A little leather history lesson...

Tanning drum leather vegetable tanned

When choosing your next leather bag or accessory, there are two main things that you need to inform yourself about:

  1. The type and quality of the leather. 
  2. The craftsmanship behind it.

In our next few blog post we will take you on the journey of our craftsmanship, but first we would like to tell you the story of leather. 

A little history about leather...

To understand how truly special our leather is, you need know a little more about the history of leather. 

The earliest references to tanning (preserving the animal hides) appear around 8,000 BC - These pioneers of leather tanning scraped the hair from the hide and then treated it with urine or brains to preserve and soften the material. This process remained the same for several thousand years.

History credits ancient Greeks with developing a revolutionary tanning formula using water-soaked leaves and certain tree barks to preserve leather. This process, called vegetable tanning, uses the tannins (thus, the term “tanning”) that occur naturally in the leaves and bark. The tannins bind to the collagen proteins in the animal hide, coat them, and cause them to become less water-soluble, which makes them resistant to bacteria and prevents the hide from putrefying. Vegetable tanned leather became a well-established trade in Greece around 500 BC, and the Romans made wide use of leather for a range of different applications.

After the industrial revolution however the combination of new demands and new technology led to the development of chromium tanning (or “mineral tanning”), which irreversibly changed the craft of tanning leather. Mineral tanning uses chromium sulfate, is faster than vegetable tanning, and produces a more stretchable leather, which was better suited for mass production.

But, chromium tanned leather is very un-suited for, branding, tooling, painting, or carving. Another problem with leather made in this fashion is that it is not as durable, and aesthetically pleasing as Vegetable tanned leather. The industry of chromium tanning even has a dark side, as the process is extremely toxic for both the environment, and the people producing the leather.

Even so, after the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of chromium tanning, the practice of vegetable tanning nearly died out.

In the contemporary fashion world, Vegetable tanned leather has become the most desirable type of leather again, due to its aesthetics, durability, quality, and sustainability. But not everyone has the skills to produce it, making it rare and highly regarded.

Up next...

In our next blog post we will let you in on which leather we use, and why it is so special.

But for now, have a lovely day!


the Karu team. 




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