What's leather tanning?

What exactly is tanning some might ask. To make the process simple, it's the transformation of an animal skin into an actual leather hide. This is achieved by removing the water molecules from the collagen of the skin and replacing it with tannins that will replace the water molecules and ultimately binds with the collgaen, preventing the leather from getting stiff and drying out.

All leather goods have one thing in common. Before being made, the leather hides used must be tanned. That's as far as the similarties go as there are two completely different methods to finish leather hides. The method used to tanned the leather of your favorite leather goods might not seem so important at first thought and that is why most brands will use the cheapest, and not so surprisingly, the most toxic method available to tan leather also referred to as chrome tanning.

Vegetable Tanning

Rich in craft and tradition, vegetable tanning has been around for thousands of years and uses natural "tannins" such as tree bark from oak, chestnut, mimosa, and hundreds more types of trees and also plants. Vegetable tanned leathers can take up to two months to develop in a lengthy process that requires skill, knowledge, patience and care. The hides are soaked in a tanning solution where the tannin molecules will enter the hide and displace the water that is bound in the collagen. The water is drawn out, but as the tannins take the place of the removed water, the leather does not grow inflexible as fully dehydrated leather otherwise would. During this process there are no harmful chemicals used unlike the chrome tanning process.

Because of the hardwork, cost and time it takes to use this method, most tanneries have shied away from using this ancient method. Because of the same reasons is why we have decided to exclusively only use vegetable tanned leathers for all of our products. Our promise of no shortcuts starts from before a LAND Leather Good even hits the assembly line. We prefer vegetable tanned leathers because they age wonderfully growing softer and darker with extended use, colors are usually rich and deep in natural earthy tones, have great durability and strength and most importantly, have the distinct sweet and earthy fragrance that leather lovers have come to appreciate and love.

PROS

- Because it uses natural tannins, vegetable tanned leather has zero negative environmental impact.

- Vegetable tanned items are more prestigious because the tanning method is ancient and requires skilled craftsmen.

- Due to the careful tanning process and the natural tannins, vegetable tanned leather develops a rich and beautiful patina. True leather lovers believe these leather goods get better with time and continued use.

-  Vegetable tanned leather won't dry out and have a long lifespan.

- The well known and truly loved earthy and natural tone smell is present in veg tanned leathers.

CONS

- Vegetable tanned leather is initially a bit stiff and has to be broken in to become fully flexible and functional.

- The cost is higher when compared to chrome tanned leather hides.

- Vegetable tanned leather takes 30-60 days to produce, making the products generally more expensive.

Chrome Tanning

In 1858 the masses came to the conclusion they needed quicker tanned, less expensive leathers. The necessity for chrome tanning was born.

Due to the complexity and tedious work it takes to tan hides with the traditional veg tanning process, a new process was created that was quicker and cost less. Hides that would take up to two months to be tanned could now be done in a single day. In theory, it is the same process which involves removing water molecules from the collagen and replacing them but the process is much quicker when using chromewhich is the most popular mineral tanning agent today. This chemical tanning method has since been the preferred method of leather tanning, accounting for more than 90% of the world’s leather.

The process is less natural than when using vegetable tannins. First it involves placing the hides in acidic salts to allow the chrome to fit in between the collagen molecules better and then returning the hides to a normal pH level. This requires the use of acids and other strong chemicals as well as the chromium sulphates themselves. If these chemicals are not properly managed, there is a possibility of them having a negative environmental impact.

PROS

- Chrome tanning is quick & cheap and can be successfully done in a single day. Because of this, chrome tanned products are cheaper and more abundant than vegetable tanned leather products.

- The colors of chrome tanned leather will remain unchanged during the product’s entire lifespan; however this also does remove the patina effect leather goods are known for.

- It is thinner and softer than vegetable tanned leather.

CONS

- The process of chrome tanning leather hides creates toxic wastewater that has a negative environmental impact. This is especially evident in the third world countries.

- Chrome tanned products do not wear well or last very long. They are also susceptible to cracking after some months of use.

- When compared to vegetable tanned products, the leather will most always have a harsh chemical smell.


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