Having about 20 pairs, most in leather, I'd say that the leather quality varies a lot. Some models seem about the same all the time (Achilles). The summer ones are invariably softer and more supple, but also, less rugged. My latest pair, the shelltoes - I'd seen them in the showroom, and my pair is butttery soft. The fact is that cost of the leather compared to the wholesale, is miniscule, and I would be very hesitant to believe any type of conspiracy theory. On the other hand, it's harder to keep QA/QC when you are scaling up your business, so I could see some factories taking a shortcut here and there, and CP not being the wiser.