Leather is not just leather. Why you should choose Vegetable Tanned Leather if you want quality and durability while keeping the environment safe.
If you know, then you know.
I have been around leather all my life and one of the most common assumptions I have heard again and again is that leather is just leather....right? Wrong!! There are many techniques used to produce leather. These are often unique to the country of origin and even that particular tannery. I could bore you with a long list of techniques and a history but for now I will keep it simple. In this day and age most leathers regardless of origin are created using one of 2 methods, Vegetable Tanning or Chrome Tanning. I will start with Vegetable Tanning.
This process is by far my favourite method. It creates a leather that is on the whole easy to work with and ages beautifully while keeping the natural beauty of the leather. It is by far the oldest method having existed in some form for thousands of years. The name of the process gives the game away really, vegetable tanning (or just plain Vegtan as most of us know it ) is a method that relies completely on natural vegetable tannins from bark and other plant parts such as leaves, flowers and seeds. Tannins from tree bark such as Oak, Chestnut, Fir and Alder. Leaves and stalks from Heather, Ferns and Hops along with tea and coffee are just a few examples but there are hundreds of tree types and other plants that are used. As you can probably guess by now these methods are by far the most enviromentally friendly and sustainable but like most things that are traditional and safe it is labour intensive and takes time (upto 3 months!) to complete which in turn makes this type of leather more expensive to produce hence items made with Vegtan leather are rarely found on the cheaper mass produced ranges you find in your local market or multi national stores.
The second process is by far the most common and is unbeaten for speed and mass production enabling costs to be brought down and hence final prices. This process is called Chrome Tanning (also known as mineral tanning).
Chrome tanning didn't exist before c.1858 . Instead of using natural plant based materials to tan the leather this method uses various mineral salts, inparticular Chromium based salts such as Sodium dichromate to tan the leather. Using large rotating drums the leather is washed in these salt solutions. Where as Vegtan can take months this method means the process takes only 1 day! You can see why over 85% of leather produced today uses this method. However as always there is downside. With Vegtan its the time, with Chrometan it is the enviromental impact. If proper precautions are not taken the release of toxic waste water into the water table or river systems can occur. This in turn enters the food chain. I will not dwell on the impact of this, it is a whole subject in itself. I personally will only use vegtan to create my products.