You might not have heard of vegetable tanned leather, or even really thought about how leather gets to a point where it is ready to be made into a product right?
Well that could be because the majority of the global fashion industry doesn't really want you to know. Many brands sadly use chrome tanning which is the cheapest, mass produced and most toxic form of leather tanning, as it is a much quicker process than the traditional vegetable tanning process. The result being the use of chromium salts that are unsustainable for the environment and harmful to not only the people and places that make it, but to you too.
Basically, the chrome tanning process usually means placing hides into acidic baths which consist of a mix of chemicals, which in most cases means that the leather is no longer a natural product. These baths create masses of toxic wastewater. You can read more about the environmental and human impacts on our blog post here.
Foamy waste water from tanneries makes its way into the local farmland. Image by Sean Gallagher, India 2013.
What is vegetable tanning?
Vegetable tanning of leather is an ancient method and has very minimal negative environmental impact. It consists of repeatedly soaking skins in natural tanning solutions made up mainly of water, and is a slow and complex process. It usually takes a minimum of 30 to 60 days to finish and requires the patience, care, and supervision of skilled craftsmen.
Most plants contain tannins, especially in the bark but also in leaves, roots or even fruits. Those with a high concentration are useful for tanning hides. Many different plants and trees have been in use for leather tanning over thousands of years such as oak, acacia or wattle, mangrove bark or birch. So you will only ever see a vegetable tanned leather product in a colour that occurs in nature. Fluro colours can be attributed to unnatural chrome tanned leathers.
So why chose vegetable tanned leather?
Balincourt's linen and cotton lined interior.
1 - For Longevity - to last you for years, not seasons
Due to the careful tanning process and the use of natural tannins, vegetable tanned leather products will develop a rich and beautiful patina, and will become suppler to the touch with time and use. They won’t crack or dry out and have impressive ageing and longevity.
2 - It's Biodegradable - say 'no' to more land fill
Your vegetable tanned handbag can last multiple lifetimes and then the leather is generally biodegradable if you no longer use it, as is Balincourt's linen/cotton lining. Chrome tanned leathers, on the other hand, are not biodegradable and cannot be recycled. By choosing vegetable tanned leather you are saying no to fast fashion, which often ends up as land fill.
3 - The Natural Smell
Vegetable tanned leather products carry a natural smell due to the natural solutions that are used. Chrome tanned handbags often carry a chemical smell and won’t wear well or last very long, and can crack after just a few months of use greatly reducing the lifespan of the product.
4 - The Uniqueness - no two pieces will age the same way
Vegetable tanning creates a piece that will become more loved over time, developing character and a natural patina. No two pieces will age the exact same way, creating something that is unique. The leather does take longer to produce, making for a slightly more expensive product, but this careful, handmade process adds to the richness and exclusivity of vegetable tanned leather, which is in great contrast to the mass-produced chrome tanned leather.
Discover for yourself, the range of everyday essential bags from Balincourt, all made with vegetable tanned leather designed with a distinct fashion feel. The style are as unmistakable, as they are practical.
The wear-with-everything designs are made to take you from work to weekend and all the places in between, each piece designed to last - for years, not seasons.