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Why We Use Vegetable Tanned Leather

You might have heard about vegetable-tanned leathers, but maybe you don’t know why purse makers use it? Why do only the highest quality purses use this type of leather? 

Vegetable-tanned leathers possess natural qualities that only they can produce, durable, high-quality leather bags.  They are sustainable and reduce environmental impact. Italian veg-tanned leathers are the most sought after and last a generation. 

So what is it about these kinds of leathers that make them ideal for handbag makers? Well, only the highest quality handmade bags use this type, and we will explain why.

The leather accessories we handcraft use the most excellent materials from mother nature: leather and bamboo. The use of both materials for centuries may have started in the Stone Age. Using natural materials enhances the beautiful patterns we create in our signature look. The woven designs of veg-tanned leather and bamboo create firm and durable leather goods that we believe are of heirloom quality. You can use them for a generation, and they will age with character. The rich luster and earthly colors form the dark patina that builds over time.

red woven mini wallet for ladies
Red Woven Wallet for Ladies

The most distinct veg-tanned leathers are from ancient recipes and traditional methods. And they are only made with all-natural ingredients from the forests. This artisan and traditional way of producing leather is also sustainable and produces less waste and damage to the environment. Plants, tree barks and woods are used for some of the natural tannins to process the leather. And the locally used barks and materials are geographically distinct to each region. Italian leathers versus leather made in the UK will have a unique look and feel. That is why we choose to use only Italian or European made leathers.

So why are these beautiful buttery leathers also sustainable and safe for our environment? Let us explain more about the differences.

Vegetable Tanned Leather: A Centuries-old Process

A vegetable-tanned or veg-tanned leather will take more than three months to prepare, and this is precious time that some are not willing to wait. Much of the processing of these naturally made leathers require only to sit in vats and pools of tanning liquid. See more about tannins and the natural process used for centuries here. They don’t need much energy to process. In the other types of leather making, like chrome tanning, they require many chemicals and energy to process in mechanical drums and vats. Chrome tanned leathers like the name suggests, need “chrome” to prepare. 

That heavy metal then may go back into the wastewater the tannery will expel. The wastewater produced from these kinds of leathers also is what makes the chrome tan process so harmful to the environment. Much of the leather produced worldwide is made this way and creates tons of polluted water. However, we do not use those types of leather. We only use veg-tanned leathers produced by responsible tanneries, and we care about the impact they have. Italian leather makers produce the finest in the world. To learn more about this fascinating process, please check this article on the process of tanning leather.       

The properties of fine leathers that we require must be firm but still be pliable and soft to the hand. Only veg-tanned leathers can have this fantastic feel and feature. The products we need must be firm because we are weaving bamboo into the leather, and it must be able to handle this. If the leather is too soft and thin, then weaving will be more difficult and could also stretch or tear the leather. If the leather is too firm, then the bamboo will break, or it is too hard to insert. So only veg-tanned leathers have this particular property. That is a practical reason we use it in our leather purses, wallets, and accessories.  

Chrome Tan Leathers: Mass-Produced & Low Quality

The time it takes for leather to age in the natural tannins makes the properties desirable for us to use in the pieces we create. Overall the natural colors and beautiful grains found in the hides reflect the character of each piece. As we select each part to cut for bags we create, we do consider how each scratch or mark that shows up with present itself on the piece. On a natural hide, you may see blemishes and slight variations in uniformity across the surface. That is the mark of natural leather. It is imperfect and signifies the uniqueness of the artisan piece.

Chrome tanned leather may take only days to make. And we feel this means the fast pace reduces the attention and care needed for quality. Most of our most exquisite purses and backpacks take us a week to make. So the chrome tanned leather produces immense amounts of waste since. They use mass-production for speed and cost reduction.

Chrome tanning uses a solution of chemicals, acids, and salts (including chromium sulfate) to tan the hide. It’s a very quick process, taking about a day to produce a piece of tanned leather. 

Hybrid Chrome Tanning  


Veg-tan Leathers are Dyed Throughout, Not Just Surfaces

Another important reason we use the veg-tanned leathers is they are dyed all the way through. That means when we weave our bamboo patterns into the leather; the cut edges are also the same color as the outer surface. The dyes show throughout the entire piece, so the color is uniform. In other lower qualities of leather, this would pose a problem for us. We would need to take further time to color those exposed edges, and it would ruin the look of our design. 

On the edges of the bags, we use traditional burnishing methods. That means we don’t use other edge painting, if at all possible. These types of edge finishing are mostly plastics and acrylics. And over time, they will crack and peel. Our methods of craftsmanship use traditional burnishing, which makes for a lasting finish and a natural shiny sheen on the edges. They also are very smooth and durable. Only veg-tanned leathers can achieve this kind of durable edge. Even the most expensive designer purses usually use edge paint. It is much easier for them to mass-produce them. And they edges can all look “perfect.” However, over time they will peel, crack, and come off, exposing the lower quality inner edges.  

Veg-tanned Leather Edges Are More Durable Than Edge Paint

The final reason for using veg-tanned leather is also that they are going to be more durable over time and can be maintained and conditioned to last. The pores of this type of leather are open and breathable, and they also have a good content of natural oils to keep the material from drying out. A porous surface also means the natural oils from your hands or body will get on the surface of leather. And this will add to the patina and rich luster people love. This used vintage looks and character that develops over time is unique to veg-tanned leather. 

Chrome tanned leather is almost always not dyed throughout the hide and therefore are not easily processed with weaving as we do. This unnatural process removes all of the natural oils and leaves a dry, lifeless piece of leather. They also are not able to have burnished edges. They require edge painting, and this will always lead to cracked peeling edges over time. That is why we do not use chrome tanned leathers. They will need more processing of the edges with the edge paint that does not last. 

However, a burnished edge is a natural “rubbing” of the edge until its surface turns shiny. And it is sealed from the elements. It can also then be sealed with beeswax to make sure the edges stay nice and not become frayed. Also, this keeps your products looking very neat, beautiful, and durable. This kind of finished edge is an all-natural finish. There is no material like edge paint that will crack or peel.

The physical properties of veg-tanned leather also make it more suitable to leave in its raw form. Users can appreciate the feel and smell of this natural leather. We can also create pieces that leaves the inner side exposed for breathability. In other low-quality chrome tan leather bags, designers must cover the inner sides since they cannot be burnished or processed. Our inner surfaces can be left in the natural state, and our users can appreciate the natural charm of real veg-tanned leathers. Look at the inside of our crossbody mini purse below, and if you want to know more about it, please click here.