Exotic Leather Blog

Tips for Working with Alligator Skin or Caiman Skin for Boots

Posted by Mark Mendal on Mar 24, 2016 2:13:00 PM

When working with any of the crocodilian leathers (e.g., American alligator skin, caiman skin, Nile crocodile skin, etc.), it is important to know how to work each skin in order to get the best results.

We’ve talked about the unique characteristics of each of the crocodilian leathers before, but today we’ll share a few tips about designing and making boots out of these exotic leathers:

Tip #1: Selecting Your Material

When considering any exotic skin, balancing the price and the quality of the skin is an important consideration.Naturally, before you can begin to craft a top-quality leather boot or shoe, you need to pick the right material for the job first. Consider the following when choosing a crocodilian skin for your project:

  • Budget. Caiman skin is the most budget friendly option, and may be easier to afford when you’re planning to release a large line of footwear or a custom job. Nile crocodile leather is the midrange option in terms of price, being a little less expensive than alligator skin.
  • Flexibility. Caiman hide is bony, rigid, and less flexible. Nile crocodile hide is a bit softer, but American alligator hide is the most supple and flexible material.
  • Ease of Care/Durability. While caiman skin is the least expensive material, its general inflexibility causes it to be more susceptible to showing stretch marks and crease lines than the other two materials. Alligator and Nile crocodile skin, being more flexible, will withstand bending more easily, making footwear crafted from such material a bit easier to maintain without causing crease marks. Purveyors of high-fashion goods often appreciate ease of care.
  • Grade of the Skin. With footwear items, you may be able to get away with Grade II skins, assuming the defects are near the top of the tail or otherwise in an out of the way spot that won’t be on display in the final product. You may even be able to get away with grade 3 skins if your footwear is made from several small panels as opposed to larger ones.
  • Color. For any designer, color is one of the basic elements of a complete design. However, there are unique challenges for getting the color right for each of the crocodilian hides. For example, the bony hide of the caiman is the most difficult to dye, but is frequently stocked by suppliers in a variety of colors. Meanwhile, American alligator skin colors up very evenly, but it can be difficult to find finished hides stocked in the exact color you want because of how expensive they are. It may require custom work if you aren’t looking for a basic color.

These are just a few of the primary concerns that you have to consider when choosing which exotic leather to use for footwear. Once you know which of these exotic leathers you want for your project, it’s time to acquire it…

Tip #2: Buying the Material

When purchasing any exotic leather for any project, there are generally three sources that you can go to:

  1. Tanneries. Basically, this is the straight from the manufacturer option. Purchasing from a tannery gives you the greatest amount of options for color, finish, and grade of the skin. The caveat is that with a tannery, you are better off purchasing in bulk, because a tannery will have some basic setup costs that they incur whether they tan a single hide or 100 hides for you, which will often show up as a surcharge on your bill. If you’re only ordering one or two hides, you may wish to consider a different buying option.
  2. Distributors. Instead of buying from a tannery, you can order a skin from the distributor. The advantage here is that distributors keep a variety of skins in stock for immediate purchase. This provides a time advantage over tanneries, who prepare skins to order (which can cause long delays). However, distributors do charge a markup to cover their costs, and they may not have the exact color or finish of skin you want in stock. For small orders, the distributor markup is often less than the surcharge a tannery may have for operational costs.
  3. Manufacturers. This is the option that designers who want to simplify their logistics as much as possible will often choose. Instead of ordering skins and turning them into products, you can place an order with a manufacturer who can handle everything for you. This does tend to be a more expensive option than the other two, as the manufacturer may have a markup on top of the charges for the basic order. However, this is a great way to make the total production costs of your crocodile footwear highly predictable.

For large custom-manufactured orders, tanneries are usually your best bet. For a small order, such as a trial run of a new line of footwear, buying a small handful of skins from a distributor can be a great option. If you want to make production easier on yourself, ordering from a manufacturer is a good way to simplify the manufacturing process (just make sure they’re only buying the skins they need to complete your order).

One other important note for purchasing crocodilian leathers for footwear: always buy at least two skins. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to use belly/back skin for one boot, and tail skin for the other, creating a mismatched pair. By buying two skins, you can still make two pairs of boots, one from the belly/back skin, and one from the tails.

Tip #3: Working the Skins

Caiman skin can be bony, so be careful to prepare sewing lines to prevent bent and broken needles.With the bonier crocodilian hides (caiman and Nile crocodile), you can prevent unnecessary wear and tear on your sewing needles by thinning out a sewing line using a dremel or other tool. This can minimize the chances of a needle having to pass through a thick calcium deposit in the hide and bending or breaking upon it.

Also, when working with exotic leather, consider applying conditioning agents to the finished product to help repel dirt, dust, and other contaminants. This will help keep the boots looking like new when they’re on display.

Learn More from Pan American Leathers

Of course, these are just a few things that you may want to think about when you’re preparing to make exotic leather footwear. For more information, tips and advice, contact Pan American Leathers directly. We have years of experience in helping our customers handle the challenges of working with exotic leather, and the know-how to answer your questions.

Caiman Skin Guide

Topics: alligator skin, caiman skin, footwear