EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VEGETABLE-TANNED LEATHER
WHAT IS VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER?
Vegetable-tanned leather is made using a special process that harnesses the power of natural tannins. These are found in organic materials to add a unique look and feel to the animal hide. We love using this kind of leather in our range, including for our popular leather journals and leather gifts.
While the names may sound similar, vegetable-tanned leather is not to be confused with vegan leather, which is not a real leather product at all.
To better understand how vegetable-tanned leather differs from other types of leather products, it’s important to know how it’s created. So we’re going to dig deep into the leather tanning process.
THE LEATHER TANNING PROCESS— A SIMPLE PRIMER
Like any leather product, the process behind creating vegetable-tanned leather begins immediately after an animal is slaughtered. The “green” or new hide is salted to preserve it and then hung in a structure called a beam-house.
From there, the hide is moved to a liming pit where it is immersed in a natural chemical substance called lime to remove the hair from the hides through dissolution.
Hides are then placed in a vat containing tannin — in this case, natural tree bark or other organic materials. This soaking process helps to dehydrate the leather, contributing to softness and a nice hand feel.
The vegetable tanning process is a long and artisanal one, taking up to two months to complete, which is why leather is more commonly tanned with minerals like chromium.
WHY VEGETABLE-TANNED LEATHER IS PREFERRED
While chromium or chrome-tanned leather is cheaper to produce, and the colors stay constant for longer, vegetable-tanned leather has the longevity and beauty only an artisanally-crafted product can sustain.
Chrome-tanned leather often has its edges treated with acrylic varnish, causing it to crack, peel, and split after just a few years. In addition, the mineral chromium is a heavy metal and as such is quite toxic to the environment as well as to the people processing it.
The long, slow traditional techniques used to process the hides for vegetable-tanned leather means that vegetable-tanned leather goods continue to soften and develop a beautiful patina as they age.
For items made from vegetable tanned leather include saddles, holsters, belts, wallets, journal covers, bags, shoes, and purses, this means they will become even more comfortable the longer you use them. The edges of vegetable-tanned leathers are burnished or turned, meaning this leather is created to last for decades. Usually, this kind of leather is stiff in the beginning but gets more supple with time and use.
Also, vegetable-tanned leather has that distinctive “leather” aroma, rather than the typical chemical odor of chromium-tanned goods. The fragrance is sweet, woody, and rich.
Also, the natural leather tanning process leaves the leather with unique variations in shade and color.
The original fibers of the animal’s hide can easily be seen, adding to its character. A piece of vegetable-tanned leather is truly a one-of-a-kind product.
Finally, owing to its artisanal nature, the vegetable tanning process produces some of the sturdiest, most durable leathers available. It’s a much less pliable product than chromium-tanned leather, so it’s used where stiffness can be an asset, such as saddlery, holsters, wallets, journals, travelers notebooks, and handbags. Due to the artisanal nature of the tanning process, Vegetable-tanned leather is more expensive than chrome leather. It’s usually used for high-end handmade leather goods.
However, it does get wonderfully soft and pliant over time, so many manufacturers create shoes, bags, belts, and other long-lived products using this material.
While this method of tanning does use quite a bit of water, it does not pollute the environment the way the chromium-based leather tanning process does. There is also less machinery, and so less electricity, involved with the vegetable tanning process.
VEGETABLE TANNEED – CHROME TANNED LEATHER COMPARISON
|Chrome Tanning||Vegetable Tanning|
|% of leathers||92%||8%|
|Smell||Typically have a chemical smell||Aromatic woody smell|
|Softness||Softer than vegetable tanned leather||Can be a bit stiff when first tanned, but softness will increase with time|
|Ingredients||Chemicals, Acids||Natural like tree bark|
|Time||1-2 Days||40-60 Days|
|Production||Mass Produced||Requires skilled craftsman|
|Aging||The look of the leather is not very natural||Will have a rich patina that gets better with use|
UNDYED VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER AGING
When you get your brand new undyed vegetable-tanned leather good, it looks a natural color. The hide is effectively naked and so will age and darken with the sun just like your own skin. Aging will continue to darken your leather. Normal wear will darken the leather as air, light, the oils of your skin, and other environmental factors do their work, eventually developing a rich color and patina. Sun exposure, daily handling, water, and conditioning give natural vegetable tanned leather a rustic look over time. Learn how to condition leather here.
The aging process of leather takes time. After a while, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous patina that makes your product one-of-a-kind. Patina development depends on what type of product you have and how you use it – a small, natural vegetable tanned leather wallet may age much more quickly than a large leather bag that isn’t used and handled as much. You can speed up the aging process if you’re impatient to see results. Using a natural leather balm or more exposure to the sun will darken your leather.
CARING FOR YOUR VEGETABLE-TANNED LEATHER
Because vegetable-tanned leather is more expensive than chrome-tanned leather, you’ll want to take good care of it to get the most extended life from your leather product.
Here are a few tips to keep your artisanal leather looking its best:
- Don’t get it wet, particularly in the first month
- Keep your leather away from heat sources and never blow-dry it
- Don’t use brushes with synthetic bristles to clean it — only natural bristles should be used
- Use oil or conditioner made specifically for leather weekly if the item is used frequently
- Wax occasionally to keep it in the best condition
With proper care, you can expect to get years of use from your vegetable-tanned leather goods.
VEGETABLE-TANNED LEATHER TANNERIES
Below you can find a list of the well know vegetable-tanned leather tanneries in the World.
Auburn – KY United States – auburnleather.com
Hermann Oak – MO United States – hermannoakleather.com
Horween – IL United States – horween.com
Lucy Saffiano – United States
Marbella – Spain
Rawlings Tennessee Tanning Co. TN United States tntanningcompany.com
Rocado Shell Cordovan – Toscana Italy cordovan.co
S.B. Foot Tanning Co. – MN United States – sbfoot.com
Sepici Leather- Izmir Turkey – sepici.com.tr
Tasman – ME United States – tasmanusa.com
OA Leather Supply – CA – Online Leather Supplier
Wickett & Craig – PA United States – wickett-craig.com
LOVING— AND LIVING WITH — VEGETABLE-TANNED LEATHER
If you want a gorgeous leather product you know will provide years of beauty and usefulness, you should consider purchasing a product that’s been lovingly created from fine, high-quality vegetable-tanned leather.
This leather is kind to the environment, doesn’t expose its creators to toxic substances, and requires a level of craftsmanship that is rarely seen in today’s world of fast-paced manufacturing by machine.
Vegetable-tanned leather represents the epitome of quality and beauty and is created to provide a lifetime of use. Discerning buyers understand the artistry and creativity that goes into creating leather of this quality.
Best of all, products created with vegetable-tanned leather are often classics in and of themselves and make beautiful heirlooms to be passed — and treasured — from generation to generation.