Ostrich leather is the result of tanning skins taken from ostriches farmed for their feathers, skin and meat. The leather is distinctive for its pattern of bumps or vacant quill follicles, ranged across a smooth field in varying densities. It requires an intricate, specialized and expensive production process making its aesthetic value costly.
Although the first commercial farming began in South Africa in 1850, the industry collapsed after World War I and the drop in demand for the feathers for fashionable hats and military uniforms. Other products were marketed, with each success battered by world events and droughts until now, when ostrich skin is globally available and seen as a luxury item in high-end demand.
Leather came late in the story of ostrich farming but after a tannery was set up onsite, it went on to make an impact in European haute couture and in the US for cowboy boots becoming widespread during the 1970s. Demand peaked in the 1980s. Availability was artificially limited when ostrich leather was subject to a cartel monopoly through trade sanctions, and single export and distribution channels until the end of apartheid in 1993. After that and other factors, the South African government began to export stock allowing other countries to have their own ranches.
There were estimated to be just under 500,000 commercially bred ostriches in the world in 2003, with around 350,000 of these in South Africa and most of the remaining are farming in Iran. Ostrich leather is regarded as an exotic leather product alongside crocodile, snake, lizard, camel and emu among others. Ostrich skins are the largest in terms of volumes traded in the global exotic skins market.