying” from UV exposure.
Sources of Camelhide
Most camel leather comes from tanners in the Middle East, India, and Northern Africa.
For example, the Al Khaznah Tannery in Abu Dhabi is a government-owned tannery specializing in camel hides. Khaznah Camel Leathers are sourced as a by-product of the meat industry like most modern leather.
An Italian tanner that specializes in veg-tanned leathers exclusively supplied leather for Viberg’s Camel leather boots. Far Horizon Traders, which specializes in camel leather bags, has sourced their leather from local manufacturer in the Thar Desert in India.
[Learn more: The Pros and Cons of Kangaroo Leather]
Does Camel Leather Smell?
One common complaint about camel leather is the smell. There’s no shortage of reviews and comments on Reddit complaining about the stench of new camel leather. Whether that is from traditional tanning techniques or the nature of the hide is up for question — there are rumors that it’s sometimes tanned with faeces. (That actually happens; check out the video above.)
One important note: I haven’t found any reviews of Viberg’s camel leather smelling, and that price point it seems likely people would complain about smelly boots. They source their leather from a tannery in Italy, where most of the “smelly” camel leather seems to have come from other sources. So there’s the possibility that the smell is a by-product of traditional tanning methods more something innate with the hide itself.
Examples of Camel Leather Products
Rare is an understatement when searching for camel leather products, but here’s a quick list of what we could find.
Camel Leather Boots
Other than the Viberg X Division Road’s Camel Boots, there’s not a whole lot on the market at the moment, at least not that would meet the exacting standards of Goodyear welt fans. And, at $730, these aren’t the most accessible boots on the market.
Though these boots are pretty sweet looking. Viberg sourced a tight-grained ,durable leather and kept it natural, so not only do get the irregular pebbled texture (similar to a Scotch grain), but they have the added benefit of unique markings. They are also very secretive about which tannery in Italy produced this veg-tanned leather, which makes it all the more appealing, in my opinion. Don’t like natural? You can grab it in brown, too — for now.
[Learn more: The Pros and Cons of Shark Leather]
Camel Leather Bags
Far Horizon Traders, located in Utah, specializes in camel leather messenger bags and handbags. Their camel leather bag is sourced from the Thar Desert of India.
These bags are lightweight, strong, and supple. They look rugged and are said to age well. Fare Horizon says that no dyes or treatments are used in “the old world process of tanning the leather.” (So one would assume it’s vegetable tanned.) The finish is achieved by rubbing the bags with linseed oil, which protects the leather from cracking and provides weather resistance.
At least one comment on Reddit pointed out that they had a slightly funky smell, but nothing too bad.
Camel Leather Accessories
Searching for camel leather leads you to some pretty interesting places on the internet one may not typically venture. For example, KAMEL by Paul from Washington DC, works exclusively with camel leather.
KAMEL’s baseet Card Wallet is simple, but really highlights the best aspects of Camel leather. This wallet is hand-stitched using a French Fil Au Chinois “lin câblé” thread coated with beeswax.
Personally, I’m sold on camel leather. The pros are in line with my sensibilities: durability, nice patina, rugged look, lightweight, and sustainable. However, the cons make for a fairly large hurdle to jump over, with very few boots available for under $700, and the few bags I’ve found could be smelly. Heck, even a simple cardholder clocks in at $140, so you do have to wonder if it’s worth it. Still, I’ll be looking out for a pair of camel boots as soon as I find an aesthetic I like.
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