VEGETABLE TANNED LEATHER

When it comes to leather, there are several ways it can be worked and handled. Depending on the method of tanning used, it can have different levels of flexibility. “Tanning” is a technical term used to describe the process in which an animal skin (the hide) is transformed into durable leather. There are three different types of tanning methods: chrome tanning (most popular method), vegetable tanning and animal tanning (a method that needs to be mixed with the chrome or the vegetable). The tanning process is usually performed in large basins of water called “fullers” where the leather soaks for several hours (depending on the tanning method). It should be noted that the animal skin used in the leather industry does not come from animals that have been killed for their skin. These animals are primarily destined for the dairy industry followed by the beef industry. Therefore, the leather industry collects the remaining parts.

In order to explain why we choose to use the vegetable tanned leather, we will start by explaining each method and how they differ from each other. Remember that there are different views and ways of working with leather. Know that you are free to your own opinion on the matter! 

VEGETABLE TANNING

The vegetable tanning method goes way back and is very traditional. It all started in the Middle Ages. It is one of the longest methods used in the leather industry because it requires up to 30 days (depending on the tanning elements used) before a skin becomes tanned properly. The most common elements used in this method are all plant based such as fruits, oak bark and sometimes even small tree branches. Therefore, when the water used is discharged into lakes and rivers, there are no consequences on the environment. In addition, the powder plant used for the tanning process is not harmful to workers. It is through these plants that we can achieve a beautiful brownish color. Vegetable tanning is a very rare process because it requires a high level of expertise and the perpetuation of the art is disappearing and making it a less common practice. Indeed, it is a legacy that only a few tanneries have kept today. Vegetable tanned leather is a sturdy leather that is dyed naturally over time, gradually evolving from a beige color to a deep dark caramel color. This process makes it very durable and gives it a life expectancy of over 40 years.

Here are a few advantages that come from using the vegetable tanning technique:

  • Uses only natural ingredients
  • Eco-Friendly and recyclable
  • Traditional method
  • Vegetable tanned leather progresses through time and develops a patina of dark caramel color
  • Each product is unique
  • The color of vegetable tanned leather is rich and warm
  • The look is completely natural
  • Longer life expectancy

It also has several disadvantages, such as:

  • Requires a longer tanning process (which can take up to 30 days)

  • More expensive because of the long tanning process

  • Stains with water and any sort of liquid

  • The skin colors are limited

  • Direct heat can cause narrowing or cracking of the skin

Natural, oiled and two years old

Natural, oiled and two years old

Our black veg tanned leather

Our black veg tanned leather

CHROME TANNING

Chrome tanning is the most popular tanning method in the fashion industry. Up to 90% of the leathers used on the market are tanned with chemical salts, which include chrome salt (a heavy metal). It can take less than a day for this tanning process to be complete, hence its popularity. This technique is mainly practiced in underdeveloped countries such as Bangladesh, Turkey and India. The first step consists of soaking the animal skin in an acidic solution before being tanned with the chrome salts. The skin is pale blue and is usually referred to as “wet blue” before being tanned. With the chrome salt being a heavy metal, it generates serious consequences to the health of workers that handle the skins. It can cause serious health problems such as skin abrasions, pulmonary diseases, eye and nerve damage but also, in some cases, death.

Here are a few advantages that come from using the chrome tanning technique:

  • Fastest tanning technique as it only requires 7 to 8 hours.

  • Chrome tanned leather is resistant to spills and little drops of water roll off the surface of the leather.

  • The color does not alter through time (your hot pink leather jacket for example will still have a hot pink color after decades).

  • Not as expensive as other types of leather.

  • Resists well to heat.

It also has several disadvantages, such as:

  • Extremely harmful to the environment.

  • Smaller pieces of leather.

  • Mass production

  • Low durability, the chrome leather tends to crack after a few months of use

  • Artificial looking finish. 

ANIMAL TANNING

The animal tanning elements come, for the most part, from the fat of the animals. This type of tanning must be used with vegetable or mineral tanning elements.

VEGAN LEATHER

It is important to distinguish vegetable tanned leather, which we use at Matu, from vegan leather. Vegan leather is actually a petroleum-based textile, better known as PVC or PU (Polyurethane). This textile is widely used in the fashion industry and is very harmful to the environment because they use a derivative of the highest polluting industry: the oil industry. Indeed, just like the polyester, polyurethane is made from a fibre, which is cast to make the filaments. Production of PU emanates dioxins and exposure to dioxins is linked to the onset of many diseases and cancers. Although the “vegan leather” does not kill any animal for the purpose of production, it does however have a long-term harmful effect on the environment, amongst them, the human being. There is, however, ”vegan leather” that is made from recycled plastic and presents a nice alternative seeing as how it recovers the residues of the plastic industry. The recycling of materials is preferred in the “vegan leather” process.

Here are a few advantages that come from using the chrome tanning technique:

  • No animals are hurt during the process

  • Much less expensive that regular leather

  • Unlimited variety of color


It also has several disadvantages, such as:

  • Not recyclable

  • Direct heat or cold can cause narrowing or cracking of the skin

  • Artificial smell

  • Deteriorates rapidly

  • Uses a polluting fibre

 

We believe that natural raw materials should always be used. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry harming our beautiful planet. It is therefore important we make wise choices and try to minimize the damage we are causing. That is why we value natural materials that have the least negative impact on our environment. We chose to work vegetable tanned leather because once discharged into lakes and rivers, its tannins have no negative impact. It is extremely environmentally friendly because no chemical components are added. Furthermore, when we use different fabrics for bags or lining, we use natural materials as well, such as cotton or hemp. We also prefer these materials for the clothes we wear or even our own bedding, simply because they are durable and eco-friendly products!