Environmentally Friendly Tanning Practices
The vegetable tanning process for leather is an age-old tradition. Vegetable tanning dates back thousands of years and relies on an extended and complex process of soaking animal hides in vegetable tannins. According to “Eco- Friendly Manufacturing: Using Vegetable Tanned Leather” by Makersrow.com, vegetable tanning uses plant extracts to naturally create leathers with a varying range of texture, temper, strength, and softness.” The process is implemented by skilled craftsmen who understand the value of creating a piece that will last a lifetime. In leaning toward eco-friendly processes, vegetable tanning leads the way.
Vegetable tanning does not involve harmful chemicals that are required for chrome tanning. This means that the tanning process does not involve using toxic metals, so it is healthier for the craftsman and eventually the leather is bio-degradable. However, due to its high durability and strength, vegetable tanned leather is far superior to most synthetic materials and lasts for a lifetime…or two.
This form of natural tanning yields unique products every time. Each rich and warm-toned leather piece looks natural and sometimes irregular, which is a sought-after quality for those desiring one-of-a-kind pieces. With use, vegetable tanned leather changes, deepening in its patina and softening in its feel. Thus, these leathers can be sold at a higher average price.
Some manufacturers balk at the idea of using vegetable tanning processes, as they require more time and skilled craftsmanship than chrome tanning. In Anders Ojgaard’s article, “Chrome vs Vegetable Tanned Leather,” he outlines how the chrome tanning process involves hides starting in acidic salts before being returned to a normal pH level. “This requires the use of acids and other chemicals as well as the chromium sulphates themselves. If not properly managed, these will have a negative environmental impact, and the industry continues to be under pressure to “clean up” as more regulations are introduced.”
Environmentalists are pushing companies to stop chrome tanning, saying the process is detrimental from start to finish. In “Fashion Should Ban Chrome Tanning” by Mesh Chhibber, he says a leather item isn’t a sustainable or luxury item if a brand has compromised on materials and manufacturing processes to the point that the object will last mere years, rather than decades. “Price alone does not determine whether or not a product is luxury. Many brands, including some of the most august names in the luxury industry, have undermined their legacies by chasing volume and profits at the cost of quality, all while doing considerable harm to the environment.”
For a more eco-friendly leather tanning approach, vegetable tanning is significantly better for the environment than chrome tanning. With its durability and completely unique traits, vegetable tanned leather is a material that stands the test of time.