New know-hows reconcile color and sustainability in leathers

Color – in the leather industry as elsewhere – is essentially a chemical transformation. But color and dyeing processes are not only energy-intensive, they’re also notorious for relying on chemical agents that, without proper handling, can be released into the environment.

The leather industry is mobilizing to offer greener alternatives across its production chain. In terms of color processes, these efforts – like those in the textile industry – are mainly focusing on reducing both water consumption and chemical residues.

Plant, mineral and synthetic tanning agents provide a whole array of different characteristics. New formulas are constantly being perfected to retain the properties of these pigmentary agents, while reconciling them with environmental considerations.

Discover these new solutions in our selection of leathers found at Première Vision by logging on here.

Natural dyeing

Vegetable tanning uses tanning agents derived from plant extracts, and is characterized by an authentic look. Its color-absorbing capacity usually makes it more difficult to to obtain bright hues. In general, it also lends more firmness and density to skins. These are the two main points the latest innovations focus on.

Moving towards plural behaviors

New techniques take full advantage of leather’s wide range of behaviors. By modifying parameters such as the pH and astringency, these techniques enhance leathers’ natural shades, while paving the way to more supple, less compact handles.

Soydan and Raynaud are both offering undyed Basane that retains the original color of the skins. Simple patinas and finishes play on the naturalness and authenticity of each skin, resulting in handles that are less firm.

The new vegetable palette

France’s Ictyos specializes in marine leathers. The fish skins – salmon, sturgeon, trout – come from industrial waste. The DNA of Ictyos is rooted in local and traditional know-hows teamed with innovation. The company has developed a collection whose dyes are derived from agri-food waste. These polyphenol-rich dyes replace traditional dyes and enrich the palette with new shades.

Their Squama® Raw collection is made from bark from Quebracho and chestnut trees, and, for example, offers a variety of new beige tones. In addition, a collection developed thanks to grape marc proposes a range of soft wine-sediment hues.

Increasingly sustainable brights responsables

Innovations are also focusing on more intense and cleaner colors.

More intense vegetable dyes

Thanks to biopolymers, tanners have concocted vegetable recipes that allow for brighter, more luminous tones, moving away from the natural hues attributed to classic vegetable tanning-agents.

Such is the case at Olivenleder, which has developed a wet green process. Olive leaves from agri-food waste are transformed into active tanning agents. The result is a concentrated aqueous substance, free of metals and any chemical tanning agent. This new process improves color intensity when compared to traditional vegetable tanning.

Ecotan® from Silvateam is a new-generation vegetable tanning process whose technology teams vegetable tannins and biopolymers. This process results in round, supple leathers in deep, intense shades without the use of chromium or glutaraldehyde. Developed with partner tanneries and a fertilizer manufacturer, the quality and non-toxicity of its co-products make it possible to transform residues into biological fertilizer at the end of the life cycle.


Brands’ requirements have reflected changing regulatory requirements for metals, leading them to anticipate future requirements by calling for products free of traces of chromium or metal. As a result, formulations have focused on tanning agents derived from synthetic polymers.

Wet white

New generations of low impact Metal-Free products offer qualities similar to those of chrome tanning. Thanks to the luminosity of the wet white bases, leathers boast true colors that are neither grayish nor bluish, including tangy, peppy pastels and optical whites. Wet white is a stabilization or pre-tanning state. Recent improvements include better thermal performance, mechanical resistance to abrasion and light-fastness.

With its Respect Technology process, the CILP tannery employs a tanning process which is free of heavy metals and glutaraldehyde, and is also water and energy efficient.

Suede calfskin specialist Sciarada has launched its Dherma and Granello ranges. Free of chrome, titanium, iron, aluminium and zirconium, these ranges make it possible to obtain a round hand and luminous shades.

Metal-free tanning is well adapted to suede leathers as it makes it possible to achieve a bright shade in drum dyeing, to bring out the colors.

With its metal-free synthetic tanning, Conceria M2 can obtain velvet leathers in intense colorways.


The latest innovations include Zeology™, whose technology paves the way for pale or very intense colors that are light resistant.

This method is formulated with zeolite, a mineral that binds to the skin’s collagen to provide characteristics similar to chrome. Used by Nera Tanning, this tanning process is free of chrome, heavy metals, bisphenol A and glutaraldehyde. Both glutaraldehyde and bisphenol A, which are frequently used in synthetic tanning, have been included on the SVHC list of substances of very high concern. This process has obtained Cradle to Cradle platinum level of certification, and ZDHC level 3 certification, which is currently more restrictive than the Reach regulation.

To obtain a product that is biodegradable and compostable at the end of its life, a 360° approach is required. Such a virtuous circle requires a cleaner choice of dye, combined with a more sustainable finishing.

Using less pigmented dye will result in a more transparent colored finish, which has the added benefit of preserving the natural quality of the skin. The result is a more durable product with less surface wear.

And don’t forget to see our special know-how report on eco-friendly color in textiles and our eco-friendly leather decodings.

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