While looking at boots recently, I stumbled across several pairs crafted from kudu leather. Not knowing what it was, I was curious to learn more.
Kudu leather is made from the wild African antelope greater kudu. The leather is prized for strength, durability, water resistance, and softness and has been used for over 2000 years in Africa to make shoes. Now, it’s used in high-quality footwear and garments and costs $13–$16 per square foot.
With such a unique exotic leather, let’s dive deeper into what makes kudu leather so unique.
What Is Kudu Leather?
Kudu leather is the leather of the African antelope greater kudu, an antelope found in Southern and Eastern Africa. Local tribes have hunted kudu for thousands of years for the hides, meat, and horns.
The leather is unique because the kudu is not raised in captivity, so all kudu leather results from hunting and culling. Subsequently, each piece of leather bears the scars the animal acquired while navigating the thick brush of Africa. The resulting leather is strong, durable, soft, and supple, much like goat leather.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- History of Kudu Leather
- Kudu Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
- In-depth Characteristics of Kudu Leather
- Pros of Kudu Leather
- Cons of Kudu Leather
- How Kudu Leather is Made
- Production Stats for Kudu Leather
- Cost of Kudu Leather
- When You Might Leathercraft with Kudu Leather
- Tips for Leathercrafting With Kudu Leather
- Examples of Goods Made from Kudu Leather
- My Personal Research on Kudu Leather
- Kudu Leather Care & Maintenance
- Helpful Insights on Kudu Leather
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
One of the biggest misconceptions about kudu leather is that great kudu are poached just for their hides. Although there is a growing trend in tourism hunting, this is not true. The governments of countries such as Botswana, Angola, Namibia, Zaire, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, and Zimbabwe issue permits to hunt kudu to keep the greater kudu population under control.
The hunting and culling of kudu is heavily regulated. Further, the meat is sold locally, making the leather the by-product of the food industry.
History of Kudu Leather
Greater kudu has been hunted by tribes throughout Eastern and Southern Africa for thousands of years. They relied on the meat for food, the hides for clothing and footwear, and the horns for rituals and musical instruments.
After nearly 2000 years of using kudu leather for footwear, it only took a matter of time to migrate to the West. Now, most kudu leather is supplied by an English tannery and used predominantly for crafting boots.
However, it is also used for accessories such as belts, wallets, and apparel. Since kudu roams through thick brush, the leather is tough and carries the scars from the thicket. It is soft like goat leather and has a buttery suede backside.
Kudu Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
|Natural or Synthetic||Natural|
|Surface Texture||Smooth and soft flesh side. Buttery suede back.|
|Available Thickness (oz/mm)||4.5–5.5 oz (1.8-2.2 mm)|
|Largest Workable Size||45 square feet, but more commonly available in 13–15 square feet pieces.|
|Ease of Maintenance (1–10)||8|
|How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)||With care, it will last decades.|
|Available Colors||Can be dyed in any color.|
|Cost per Square Foot ($)||$13–$16 per square foot|
|Ease of Crafting (1–10)||6|
|Rarity (Common or Exotic)||Exotic|
|Annual Production Volume||Not Available|
|Biggest Exporting Country||South Africa|
|Biggest Importing Country||UK, Italy|
In-depth Characteristics of Kudu Leather
Natural or Synthetic
Kudu leather is entirely natural. It comes from the greater kudu, an antelope commonly found in Eastern and Southern Africa. It is prized for its durability and buttery soft hand.
Kudu leather is very soft. It is comparable to lamb, elk, or goat. It has a very soft hand and is extremely smooth. Even the suede side is noted as being buttery soft and is often called the cashmere of suede.
Unlike bovine leather, which is split into thin weights, kudu leather is naturally quite thin. It is generally available in 4.5–5.5 ounces or 1.8–2.2mm thickness. This is the ideal weight for making shoes, boots, and fashion accessories.
Largest Workable Size
The largest available hide is about 45 square feet, but it is predominantly available in much smaller pieces, about 13–15 square feet.
Kudu leather is extremely flexible because it is soft, supple, and lightweight. This makes it ideal for footwear and accessory items such as:
Kudu leather is soft and luxurious. The back of the hide features some of the softest and most durable suede out of any animal hide and is favored among boot and shoemakers.
The drawback of using kudu leather is its sewability. Similar to sewing buckskin, the leather is hard to control, and it’s easy to get a wavy stitch line. Try to keep kudu leather from stretching while sewing.
The best quality of kudu leather is its durability. Most leathers with such resilience are normally thick, dense, and heavy. However, kudu leather is soft and supple while still being extremely durable. It is a favorite among boot and shoemakers, especially in the UK.
Ease of Maintenance
Like most leathers, the main cause of concern is that the material dries out. Keeping kudu leather clean and conditioned is recommended to keep it lasting a long time. Cleaning kudu leather is similar to most other leathers: clean off loose dirt with a soft bristle brush; treat tough stains with a mild leather soap; and follow with a conditioner, such as a leather cream.
Lifespan with Daily Use
Like comparable leathers such as goat and lambskin, it should last 15–20 years with daily use. That being said, Kudu leather is a natural leather used to make heirloom quality goods. With proper care, it can last generations.
Having been used throughout Southern and Eastern Africa for thousands of years, kudu leather has proven to be a high-quality leather that stands the test of time.
Kudu leather is a natural leather and can be dyed any color. Here are some common colors:
Another remarkable feature of kudu leather is its dense fiber structure. This makes it extremely weather resistant. It is far from being waterproof, as it is still real leather and will naturally absorb water. That being said, its dense fiber structure makes it one of the most water-resistant leathers available.
A downside to kudu leather is that it is a more limited resource. The majority of kudu leather is sold through UK tanneries, making it less obtainable for most crafters, and the cost reflects this. The price is generally $13–$16 a square foot.
Ease of Crafting
Kudu leather is approachable to most crafters, but it does pose its challenges. It is a very soft and flexible leather. This lends itself to being easier to cut than veg tan cowhide. That being said, the flexibility can make it difficult to sew. The leather has a great deal of stretch, much like working with buckskin or another lightweight leather.
Rarity (Common or Exotic)
Kudu leather is considered exotic and harder to find than goat, buckskin, or lambskin. Kudu is sustainably hunted, and the hides are distributed to tanneries worldwide. Most kudu leather is sold directly to footwear manufacturers but can be purchased online. Some believe the Kudu to be sacred — as explored by Belete Tilahun in the Journal of Biodiversity & Endangered Species, detailing the current state of kudu throughout Southern and Eastern Africa.
Pros of Kudu Leather
Kudu leather has several benefits that make it a popular material for top leather products, including:
- Three times the strength of leathers of similar weight
- Each hide is one-of-a-kind
- Soft and comfortable
Cons of Kudu Leather
The biggest disadvantage to Kudu leather is its availability. It probably won’t be found at Tandy or the local leather supply store. This makes acquiring it for your unique projects more difficult, so plan ahead.
More disadvantages include:
- Higher cost than comparable leathers, such as goatskin.
- Its flexibility may make it harder to sew.
- Commonly available in smaller hides, making it not ideal for bigger projects.
How Kudu Leather is Made
The greater kudu are hunted and culled seasonally throughout Southern and Eastern Africa to control population size. Kudu is predominately used for food locally, so the hides are preserved and sent to tanneries around the world – notably in the UK.
Kudu leather is then tanned in many ways but is predominately chrome tanned. During this process, the leather hide is placed in a drum of water and chrome salts, preserving the hide. When the hide is preserved, it is dried and ultimately dyed. The result is a buttery soft leather.
Production Statistics of Kudu Leather
- Volume per year: Not Available
- Key country or countries where it is produced: South Africa, UK
- Biggest exporting country: South Africa
- Biggest importing country: UK
Cost of Kudu Leather
- Square foot: $13–$16 per square foot
- ½ Hide: $85–$118
- Full Hide: $169–$235
When You Might Leathercraft With Kudu Leather
- If you like natural, uncorrected grain and blemishes.
- If you want the softest suede available.
- If you want to make luxury boots and accessories.
Tips for Leathercrafting With Kudu Leather
- Since the hides are relatively small, plan to use them on smaller projects.
- Avoid tension issues when sewing, as the leather is extremely soft and pliable – consider using a roller or walking foot on your sewing machine.
- Embrace that every hide is unique, and use the scars and blemishes to your advantage.
Some Examples of Items Made From Kudu Leather
My Personal Research on Kudu Leather
Kudu leather sent me down a rabbit hole. At first, I thought that it was an obtainable leather that I might be able to find locally, but I quickly learned that it was not that easy. I jumped on the internet and found little information on kudu leather, and its availability makes it rather elusive.
I found that most of the high-end kudu leather is tanned in England at the C.F. Stead Tannery, where they produce some of the most luxurious suede I have ever seen. It appears that most kudu leather is supplied directly to manufacturers. Since the annual production is reliant on seasonal culling, there is less available for crafters like me.
Perhaps the most interesting part about kudu leather is that a significant effort is made to cultivate it responsibly. The argument is that population size is rising, and seasonal culling is necessary to keep the population size under control.
In turn, this prevents overgrazing. This all sounded very promising. However, I was unable to find sufficient data to prove these claims. Very little is written on the subject.
I continued my search and found that in 2009 the greater kudu was on the Red List from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They were listed as near threatened. Further inspection of the IUCN website detailed that the last assessment of greater kudu was in 2016 and is now listed as stable.
As a leather crafter, I am always concerned with the source of the leather I am using. I was a little alarmed to see that kudu was in a state of decline as recently as 2009. This made me appreciate the need to investigate further when working with exotic leather.
In the future, I will most certainly do as much research as I can to ascertain where the leather is sourced and if it is sourced sustainably. I can only conclude that Kudu leather is, as the IUCN deems Kudu as being a species of “least concern.”
Kudu Leather Care and Maintenance
How to Clean Kudu Leather
Kudu leather is weather-resistant leather. The result is a durable leather that doesn’t require as much care as other leathers. When the leather becomes dirty, treat it like most other leathers by cleaning it with a soft bristle brush and using a mild leather soap to treat tough stains. Allow the leather to dry before conditioning.
If cleaning kudu suede, use a suede brush to remove any loose dirt and restore the nap. If tough stains persist, it is recommended only to use a suede shampoo and follow with a spray sealer to prevent future staining.
How to Condition Kudu Leather
Conditioning your kudu leather will ensure that it lasts a long time. It is important to keep the leather hydrated and prevent it from becoming too dry. To condition kudu leather, use a leather cream or balm and work it into the leather directly using a soft cloth. The leather may be more resistant to absorbing the condition than other leathers, so give it time to absorb the conditioner fully.
How to Store Kudu Leather
When storing kudu leather, it is always best to store it after cleaning and conditioning. Once conditioned, consider storing your item in a lint-free bag. This will keep the sun off the leather and keep the dust at bay. Keep the leather in a cool and dry environment, away from direct sunlight to keep the leather from drying out over time.
To learn more about how to care for kudu leather, check out this helpful video.
Helpful Insights on Kudu Leather
What is waxy Kudu leather?
Waxy kudu leather is a pull-up leather commonly available from the C.F. Stead
tannery in England. After the leather is tanned, it is treated with a combination of oils, leaving a unique, rugged, and refined finish that is extremely water-resistant. It is a favorite of bootmakers in England.
How good is Kudu leather?
Generally speaking, kudu leather is one of the most durable leathers available — especially given its weight — 4.5–5.5 ounces. The leather is considered exotic and far from common, most notably used for luxury goods such as boots and shoes. Having been used throughout Southern and Eastern Africa for thousands of years, kudu leather has proven to be a high-quality leather that stands the test of time.
- Kudu leather is a strong and durable lightweight leather.
- Kudu leather is exotic and won’t be found at your local leather supplier.
- Kudu suede is considered to be the most luxurious suede available.
As crafters, we are always trying to find the best materials to express ourselves and to reflect our dedication to the craft. Kudu leather is the perfect example of leather that represents quality, durability, and luxury. With a rich history, and distinguished appearance, it is definitely worth sourcing for that one-of-a-kind item that will stand the test of time.
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