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Code of Practice on Labelling & Designation of leather in automotive & upholstery applications

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International Council of Tanners (ICT) -Code of practice on the appropriate designation of leather used in upholstery and automotive applications.


This document is intended as a reference guide to the correct designation and description of leather when used in upholstery and automotive applications. It has been adopted by the ICT with the aim of clarifying and formalising what descriptions are deemed to be fair and reasonable. The guiding references are the definition of “Leather” in the ICT International Glossary of Leather Terms, and the principles of what reasonably constitutes a leather product embodied in the EC Directive on Footwear Labelling.

2. Leather

A key point is that the term leather should only be used to describe material in accordance with the well established definition in the ICT Glossary:

Leather: A general term for a hide or skin with its original fibrous structure more or less intact, tanned to be imputrescible. The hair or wool may or may not have been removed. Leather is also made from a hide or skin which has been split into layers or segmented either before or after tanning, but if the tanned hide or skin is disintegrated mechanically and/or chemically into fibrous particles, small pieces or powders and then with or without the combination of a binding agent is made into sheets or other forms, such sheets or forms are not leather. If the leather has a surface coating, this surface layer, however applied, must not be thicker than 0.15mm.”

This guidance does not supersede national legislation. In some countries -France and Mexico for example -leather is a term which can only be applied to products containing some of the grain layer; thus suede splits or chamois cannot be called leather without further qualification.

The term coated leather should be applied to a product where the surface coating applied to the leather substrate does not exceed one third of the total thickness of the product, but is in excess of 0.15mm

The term laminated leather may be used to describe a composite of two or more layers of leather, or a layer of leather and one or more layers of another sheet or film of plastics or some other material. This term is applied to products that are excluded from the definitions of leather and coated leather given above. The components should be identified according to the proportion they form of the total thickness, eg leather/polyurethane laminate, if the leather component exceeds 50%.

3. Leather Products

The definition of leather products becomes more complicated because of the wide range of items, each with a different construction, which may be made from leather.

The guiding principles should be that the term “leather” should only be used if the product (or a significant part of the product) is made from leather, and where the essential nature, appearance and performance of the product is characterised by being made of leather. The description of the material should not materially mislead the purchaser.

The summary guidance therefore for the labelling of leather products is:

  • they should be labelled according to the agreed definition of leather;
  • they should be labelled according to the agreed definition of leather;
  • where different components are made from different materials, they should be identified separately;
  • where any one component is not leather, a leather indication or label should never be directly applied to such a non-leather component, even where a substantial part of the complete product may be leather;
  • where 80% of a product component, or a whole product, in terms of either surface area or volume (whichever is the more appropriate in regard to the structure, performance and/or appearance of the product) is comprised of leather, then it would normally be deemed reasonable to label the product as being made of leather (but a thin covering of leather over a product made substantially of other material would not necessarily be deemed sufficient to merit the description);
  • if less than 80% of the surface area of the product or component is comprised of leather, then the description may still refer to leather but should also include reference to the other material; any such description should refer first to the material which comprises the greatest proportion of the product or component.

4. Leather furniture

Typically leather furniture (chairs and sofas) comprise a frame, cushioning material and a covering. For the purposes of this description, loose cushions and free coverings are not considered to be part of the furniture. Leather is typically only used as the outer cover, therefore frames and cushioning will be ignored. There are essentially two zones on a seat:

1. “contact areas” i.e. seats, arm rests, vertical seat backs and rolls;

2. “non contact areas” i.e. non sitting areas on the outsides and backs of the suite.

A suite may only be described as “leather” if both the “contact areas” and the “non contact” areas are leather (ignoring buttons, piping etc that are purely decorative in nature).

Where only the “contact areas” are leather then the seat may not be described as “leather” unless the description “leather seat with non leather areas (e.g. outside arms and back)” is used.

Where the term “Leather” is used as a descriptor, at least 80% of the surface area (or volume, as appropriate) of the component being described should be leather.

Where the term “Full Leather” is used as a descriptor, 100% of the surface area (or volume, as appropriate) of the component being described should be leather.

5. Leather in Automotive applications

Generally. the same principles as those described in furniture will apply.

The following designations are considered appropriate:

“Leather Interior” or “Full Leather Interior” – where the whole seat, dashboard, panels, steering wheel headlining and console meet the requirement (see below).

“Leather seats” -where the whole seat, comprising both contact and non-contact areas meet the requirement (see below).

“Leather faced seats” -where the contact areas of the seat meet the requirement (see below). These terms may be declared in words or in the form of pictograms (see below).

Where the term “Leather” is used as a descriptor, at least 80% of the surface area (or volume, as appropriate) of the component being described should be leather.

Where the term “Full Leather” is used as a descriptor, 100% of the surface area (or volume, as appropriate) of the component being described should be leather.

Where the type of leather is designated -for example “full grain leather” or “nappa leather” the description should be accurate and in line with the International Glossary of Leather Terms.

Other names or adjectives may be used in conjunction with the word leather, but the material must always comply with the definition of leather as set out in Section 2 and comply with the requirements specified above.

Individual components of the vehicle interior may be designated as leather -for example “leather steering wheel” provided that the statement is accurate, according to the principles outlined above.

The designation leather should not be used, without qualification, if leather constitutes less than 80% of the surface area of the item described. Otherwise it should be designated -for example -as “leather and fabric seats.” If the alternative material comprises a greater part than leather of the surface area, the appropriate designation would be “fabric and leather seats.”

PROPOSED PICTOGRAMS FOR AUTOMOTIVE INTERIOR LABELLING The material (eg leather) – if it meets the requirements would be mentioned or indicated by pictogram in relation to the terms or pictograms:
Interior or full interior – comprises sents, dashboard panels, steering wheel, headlining and console.


Faced seat
Coasted leather
Natural or synthetic textiles
Other materials

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