Leather Know-How: The various types of sustainable leather tanning

The Première Vision Paris teams draw on their leather-industry expertise to help you select increasingly more virtuous leathers ready to meet the aesthetic criteria of your future collections.

After exploring in a previous article the different eco-responsible innovations available for developing eco-designed leather products, let’s now take a look at the various sustainable leather tanning options and how they are achieved, as this is a fundamental step in the leather value chain.

Sustainable leather tanning: a major stake for the industry

With both aesthetic and environmental considerations at stake, tanning is one of the most important steps for exhibitors. In their quest for cleaner solutions, they are concocting innovative recipes that are often proprietary.

So there’s not just one, but actually many, options to best adapt to the product’s needs while ensuring a clean manufacturing process. In this article, we break down the various tanning options, thanks to a selection of eco tanned leathers.

Vegetable leather tanning

Vegetable tanning, which uses natural agents to stabilize a putrescible hide into a rot-proof leather, remains one of the most widely evoked tanning methods whenever the subject turns to eco-responsibility.

It takes longer and it is more expensive than standard tanning, but it lends leathers very specific mechanical and chemical properties.

The specificities of vegetable tanning

It is known for its strength and durability and has transformed its defects into qualities. In its most natural and non-colored version, called basane, it has a low stability to UV rays, which over time lends each skin a unique, sensual and lively patina.

The result is a very differentiating hallmark, like this undyed shoulder leather from Arnal, which reveals its full naturalness. With its very clean appearance, it can easily be envisioned for small leather goods and shoes.

The firmness resulting from this type of tanning reflects the desire for a certain pared-down quality in today’s collections and is particularly well suited to bags and luggage requiring good mechanical resistance, such as the grained leather from Miret.

These properties broaden its use to artisanal-inspired interior design objects. In addition, studies have revealed its formidable anti-bacterial capabilities and its ability to absorb moisture, giving it anti-odor properties, which are useful for outdoor-geared footwear and sneakers.

A new generation of natural tanning

Over the past several seasons we’ve seen new generations of vegetable tanning that broaden the field to a more diverse range of aesthetic and tactile possibilities. The vegetable tanning used in Raynaud’s leather enhances the suppleness and subtlety of grey chiaroscuro hues created by the “bubble” surface of the lambskin.

The Alran kid leather shown here is characterized by its low chemical, formaldehyde-free impact and a finishing achieved with water-based solvents. It has a firm, full hand and a crisp, uniform grain.

The vegetable tanned leathers from FC Creacio have a soft appearance, more suppleness and elasticity thanks to re-tanning innovations. This is exemplified in this full grain lamb leather, which also boasts a surprisingly deep shade and a beautiful uniformity.

Metal free tanning

Metal free tanning owes its growing popularity to the absence of metal in the tanning process. Elaborated from synthetic tanning agents, its process depends on each tanner’s own, sometimes patented, recipes. This versatile tanning process provides both suppleness and softness, while ensuring good wear resistance. What also makes metal-free tanning interesting is how it produces bright, intense and luminous colors, which are usually more difficult to achieve in other types of tanning.

FC Creacio’s Spring-Summer 22 products are a prime demonstrations of the versatility of this tanning process. This suede lamb leather brings together a host of performance codes – traceability, biodegradability and metal free – while satisfying the season’s creative inclinations, as seen in this pastel mauve color.

Another example of the pale shades rendered possible is this pastel yellow shade on a very light nappa lamb leather enhanced a subtly shiny aspect. With its water-repellent and waterproof properties, it’s an easy choice for sneakers or bags with a sporty chic look. This grained calf leather from TMM has a two-tone look and boasts LWG certification and metal-free tanning.

A multiplicity of tanning options

Other tanners are turning to a mix of tanning process. This technique combines chrome and vegetable tanning in varying proportions with tanning and re-tanning, to optimize the advantages of each technique. For example, it may involve the use of chrome tanning and vegetable re-tanning.

Resulting from the know-how and expertise of each tanner, these recipes evolve according to the desired look and properties, thereby promising highly personalized and unique products.

For example, Badia’s grain-embossed full-grain leather results from a mixed tanning process. By combining the qualities of vegetable tanning and chrome tanning, it provides a certain naturalness coupled with a beautiful uniformity and color intensity – perfect for enhancing the colors of the season, like this “solar” orange.

Silvateam is offering tanners new solutions based on sustainable technologies to ensure a low carbon footprint. One of their recently developed processes, called Ecotan, is based on an innovative vegetable tanning process that combines vegetable tannins with products that are both bio-circular and free of products that are toxic to humans and the environment, thus ensuring the safety of both tanners and consumers.

This results in quite special aesthetic attributes, such as very pale leather colors, and lends leathers a beautiful uniformity and fullness. Kyoto’s full grain leather reveals an intense red color magnified by a very smooth appearance.


Also see our article addressing the various sustainable alternatives in leather to hone your search and help you find just the right leather for your spring-summer 22 collections. 

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