The current state of tanning and the level of sustainability at these tanneries have a huge influence in the fashion industry and mainly revolves around two different processes: vegetable tanning and chrome tanning.
What Is Vegetable-Tanned Leather
A leather that is rich in character and gets better with age, vegetable-tanned leather uses vegetable and plant-based agents for tanning. It is an environmentally-friendly form of tanning and gives leather a uniquely soft, natural-looking finish.
In the vegetable tanning process, the leather hide goes through a process of soaking in vats of concentrated vegetable tannins. We at Natural Nuance use products made with tannins drawn from the tree bark and pods of abundantly growing, sustainable trees like the Tara and Mimosa trees, or other natural elements, such as the ripe cups of the Valonea oak trees, which like the pods, can be harvested without any damage to the trees.
For more information on the tanning agents we use, see Our Guide to Sustainable & Natural, Plant-Based Leather Tanning.
The caveat? The environmentally friendly vegetable tanning process can often take weeks to complete vs. the few days it takes chrome-tanning to get the job done -- making it a time and labor commitment with extra associated costs. In addition, vegetable-tanning requires a great deal of craftsmanship and expertise, resulting in a higher cost of production.
But the process is well worth it in the long term as it gives you a product that can last for years and decades of use while softening and aging beautifully. The patina created from use over time will only make your bag look more invaluable and timeless.
What Is Chrome-Tanned Leather
On the other hand, chrome-tanned leather is a relatively modern way of tanning and replaces all vegetable matter with chromium, a man-made compound. It is estimated that today about 85% of the world's leather is tanned using chrome salts. Quicker, cheaper, and easier to produce, chrome tanning can take only a few days instead of weeks.
Chrome tanned leather can cause environmental damage that is not only harming the ecosystem but also the person wearing it.
Strict EU environmental regulations have led many companies to move their production abroad. The extremely polluting and carcinogenic solid chromium VI is banned in Europe, but it may be used in emerging countries with lower environmental standards. Often, this leather is then re-imported into the EU and manufactured.
The much lower price and much shorter production time of chrome leather explains why it is used so often.
One of the biggest problems is what happens to the toxic wastewater after tanning. For example, if these drums are dumped uncontrolled into local water sources, causing a whole range of environmental and health problems.
It is particularly important to use chrome-free leather for clothing, shoes and bags, as it comes into direct contact with the skin.
The Importance of Using Vegetable-Tanned Leather
At Natural Nuance, we only use leathers that have been made using plant-based tanning agents that are environmentally friendly, sustainable, and safe for use. With a commitment to circularity, we will never rely on toxic byproducts or high-impact materials.
Using vegetable-tanned leather not only focuses on high quality, well-crafted products, but also gives our customers a timeless, chic handbag that they will love and keep for years to come.