We just got back from Lineapelle, the international exhibition “dedicated to leather, accessories, components, synthetics and models for footwear, leather goods, garments and furniture.” It’s a good place to go for inspiration and to get a feel for trends in the market. Most years, it’s about colors, looks, or, most recently, technologically-enhanced materials like touchscreen, gold dusting, neoprene stretch, thermal, and glow-in-the-dark.
But, this year, there was a major focus on eco-friendly tanning and metal-free processing in particular. "Veg-tan" has been a buzzword in the industry for a while. However, in reality, tanneries have been marketing vegetable tanning as a novelty—something with a nice eco-story that couldn’t really achieve the physical and aesthetic qualities that customers pay for in luxury leathers.
Yet, the technology for veg-tan seems to be catching up to metal-based tanning. At this year’s Lineapelle exhibition, we saw coffee-tanned alligator, olive-tanned calf, and wine-tanned cordovan on top of the conventional vegetable-tanned everything else.
What is Vegetable Tanning?
Vegetable tanning, or veg-tan, is a tanning process that uses the tannins found in different kinds of vegetable matter—bark, leaves, fruits, etc.—that is normally used in the creation of footwear, handbags and all kinds of leather goods. This type of tanning is being considered as an eco-friendly alternative to chrome-based tanning which relies on heavy chemicals that may let of contaminated water or fumes that can cause damage to the environment. (Although, it is important to note that most major tanneries in modernized countries use sophisticated water treatment plants, ventilation systems, and other filtration technologies to mitigate, if not eliminate, these issues).
Traditionally, leathers and exotic skins tanned without metals have been far less durable and versatile than chrome-tanned skins. However, with years of advancements in veg-tanning, those differences have begun to dissipate.
Look forward to more blogs to learn about the issues with chrome tanning that make veg-tan attractive for exotic leather tanneries, the issues with metal-free tanning, and the state of metal-free tanning as a whole in the industry!