Ever wonder why some leather looks and smells so much better than others? It's all down to vegetable tanning
Leather tanning is the process of turning hide into leather which can be undertaken using a variety of methods, broadly categorised into vegetable or chemical tanning. The vegetable tanning process is a technique that has been around for centuries and there are still tanneries today in the UK (such as J&FJ Baker and Co and Thomas Ware & Sons) practising this traditional craft.
There are two key factors that distinguish vegetable tanning from chemical tanning; the liquid type used and the amount of time it takes to create leather. Vegetable tanning uses gentle liquids derived from natural products like tree bark. The process can take up to 14 months and, owing to this gentle approach, the natural fibres of the hide are protected, resulting in a more natural, beautiful and long lasting leather. It is also the reason vegetable tanned leather retains that lovely smell and feel.
Vegetable tanning is widely considered more friendly to the environment and the health of people working in the tanneries as it uses natural ingredients and man power, rather than the machines and harsh chemicals used in modern methods.
Sadly however there are few remaining traditional tanneries in the UK today. With such a long and labour intensive production process it is difficult for traditional tanneries to compete with modern producers and so these traditional skills are increasingly being lost. But the benefits of vegetable tanned leather vastly outweigh the additional cost and so it is important to make sure the remaining UK tanneries are not lost forever. As consumers we can help to support traditional UK tanneries by buying locally sourced vegetable tanned leather products. Not only will this help keep the tanneries alive, but will also allow manufacturers to make beautiful and long lasting leather products.
For information on traditional leather tanneries and leather suppliers, check out the suppliers page.