Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Insights Into Bicast

For years I've taken phone calls and e-mails from distraught consumers who made the mistake of purchasing bi-cast (bicast) material when they thought it was real leather.  It is sold as leather but it is clearly NOT the real deal.  Just as fiberboard isn't real wood, bicast isn't real leather.

As a general rule, leather that has suffered damage can be successfully repaired.  In the case of bicast this is problematic as any repair can only be as strong as the surrounding material.  With bicast, the material is inherently weak.  As such, a repair to bicast will, in all likelihood, fail.

At the end of this blog entry you'll find a link to photos that have been sent to me by consumers depicting their  classic problems with bicast material.  They show the wide variety of ways bicast fails.  In the world of furniture there has never been a more true application of the phrase "buyer beware."  Bicast is a problem waiting to happen.

Here is the text of an excellent article written by Barbara Carney, a leather restoration expert in the Chicago area.

  Bi-cast and Bonded Leather is NOT Leather! So, What Is It?
.
"Bi-cast and bonded "leather" can be the right choice for you – Here’s the complete story so you can make an informed decision.

"The term “leather” is used to describe 2 completely different types of material used on furniture:

1.      Real = An intact animal hide processed to look and feel good. Very strong.
2.      Bi-cast / bonded = Plastic with a little leather and maybe some fabric glued to the back. Not so strong.

"Note: Imitation leather = Plastic with fabric glued to the back. Not so strong.

"What’s going on? Leather’s very desirable because it:
· Looks good - many different possible textures, colors and finishes
· Strong, durable – can last decades; can be repaired and recolored
· Feels good to touch – soft and flexible
· Breathes, so you don’t get clammy or too hot
· Shows you have taste and could afford the nicer things

"Real leather soils easily, so a protective paint-like colored coating is added to approx 85% of the real leather furniture sold in the U.S. It’s a thin, breathable plastic that stays flexible and still has an appealing leather feel and light smell. Consumers easily confuse this with the thicker, non-breathable plastic layer of the lower cost bi-cast and bonded leathers. By adding a little leather – about 17% - which you don’t see or touch, it’s legal in the U. S. to sell bi-cast and bonded products as leather – which most people will think means real leather. In Europe and New Zealand it’s illegal to call such products leather.

"Bi-cast is a clever product. Typically, it’s a thick layer of plastic made to look and feel like leather, laminated on top of a thin, weak layer of leather. This layer is a “split” - horizontally split from the bottom of the original hide in a big sheet. In bi-cast, you don’t see it or feel it. It adds none of the characteristics of real leather, except one: If you check the inside surface, it looks and smells like leather. Why bother? A savvy consumer may know how to check for real leather by looking at the inside for the characteristic rough suede and the smell, or a trained salesperson may show it to the consumer – “See – it’s leather!”

"Bonded leather goes one step farther: Powdered leather fibers are mixed with a resin and extruded in a sheet, like paper or particleboard. There’s no physical characteristic left of the original leather. It’s a recycling method for using scraps. Just like the asphalt on your street might contain recycled plastic bottles. The layer containing the leather is on the back, just like bi-cast.

"As Furniture Today magazine says: ...calling these products 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. If you tar and feather someone, does that make them a chicken?" Obviously not. 

"Sometimes it's even scented like leather.  In the end, it's plastic  - it's clammy, it's much less durable, it can't be repaired - unless you consider duct tape and a slip cover a repair. Some split or delaminate and peel after a few months or just a year or 2.  Some are more durable, but it's very hard to know when you buy it. You’d need the
test data on the number of  “rubs” to be sure."

Thank you Barbara for this excellent piece.  I hope it will help alert the unsuspecting consumer to make wise choices when selecting their leather furniture.

Click on this link to see pictures representing a sampling of the problems bicast presents.


Copyright 2010, Kevin Gillan

2 comments:

  1. I purchased a sofa from City Furniture that was supposedly sold to me as leather. It stained and started peeling two sspecialists like you informed me of this. Interestingly City Furniture continues to deny that this is bicast leather. Instead they continue to affirm that it's leather, but we all know it's not. Consumers need to be aware of these lies.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I purchased a sofa from City Furniture that was supposedly sold to me as leather. It stained and started peeling two sspecialists like you informed me of this. Interestingly City Furniture continues to deny that this is bicast leather. Instead they continue to affirm that it's leather, but we all know it's not. Consumers need to be aware of these lies.

    ReplyDelete