Real belts have been available for decades to those who had the connections and money. It was not until the late 1990′s, that affordable, higher quality, replica copies of title belts were made available to the general public. Figures Toy Company introduced the first, higher quality version of belts available to fans. While their initial offerings were great at the time, there were and still are, many problems with them. To this day “Fig Inc”, still makes replica belts for fans. The quality has greatly improved, and the product is even more realistic than ever, but to many, it is still not good enough.
The biggest problem of the replica belts, since day 1, has been the strap. The straps are mass produced, using inferior materials compared to real belts. There are many reasons for this, but primarily cost, and time to produce. The replicas come on a vinyl strap. The “tooling” is machine pressed, and does not offer the depth or detail that a hand made strap would offer. These straps had a tendency to bubble, crack, and in general, be stiff as a board. After cutting up various straps, the cause of the stiffness was easy to see. The strap is a sandwich of various materials. A thin layer of vinyl, a type of foam, rubber, and what seems to resemble cardboard???
To those who frequent YouTube, you might have come across various videos on how to make the stock strap more flexible. While I do NOT recommend any of these, the most popular one seems to be the “shaving cream” trick. This “works” becuase you are wetting the inner cardboard type core, flexing the belt, and breaking the material down. This might seem like a good idea and might have improved the straps, but you are basically ruining the strap, as well as inviting the growth of mold within the belt.
Fans have complained to Fig Inc about this for years. They have tried to improve the strap, and have come along way, but it is still not good enough. Later offerings included the “deluxe” straps, which claimed to be “real leather”. This was the same sandwich strap, only it has a thin layer of “leather” on the outside. At a cost of $100 more, it was certainly not worth it. Most recently, they have offered their “master series” straps. This is their best strap to date, but still flawed. Master series belts cost MORE than a real belt! They claimed the strap was 100% leather. Shortly after they came out, I was sent one, which I disassembled. The sandwich strap style is gone, but it is certainly not real leather. It looked like rubber? I asked Fig Inc about this on their Facebook page before being banned. They admitted that the strap was a “leather/rubber” hybrid. Certainly not what was being advertised, and still not the same as a real belt.
There is a great comparison of this on Dave Millican’s website. Here
Real belts use a solid piece of leather. Not any leather, but high quality, thick leather. This leather is hand tooled with all of the detail, then dyed and finished over the course of days. Then another piece of leather, is put on the back of the belt to cover the bolts/screws.
Many fans/collectors, have sent out their replica belts to be professionally releathered. This is the best way to make your replica belt, as realistic as possible, without paying the price of a real belt.
This blog nor the forum, are meant to be a “how to” section. Instead, it will be guide to trusted community members who offer this service, as well as educate collectors on what they should look for in someone’s work, who they should avoid, and why going with the cheapest person, is not always the best option.
What is “releathering”?
Releathering refers to having your replica belt put on a real, solid, hand tooled leather strap by a professional leather worker. Garment leather is put on the back to cover the bolts as well. There are many quality releathers on the forum. Unfortunately, there are many very poor quality leather people on Facebook and YouTube promoting their product for a low price. These people do not have the experience necessary to make your replica look like the belts on TV. They use far inferior materials, do not know proper techniques to ensure a lasting product, and rush your order through. Please do your research before sending your belt and any money to someone claiming to do leather work. Remember, you get what you pay for.
What about “deluxe”, “ultra”, “master” and “pro-grade” straps?
Fig Inc offers what they claim is leather in their deluxe, ultra and master series straps. This is misleading. The deluxe and ultra deluxe straps are still the same core of foam, cardboard and composite materials, just with a paper thin leather outer shell of questionable quality. This is not real leather and is not the same strap style on real belts.
The new master series straps are slightly better, but it is a solid strap made of a mixture of scrap leather and rubber. It is still not the same quality as a real, solid leather strap.
“Pro-grade” straps are offered by AJS belts. They are usually the lowest quality leather available, poorly tooled, if at all, and lack many of the features and quality of a professionally releathered strap. Avoid these at all cost!
I want a pre-made strap./I don’t want to send you my plates.
If you are worried about getting robbed, I understand the concern, but in order to make your belt look the best, you NEED to send your plates in to have them releathered. Not all replica belts are the same. The bolts are put on the replica belts by machine, and while the majority are in the same location, there is always variances such as version of the belt, production run, wear and tear of the machinery, etc. This can cause pre-made straps to not properly fit your belt plates, or require heavy modification to work.
By sending in your plates, the leathercrafter will fit the strap around YOUR EXACT plates to ensure they look professional. Proper spacing and alignment is also done during this step, and also helps in cases where you want tooling around the logo plate or tip.
Real belts have the bolts grinded flush to the leather, and some type of leather, fabric or animal hide put on the back to cover the bolts, add improved look, and protect the person wearing the belt. You do not have to get this, but it is implied that is is included in the releathering service. There are tons of different options for backings; colored leather, textured colored leather, animal print, animal texture, etc. The people that offer these fancier backings do charge more for them, since they usually have to be purchased in minimal quantities. The standard backing is usually black garment leather, but some people use velvet. It is highly recommended you get a backing.
Some collectors wish to be able to swap their plates between various colored straps (IE: Winged Eagle or Classic IC). This is not a problem, but just realize, your belt will look “off” with the bolts showing in the back.
Lacing and Extras
A few of the more advanced leather crafters offer premium services such as hand lacing (IE: NWA Domed Globe), hand stitching (IE: Classic Big Gold), or can do custom leather tooling. These advanced techniques require more materials, and in some instances 2-3x the labor time. Because of this, they cost more than a traditional releather.
Professional leathercrafters should be able to make your strap in almost any color you want. Black is the standard, but other colors are available and can cost more money due to materials. Just be aware of the differences when choosing a color.
Dark colors tend to work better and last longer. These dyes are usually oil based and take to the strap much more naturally.
When you get into colors, you have some options. Some people will use a water or oil based leather dye, which will soak into the leather. Depending on the color, it might absorb more in some places than others, which can leave blotches. This tends to happen more in lower quality leather that might have more fat, brand marks, scarring, etc.
For the most bright, uniform, vibrant color, you would want to go with a topical. Topicals sit on the surface of the leather, they do not soak/absorb into the leather. Because of this, belt straps that use topicals need to be handled with care. (IE: White, Yellow, Baby Blue, Lavendar). With heavy use and wear, these straps will have surface cracking and if improperly handled, can start flaking off. Cracking is normal and SHOULD BE EXPECTED when going with these bright colors.
Your strap should be then finished with a clear, protectant coat. This will seal in the color, add a sheen, and protect the strap. A properly done strap should never fade, or need touching up.
Some people try to save money by using pre-dyed straps. These are dyed in huge barrels direct at the tannery before the leathercrafter receives them. These straps have a different look and shine to them. While they can be tooled, they do not look right when tooled because of the difference in leather sheen on the surface and in the exposed tooled area. Avoid people who use this type of leather.
The ideal leather should be veg tanned, tooling leather. Your leathercrafter should do all the work from there including dying the strap and finishing it.
For replica releathering, ideal thickness is 7-9oz. Leather thickness goes by oz. You can do a google conversion to see how thick that is in inches/mm.
You Get What You Pay For
Many of these new leather people popping up on eBay, Facebook and YouTube offer their services for a fraction of the price of professionals. Remember, you get what you pay for! These people are usually inexperienced, so they do not know all of the steps necessary to make your strap the best it can be. These people who offer $100-$150 releathering usually give you an incomplete product without you knowing it.
Some of the tricks they use:
Use of thinner leather (4-6oz weight)
Use of pre-dyed black leather.
Use of low quality “scrap” leather. Leather comes in various qualities. The more expensive leather will tool better, take dye evenly, be free of scars, fat runs, brand marks, and look supple.
Use of a stitching machine instead of hand tooling.
Failure to use enough dye, allow for proper drying time, burnishing, clear coat, etc. They try to rush your strap out in a day. Anyone promising quick turnaround time, is likely doing this. Dye needs time to properly absorb and dry. Many of these guys try to give numerous coats too quickly, or will not give enough coats period.
Failure to round, or finish the edges to blend with the backing.
Improper snap placement.
Floppy/Deep Curve is NOT that great.
Many of the videos I see on YouTube and comments on websites talk about the floppiness of a strap and how deep the curve of the plates are.
1. Real belt plates are not curved that deeply. Many people want to curve their belts to make them fit better. This is understandable, but not always accurate. Deeper curves are not better. Many replicas can be curved over your knee or arm of a chair. Deluxe plates can be curved with a vice, but if done improperly, will snap in half. The newer style cast replicas cannot be curved without cracking.
2. Floppy is not better. The belts on TV have floppy straps because simply put, wrestlers treat the belts like garbage. They are broken in quickly, take abuse, and are replaced frequently because of this miscare. The stock straps on replicas are too stiff. Any solid leather strap will be floppy. You will not be using your belt in the ring. It is likely to be put on display. You will want your strap stiff enough to support the weight of the plates if you display them snapped on the lip of the leather, like most people do. Using a super floppy strap will not help this. When people want a floppy strap, that usually means using a thinner weight leather, which isn’t necessarily better. Trust the recommendation of the leathercrafter. Your releathered strap will be floppy. If you want it more floppy, you can work the strap as such to your liking.
This tends to be a new trend. Many customers now want the plastic stones in their belts, replaced with Swarovski crystals. These are the high quality, high shine stones that are usually put on real belts. Many replica collectors, now want the stones in their belt replaced. This adds more shine to the belts. This can be done easily yourself. These stones can get a little expensive, and depending on the belt, it might become very labor intensive. Certain people have replaced all the stones on their Million Dollar and Spinner replica belts. The stones for these belts can easily cost a few hundred dollars, as well as the amount of money to be paid for the extra labor.
Simply put, do your research. Compare pictures of completed work, prices, and customer testimonials before you send anyone money. Ask tons of questions, and if you don’t like their answers, shop around!
If you are interested in having your belts releathered, these are some of the trusted forum members who offer that service:
*Due to shipping and customs fees, it is highly recommended to deal with someone locally, not overseas.”
Forum members can discuss this topic here