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Bycast: Leather's latest price-cutting move

By Joan Gunin -- Furniture Today, March 31, 2003

When the furniture industry gets hold of something consumers really like — such as leather upholstery — we typically look for ways to cut the price so we can sell even more of it. The latest incarnation of that approach is evident at market, where buyers will see lots of bycast leather, a good-looking cover at a lower price.

Bycast leather is a leather split with a polyurethane protective coating. Many producers believe it looks good and is priced right, but there have been complaints that bycast emits a chemical smell because of its plastic-like coating.

Popular in Europe but not yet mainstream here nor yet produced in China, bycast is already in use by such leather upholstery manufacturers as Bauhaus USA, ILS/Italian Leather Seating, LeatherTrend, Nicoletti and Natuzzi. Both Lane Leather and Palliser are considering adding bycast to their lines.

Some producers have renamed the bycast covers in their lines, notably Natuzzi's Sculpture and Nicoletti's Old West.

"Bycast offers a high-fashion look at an entry-level price," said Murray Eastern, director of sales and marketing for Omnia, which is introducing bycast at this market. "It's popular right now because it's maintenance-free, problem-free, family friendly and lifestyle-oriented."

Dennis Kramer, vice president of sales and marketing for ILS, said, "Bycast retails extremely well and offers good perceived value."

Bycast is priced about 20% less than a low-grade corrected grain, yet is "equal in look to a midrange leather," said Tonya Skinner, president of leather distributor DeNovo Leathers. Earlier this month, he visited an Italian tannery that makes bycast leather.

"It's a very interesting procedure, the way the film and the print get put on to the leather," he said.

The pull-up looks much nicer than a heavily pigmented and corrected low-grade leather, Skinner said, because it has a smoother surface and has a nicer appearance.

The nuances of bycast

Among the drawbacks, however, is that bycast can be difficult to apply to upholstery because it is thicker than traditional leathers and requires a higher needle setting in a sewing machine. "It works better with stiffer looks, not soft pillowbacks," Skinner said.

Kramer, who has carried bycast in ILS's Calia line for about eight years, said, "It's completely problem-free, particularly with tailoring and sewing. But since the bycast split offers less tensile strength than top grains, it works best as tight seating, not loose."

At Nicoletti, U.S. Sales Manager Mauro Bracciale likened bycast to good-quality luggage leather. "It's a good value and we already have it placed in stores," he said.

While it may be priced right, bycast is not without its quirks. Its color palette is somewhat limited — some say it looks better in darker tones — but technological advances recently have led to a color pull-up version.

Bycast also must be packed correctly — stacked flat, not folded — to avoid permanent creasing.

But perhaps bycast's most serious drawback is its tendency to emit a distinct odor, typically described as a plastic derivation, brought on by the polyurethane coating. This is not always the case, but some leather manufacturers are wary. The heavy odor tends to dissipate after about a week but may still be noticeable.

Although it is a byproduct of natural leather, bycast does not breathe due to the protective chemical overlay.

Rather than bycast, Incanto Divani is offering its own exclusive leather product, a first choice split that is processed like a fully aniline dyed leather.

"We add surface pigmentation to it to even out the color, but no polyurethane is used," said Robert Petril Jr., vice president sales and marketing for North America. The lack of polyurethane down-plays the sheen, creating an upscale, high-grade look and feel without the price, he said.

This process represents about a 10% to 15% reduction in savings, said Giovanni Sforza, president of Incanto.

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