8 Things You Thought You Knew About Stingray Leather Shoes
Summary: Stingray leather may just be the best-kept secret in the fashion world. This article is written for cobblers and shoe connoisseurs who have fallen in love with the exotic properties of this material - and want to learn more!
Stingray shoe making
Stingray luxury shoes
We cover it all in Leather Care Supply’s
8 Things You Thought You Knew About Stingray Leather Shoes
True or False?
- Stingray leather is smooth. ← False! Stingray leather has a bumpy texture. Ridges or nodules decorate the hide, giving it that coarse-caviar-like texture that has made the material famous.
- Stingray leather is easy to work with. ← False! Unfortunately for shoemakers, yes, even the talented Italian ones, these bumps make stingray leather not as pliant, docile, or easy to work with. Compared to cow, pig, and ostrich leather, this leather is tough!
- The scientific name for stingray leather is shagreen. ← True! Named so after the French word chagrin, the roughness of its texture also meant a state of coarseness, rudeness, or unrefinedness. The beads are made of calcium; calcium is not easy to sand down, bend, or be made to obey your cobbler’s instruments.
- Stingray leather was crafted by the Japanese into instruments of war. ← True! Swords need good grip, and so in the great Japanese tradition of hilt and scabbard making, the bumpy and coarse texture of stingray leather actually worked in its favor. Stingray leather was very nonslip, resistant to moisture, and allowed for better handle and maneuverability of daggers, scabbards, and samurai swords.Image by Tom Barrington
- Stingrays are only hunted for their leather. ← False! This couldn't be further from the truth, vegans. We were skeptical at first, and thought that stingrays were harvested purely for their skins, but like other animals, including cows, lambs, and pigs, stingrays are also harvested for their meat. We learned that most stingrays are grown in fish farms in Southeast Asia (countries like Singapore, Vietnam, and Cambodia) where the meat is eaten by the locals.
- The whole stingray is used to make the leather. ← False! The area near the spine and crown of the fish is what is sold to tanneries to make leather products. The most valuable part of a stingray is the dorsal fin, and thee beaded skin on the back of the animal, also called the crown.
- Stingray leather only comes in black. ← False! It also comes in black and tan. Leather craftspeople can request darker, or lighter-skinned colored hides. Dying the hides is also an option, although this has been rumored to be a challenging process. Image by Tom Barrington
- There are two grades of stingray leather. ← True. Grade 2 skins are the pristine, flawless skins, completely free of defects while Grade 1 skins show imperfections.
- A stingray killed Steve Irwin. ← True. Really graphic story here folks. Many of us remember it. In 2006, Steve Irwin, famous Australian zookeeper and animal enthusiast was struck by a stingray barb - in his chest - repeatedly. When he tried to pull it out, it was too late and he lost consciousness. The whole incident shocked the world as, for the most part, stingrays are docile creatures, only attacking in self-defense. He left us at the age of 46. Steve Irwin continues to be remembered today for his many contributions to the field of wildlife education and conservation.
How Stingray Leather Shoes Are Made
When it comes to exotic leathers, few are as unique and striking as the stingray skin. With its pearly texture and diamond shaped crown on the back, stingray skin helps any high-fashion product stand out in a crowd. In fact, the crown of the stingray skin makes for an ideal focal point in a design. With a variety of colors and finishes to choose from designers worldwide have started incorporating this material into their shoes, wallets, handbags, and other fashion accessories.
Video: Tucci Polo, Italian cobbler and shoemaker takes viewers through the full process. Super informative & fun to watch!
Advice from Leather Workers
From LeatherWorker Forum we've learned that "holes can be drilled with a press for stitching," "cutting can be done with a fine toothed ban saw," and "sanding is a must to get clean edges." Leatherworkers recommend going with a baby ray as much as possible, due to the nodules being smaller and less intrusive. Either way - a "hell of a lot of work."
History of Stingray Leather in French Royalty
As mentioned in #4, stingray leather was once used by the Japanese during the Quing dynasty to adorn armor and dagger scabbards. It was also used by Madame de Pompadour in the court of Louis XV.
Louis XV had many items made from this exotic and beautiful leather. A few of them included snuff boxes, wig cases, and sheaths. It was chosen by Jean-Claude Galluchat (d. 1774), a master leatherworker in the court of Versailles for its bead-like appearance and feel. The strong, rigid, and durable texture of the shagreen material made it perfect for French aristocracy use in the transportation of these items.
The Lusso (Stingray Oxfords) in dark blue velvet and black exotic stingray leather - by Mark Chris Shoes
Locally Grown, Ethically Sourced
According to Pan Am Leathers: “There are many different species of stingrays in the world. Fortunately, they are not endangered. Since their meat is valued by many cultures, especially South Asia, nearly no part of the fish goes to waste. The meat is tender and a good source of protein.”
From the stingray farms of Southeast Asia, to the dizzying heights of the French Riviera, to the Italian cobblers that choose to work with a difficult but rewarding material, stingray leather is here to stay!
Luxury Apparel & E-commerce
We’d like to talk briefly about Mark Chris, who served as the inspiration for this article. The Italian shoe designer, @mrmensfashion established his business, Mark Chris shoes, on Instagram 7 years ago.
Since then, he’s been working with unique leather types in order to create eye-catching and practical formal wear for men. He’s made waves in South Florida, stocking his shoes at Brickell City Center’s Stitched, interviewing with Shoeholics Magazine, and being named by Ocean Drive as one of the “Best Miami Fashion Designers to Know.” His shoes have even been worn by Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino.
Here’s what Mark had to say about building an audience on Instagram:
“In the beginning, you have to prove your brand to the market. It took about a year and a half of commenting on people’s posts to get above 10,000 followers. After 10,000 followers, you get to 40,000 followers pretty quickly. But in the beginning it's definitely a grind."
Luxury Stingray Shoes
Personally, we like that he’s elevating the shoe conversation. Chris is moving the conversation away from the Gucci, gaudy and haute couture into a more integrated and elegant viewpoint.
Red Stingray Inferno by MarkChris - handmade in Italy
The flashy and the showy has its time, but the timeless, classic, and elegant live forever. We respect the new generation of Italian shoe designers who manage to integrate into the urban landscape (i.e. mumble rappers, sneakerheads, and Ferragamo shopaholics) --- but we respect them more when they’re able to look beyond the flavor-of-the-month flavor, which pops, fizzles, and never lasts, and transcend to the ultimate level of class and sophistication.
Designer and Creative Director at Mark Chris shoes states that "I make shoe contact before I make eye contact." Here he is on his Instagram page holding up a pair of black stingray leather suede loafers.
“Natural glisten. When the light hit the stingray it twinkle and glisten.”
At the end of the day, we feel shoes should be comfortable and practical. I've personally tried on a pair and can attest that they feel as good on your feet as they look when you wear them.
We believe that his brand strikes a hard to achieve balance while still maintaining an element of professionalism, approachability, and power dress.
Stingray Leather Grading
When dealing with stingray skin there are two grades and two grades alone: Gold and Silver; 2 and 1. Grade 2 skins are the pristine, flawless skins, completely free of defects. These types of skins are usually used for larger panels (hadbags, table tops, size 13+ men's shoes).
Pan American Leathers evaluates the grade of the skin by looking for defects, such as punctures, abrasions, scars, and other markings, which make the skin less than perfect. Grade 1 skins have markings and defects which make them less than ideal to work with. Since stingrays often bump into coral, or have to run away from predators, they can get cuts and markings on their back, making these stingrays less than ideal when harvested.
How to Clean Stingray Leather
Use a soft haired bristle brush and a damp cloth to wipe the material across its surface. Avoid rubbing too hard, as the dyed and surface painted material may be scrubbed off in the process. The key is not to scrub too hard. When in doubt, take it to your local shoe cobbler.
(Cover image: Inferno & Marco red & black stingray leather shoes).
- Alex Pop