Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Shopping for Leather and Suede in the Garment District

An aisle of skins at Global Leathers on W. 35th Street.

Note: Check out a more recent post on a new place (NAT leather) to find leather in the garment district.

Come along on "The Hard Stuff" Tour on June 21, 2013 (past) - there will be more tours in the future!  Click the link to see what tours are happening soon!

Good news: Leather and suede skins and trims are still plentiful in the Garment District.
Bad news: They aren't cheap and you need to know what you are doing before you sit down to sew with leather or suede.

To the best of my knowledge, there are three stores in NYC's Garment District that deal primarily in leather and suede skins: Global Leathers; Leather Impact; and Leather, Suede, Skins. A few other stores in the area sell some leather and suede in addition to their regular offerings, such as Mood Fabrics and Botani Trims. Prices for skins appear to be similar among all the stores: approximately $35 to $55 and up per skin, depending on size and type of skin. At any of these stores you will have no problem finding beautiful skins of all types: cattle, pig and hog, deer, sheep and lamb, goat and kid, and exotic and fancy leathers.

The best advice I can give budding leather sewists is to know before you go. Don't expect the leather stores' staff to have the time or inclination to teach you how to sew animal skins or to advise you on which type of skin to use, and none of them sell books or tools for sewing with leather. I read the out-of-print book Sewing with Leather and Suede by Sandy Scrivano (Lark Books, 1998) before I bought my first skin two weeks ago, and found it very helpful. A fellow shopper at one of the stores told me FIT offers classes on leather sewing. If you don't know what type of skin to buy for your project you'll walk into one of these stores and be overwhelmed by all the choices, or you'll buy the wrong type of skin and won't be happy with your garment's outcome. You also buy leather by the whole skin, so I strongly recommend you have your pattern with you so you can determine exactly how many skins you're going to need.

Here are my quick impressions of the three leather and suede stores:

Global Leathers (253 W. 35th St., 9th Fl, 212-244-5190, M-F 9 am - 5pm): The largest of the three stores in terms of retail square footage. Helpful signage identifying the types of skins. I bought a roughly 10-inch square of uber-soft black lambskin for $2 from the scrap bin in the back of the store. Annoyed by two Parsons students who were cutting huge swatches from skins when the staff wasn't looking.

Leather Impact (256 W. 38th St., 212-302-2332, M-F 9 am - 5pm): The best selection of leather and suede trims and bindings. Thought it would be the busiest of the three stores since it's on the street level and can attract walk-by traffic, but it's quieter than the others. With prices at parity with the other leather dealers, this is a good thing if you want fast service.

Leather, Suede, Skins, Inc. 261 W. 35th St., 11th Fl, 212-967-6616, M-F 9 am - 5pm): By far the busiest and liveliest of the three leather stores. Run by a knowledgeable family--mother, father, adult daughter--who are helpful if they think you are serious about buying from them. The mother is not above a little friendly sales pressure, but if you ask she'll also tell you if she thinks you'd look better in the buff leather than you would in the dark tan. No photos allowed.

Other stores that sell a limited selection of leather and suede skins: Botani Trims on W. 36th (they actually just opened a leather department to court the handbag market), Mood Fabrics on W. 37th (decent selection in a small corner on their lower floor), Prime Fabrics on W. 35th (just a handful of real skins but a good selection of fakes too), G&R Fabrics on W. 39th (there's a pile of seconds and damaged skins at reduced prices near the store's front window), and M&J Trims on Sixth Ave. (for leather and suede trims). Let me know if I'm missing any stores, ok?

I loved the leather trims at Leather Impact. Five dollars a yard per trim seemed to be about the average price.

Another view of Leather Impact

A scrap bin at Global Leathers. Suggestion: Buy some leather or suede scraps and practice sewing on these before you commit to buying an entire skin.

The skins corner at Mood Fabrics.

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