When we had to choose the leather for our products, we had a long learning phase. As we didn't have much knowledge initially, we started our search with the right look and feel of the leather. By going through different local leather shops, we noticed that it was more challenging than expected to find the right one.
There was just a tiny fraction of leather that we would consider using for production. We learned that this leather was vegetable-tanned. Only small amounts of this leather were available. And their qualities were far from what we were looking for in our final products.
We had to skip the local stores and go directly to the tanneries. Fortunately, there is a small town, Igualada, just around the corner from Barcelona. In this city there used to be hundreds of tanneries. Most of them vanished, but still, up to today, there are around 40 tanneries, which found their niche on the market.
We are working with two of them, and they supply us directly with the famous vegetable tanned leather, which is unique to a handful of premium brands.
Our leather has the following properties:
- Fully vegetable-tanned
- First selection
- Dyed through / Natural
- Completely locally produced
- Made in Spain
Chrome tanned leather
Chrome tanned leathers are used for nearly all (around 95%) leather products in the fashion industry today. They are produced in days and are therefore much cheaper than the vegetable-tanned leathers. The use of chromium salts makes this process possible, but these salts are sadly also bad for the environment and humans. The skin comes out from the process as light blue and pale. So they need to be dyed and painted to receive the final look. You can often identify these leathers with blue color inside the leather and a nasty chemical smell. Because of their chemical production and dyeing, they have a more "plastic" feel and do not change much due to environmental effects like humidity, sun, and water. Products made with chrome tanned leather usually do not get much of a patina over time. These leathers are considerably weaker and might break easier than their equivalent from vegetable-tanned leather. Most products you will find today on the market are being produced with chrome-tanned leathers.
Vegetable-tanned leathers are produced in big drums and natural ingredients. This process is the traditional method and takes up to 4 weeks. Therefore these leathers are more expensive. Only a couple of brands today are using it. The natural appearance of this leather has a similar color to human skin and comes straight out of the drums in this color. To achieve a different color, they are drum died and receive a finishing touch. Vegetable-tanned leathers usually have a very subtle natural smell. The leathers are affected by sun and water and will develop a patina over time. They are more resistant and more robust than chrome-tanned products.
The layers of the hides
For each product, a different thickness of the leather is needed. Therefore the tanneries split the leather right from the production process in the desired thickness. The skins have different layers with different properties. Consequently, the most outer layer is the best in terms of resistance and surface quality. Other parts are used for cheaper products or glued together to produce recycled leather. You can buy leather in the following classifications:
The skin's top layer, which is the most robust and most flexible part. The natural appearance of the leather is visible, so you can spot the pores, veins, and even small bites from insects on it. The surface is a bit more porous than the other layers and develops a lovely patina quickly. This part of the leather is the most exclusive you can purchase.
For the top grain leather, the very first layer is being removed. This leaves the leather still with sufficient strength, but often the missing grain has to be plated artificially afterward. This part is not as strong and durable as the full-grain leather but still a viable option. It is mostly used to create a more homogenous look.
That's the leather part when the tannery removes the whole top layer. It doesn't have any grain at all and is very fragile. There are cases when this layer's use is recommendable, such as a lining, when there is no exposition to stress. The stamp genuine leather can be found very often on fashion products but is more likely a sign of poor quality.
Like particleboard shouldn't be considered as wood, this is an artificial product of scraps of leather bonded together, eventually stamped with a grain plate, and finally sprayed with color. Often you can also find this under the label of recycled leather.
Tanneries developed their system of grading the quality of their final products. Often these grading systems are called first, second and third selection. It is a somewhat subjective system. Still, if you see leather in the first selection and the third selection, you will see many differences. For our products, we only use the first selection of leathers.
We are using exclusively leather from cows, a side product of meat production. Our tanneries provide us with Calf / Novillo skins, which have a delicate and subtle touch but are solid and firm.
Each tannery is doing a different leather. It is a natural product, and even more critical, each tannery uses a diverse mix of ingredients for their vegetable tanning. While production standards are pretty similar and very regulated according to the EU, we still can notice many differences between the products. These differences are harder to explain, and you can better experience this with your own hands.