Tanning is the process that changes the animal hides into long-lasting chemically stable leather. There are two main processes that tanners use: vegetable tanning and chrome tanning.
Chrome tanning uses synthetic chemicals (mainly chromium) to tan the leather in only one day. Most of the world’s leather is made using this method, which was invented in the 19th Century to allow for the mass production of leather goods.
We use vegetable tanning, which is a traditional method that was refined by the Italians, Spanish and French during the Renaissance. Only 10% of leather is made using this natural process, as it is more time-consuming to produce and relies on experienced craftsmen to create the vegetable-tanned leather.
Raw hides are placed in pits or barrels with natural tannins from tree barks, roots and flower pods and are left for around 40 days to tan. Only a few tanneries have the capacity, skill and patience to produce vegetable tanned leather but the end result is environmentally friendly and each piece of leather is unique. Vegetable tanned leather changes continuously over time as it develops a patina, much like a tree darkens in the sun.
All of the leather we use is ‘aniline’, which means it has been dyed all the way through – pigmented leather, in contrast, has a coat of paint sprayed on the top and doesn’t appear natural.
We use tannins from natural plant sources including chestnut, quebracho and mimosa. It’s a proprietary recipe developed by the tannery that has been handed down over the generations. The colours produced by vegetable tanning are warm, rich natural colours and the leather has a sweet smell and soft touch.
Natural tannins are available in liquid or powder form, and are obtained from different parts of plants including woods, barks, fruits, fruit pods and leaves. Time is the other key ingredient as vegetable tanning is a craft that requires patience and precision.