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July 1, 2013

Getting a Bum Steer on Bonded Leather

Filed under: Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:56 am

MrConsumer, who prides himself on being a savvy shopper, belatedly learned an expensive lesson about buying leather furniture.

Slaving over a hot keyboard too many hours a day producing those two fine literary works, “Consumer World” and “Mouse Print*” has taken a toll on MrConsumer’s office chairs. The most recent one from Staples, lasted for just four years, before the red vinyl became gold-leaf-thin and started to peel off at the front edge of the seat cushion. And the one before that, made out of heavy black fabric, began to fray in the same spot.

old chairs

Checking the Staples’ warranty on the red chair revealed that it only had a three-year warranty on the upholstery, not five as did the rest of the chair. Drats.

Determined to upgrade to a longer lasting material this time, MrConsumer checked Staples’ website last week, and found a $170 “bonded leather” chair of theirs was on sale for $99. And with their extra 20% off sale on everything that can fit in a bag (yes, they consider a chair something that can fit in a 14 by 20-inch bag), it would be only $79.99.

Checking the leather in that troublesome spot on the front of the chair on display, revealed that it was of good thickness, not likely to wear out for many many years. So MrConsumer bought it and assembled it, and was quite happy until he decided to Google “bonded leather.”

To be quite honest, I thought that bonded leather just referred to the fact that parts of the chair were leather and parts were vinyl, or maybe that pieces were put together. In particular, I understood that the seating spots (and hopefully the arms) were leather, but that the back of the chair was vinyl.

*MOUSE PRINT:

According to Wikipedia:

“Bonded leather or reconstituted leather is a term used for partially synthetic leather. It is a synthetic material made of varying types of plastic (generally polyurethane or vinyl) that may be spread over ground-up leather and other substances, mechanically processed to give the appearance of leather, but at reduced cost and with less wastage compared to natural leather.”

“In the home furnishings industry there is much debate and controversy over the ethics of using the term “bonded leather” to describe a vinyl upholstery product. The Leather Research Laboratory has said that calling this product “bonded leather” is “deceptive because it does not represent its true nature. It’s a vinyl, or a polyurethane laminate or a composite, but it’s not leather”.

A vinyl upholstery product? MrConsumer thought he was buying a leather chair, or at least it was leather in the critical seating area.

MrConsumer decided to call True Innovations, the manufacturer of the Staples’ chair, to ask them what “bonded leather” was:

“It is scraps of leather put together.” “It’s real leather, just not one whole piece.” “It is real, full-on leather.” And when asked if it had the durability of leather, she said “yes.” — Emily, Customer Service Agent

Reading more online about bonded leather seemed to suggest that it was ground up leather pieces bonded together with plastic to form the backing of the material, over which polyurethane is applied and then embossed to look like leather. The amount of actual leather content can be anywhere from 15% to over 90%. In fact, because of the possibility that consumers could be misled about bonded leather products, the Federal Trade Commission actually has guidelines about labeling products as leather or bonded leather:

*MOUSE PRINT:

“(f) Ground, pulverized, shredded, reconstituted, or bonded leather. A material in an industry product that contains ground, pulverized, shredded, reconstituted, or bonded leather and thus is not wholly the hide of an animal should not be represented, directly or by implication, as being leather. This provision does not preclude an accurate representation as to the ground, pulverized, shredded, reconstituted, or bonded leather content of the material. However, if the material appears to be leather, it should be accompanied by either:

(2) If the terms “ground leather,” “pulverized leather,” “shredded leather,” “reconstituted leather,” or “bonded leather” are used, a disclosure of the percentage of leather fibers and the percentage of non-leather substances contained in the material. For example: An industry product made of a composition material consisting of 60% shredded leather fibers may be described as: Bonded Leather Containing 60% Leather Fibers and 40% Non-leather Substances.” –16 C.F.R., Section 24

There certainly was no disclosure of the percentage of real leather in the seating portion, nor that it might be composed of a certain amount of leather fibers and plastic.

Now the question is whether this bonded leather material will last. Staples has a five-year warranty on this chair, and MrConsumer won’t hesitate to make a claim if it shows any signs of fraying or cracking.

• • •

14 Comments

  1. Well, if you spend $80 on an office chair, if you like the look and you get 5 years out of it, I wouldn’t complain.

    Comment by James — July 1, 2013 @ 9:10 am
  2. You expected a real leather chair with a five year warranty for 80 bucks? That alone should have told you something wasn’t kosher. Further, any time a term is qualified in any way, you should know that it’s not a good thing. Your instincts failed you this time. But it sounds like you got a decent deal on the chair you purchased, even if it isn’t real leather.

    Comment by Wally — July 1, 2013 @ 10:00 am
  3. Looks like the stuff that class-action lawsuits are made of. Defendants: Staples and True Innovations

    Comment by J davis — July 1, 2013 @ 10:03 am
  4. I saw a civil case on a court TV show (People’s Court) recently where bonded leather was an issue. The purchaser said he bought a special order leather product and when it was delivered to him it looked like fabric. The store owner then said many excuses before losing the case.

    To be fair, the customer should have spoken up much sooner as his complaint came years after and the receipt didn’t say leather.

    It’s for situations like this that I read the tag of everything I buy from food to furniture. If the manufacturer doesn’t disclose enough info then I either complain or don’t buy it.

    Comment by Wayne R — July 1, 2013 @ 10:05 am
  5. I saw that People’s Court episode also, Wayne: Bonded leather is to hide, as particle board is to lumber. As for a “class action lawsuit”, I don’t think so: ignorance of what “bonded” leather is, is on the buyer as long as it wasn’t represented as genuine leather. Any word that acts as a qualifier should automatically turn on the “caveat emptor” radar.

    Comment by Marty — July 1, 2013 @ 10:28 am
  6. Total junk, I purchased a bonded leather office chair from True Innovations at Costco and it is a complete mess, plastic starting peeling off. Guilty of not looking into bonded leather, just assumed it was leather, now I know. I Won’t be purchasing any thing from True Innovations in the future.

    Comment by Duane — July 1, 2013 @ 11:22 am
  7. off subject, i remember the car commercial, was it Cordoba? <spelling error i know) with the guy from fantasy island, stating a fancy word leather interior … and in reality no such leather existed.
    keep up the good work mouseprint

    Comment by tom gauvin — July 1, 2013 @ 2:26 pm
  8. I bought two (bonded leather) sofas from American Signature along with a covering warranty for 7 years. The cost was $1800. After about a year the leather started to peel and within three they were ready for the bulk pick up. American Signature would not take any responsibility at all and the fabric warranty company said because I had used ‘leather wipes’ – that was why the leather peeled. That left me speechless.

    Never buy anything ‘leather’ from American Signature and never buy a fabric warranty from anyone. Those companies are ______. [Edited]

    Comment by Laura — July 1, 2013 @ 4:54 pm
  9. tom gauvin is referring to the “fine Corinthian leather” in the Chrysler Cordoba. I remember the commercial all too well. The only problem was there is no such thing as “Corinthian” leather. It was a made-up term invented by some ad executive designed to fool the consumers.
    The add gimmick didn’t work on me. I liked watching the Fantasy Island TV show, but the Cordoba left a lot to be desired.
    As far as “bonded leather”….now that I know what the term “bonded leather” means, it’s an issue of “you get what you pay for”. It reminds me of Mr. Haney on Green Acres. He’d say something like
    “Mr. Douglas….what I have here is a genuine imitation…(insert noun here)”.
    Same thing in this situation. As soon as the word “bonded” appears, I’ll know it’s an imitation of leather.
    The bottom line is if you got what you consider to be an attractive chair at about 80 dollars and you get three to five years out of it, you did pretty good.

    Great website, Mr. Consumer. Keeps me entertained in my old age, …and at a reasonable price, too.

    Comment by Jack — July 1, 2013 @ 10:26 pm
  10. A saleslady in a furniture store told me that bonded leather had about the same life expectancy as fabric. So far, the only bonded leather that I have purchasd is for a bedroom chair. After a year, it’s doing okay but I don’t sit on it for hours and hours every day.

    Comment by Anne — July 4, 2013 @ 12:21 am
  11. Edward, take the chair back now while you can. Bonded leather won’t last under hard use, and it looks like you’re pretty hard on your chairs!
    And really, sir- a desk chair with real leather is going to cost far more than $80! I would think you, of all people, would have investigated further before plunking the money down.
    Good to know even Mr. Consumer has bad days. :)

    Comment by Sko Hayes — July 4, 2013 @ 8:03 am
  12. Just be sure to save the receipt…

    Comment by George Stasinopoulos — July 4, 2013 @ 10:59 pm
  13. Dear Mouse Print,
    Why would anyone expect to pay $80 for an office chair and it last forever? By the damage showing
    in the same area of the chair it might be the desk you are shoving it under or up against or the
    cat using it for a claw cleaning.
    A better option for $80,,,,a wooden chair with a pillow!

    Comment by Lynn Holland — July 8, 2013 @ 4:40 pm
  14. Not just chairs … They sell men’s belts at TJMaxx that are ‘bonded leather’. Found out the hard way – after one-week use the the buckle cut right the leather – so unsightly I couldn’t wear it. Now I know.

    Comment by Jay P — July 9, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

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