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What Makes Vegetable-Tanned Leather So Rare and Expensive?

Why vegetable tanned leather is so expensive and rare? Because this is considered as a high quality and last long than synthetically treated leather. Learn more.

What Is Vegetable-Tanned Leather?

Different types of leather are available based on different needs and requirements. Vegetable-tanned leather is one of them.

Vegetable-tanned leather is produced using a natural tanning technique called vegetable tanning. The whole tanned leather-making process takes four to six weeks to prepare.

This leather tanning process dates back to 6000 BCE. It is believed to be the oldest leather-making tradition in the world.

What Is the Effect of Vegetable Tanning on Leather?

Typically, vegetable-tanned leather is soaked in organic tanning substances without any synthetic extracts. The tanning agents are derived from plants like oak, chestnut, mimosa bark, quebracho, and Valonea.

Known as tannins, the substances naturally bind to collagen proteins in the animal skin, turning the skin into leather.

In the same way that the natural properties of tannins protect trees from bacteria, tannins protect the skins turned into leather from damage, making the leather durable and versatile.

What Is the Vegetable Tanning Process?

When processing vegetable tan leather, the animal hide is first dipped in salts to make animal skins resistant to bacterial growth and preserve them as they are transported to the tannery. When the skins arrive at the tannery, they are soaked in water for 24 hours to remove the salt.

Then they are shaved and limed, preparing the skins for the tanning substances.

Next, the skins and the tannins are added to a large wooden rotating drum, where the skins stay for three to seven weeks to tan.

After this period, the skins are inspected by artisans. If they are satisfied with the product, the artisans leave the skins to dry on hooks in a special environment-controlled room where excess moisture drains from them.

Once the tanned hides dry, they are put through a stitching machine, where small hammers repeatedly hammer the leathers to make them softer. Sometimes the leathers are ground for several hours in a dry drum, adding to the leathers' special natural grain.

The last step is to apply oils and waxes to preserve vegetable tanned leather for longer.

The finished leather is then cut according to the business' needs, with skilled artisans inspecting each piece.

Why Vegetable-Tanned Leather Is So Expensive and Rare

This kind of leather is produced using a traditional method. It requires a high level of expertise and craftsmanship, making it expensive and rare.

Synthetically treated leather, like chrome-tanned leather, is soaked in mineral or chromium salts for days or even hours.

Vegetable-tanned leather takes up to 28 times longer to manufacture, so it only makes up about 10% of all leather on the market today.

Unlike mineral tanning, vegetable tanning does not use synthetic tannins, so higher quality is maintained in the leather.

The full-grain leather produced from natural tannins is strong, durable, and long-lasting. Animal fibers are visible on the vegetable-tanned leather products, giving them a rich patina.

Although chrome-tanned leather is cheaper to produce and keeps its color for a longer period, vegetable-tanned leather offers the durability and beauty only artisanal craftsmanship can deliver.

Also, chrome leather often has its edges treated with acrylic varnish as a cost-cutting measure. This causes it to crack, peel and split after a few years. This dramatically reduces the lifespan of a chrome-tanned leather product.

Vegetable-tanned leather is finished using burnishing or turned edges techniques. Although time-consuming, these techniques create durable leathers that last for decades.

What Is Vegetable-Tanned Leather Used for?

Vegetable-tanned leathers are thicker. Products made from vegetable-tanned leather include saddles, holsters, belts, wallets, bags, shoes, and purses.

Initially, vegetable leather is a bit stiff. Its softness increases with time and use.

Vegetable-tanned leather is available in both whole grain and top grain quality. 

Unfortunately, the color options available for vegetable tanned leather are limited, whereas chrome-tanned leather can offer you various color options. Only natural colors are available for tanned vegetable materials.

The colors depend on the type of tannin used in the process. For example, oak and spruce barks will produce light brown leather, whereas chestnut will have a medium brown colored leather.

You can try tooling, stamping, dying, or engraving our vegetable-tanned coaster shapes if you're just getting started.

Is Vegetable-Tanned Leather Eco-Friendly?

The mineral chromium is a heavy metal and is quite toxic to the environment and the people processing it.

On the other hand, vegetable tanning uses organic materials and only a little electricity. Vegetable tanning is more eco-friendly and not harmful to humans

Also, vegetable tanneries recompose their waste and reuse or sell leftover vegetable-tanned scraps.

Vegetable-Tanned Leather vs. Chrome-Tanned Leather

The vegetable tanning process leaves the skin in an active state, and so it develops a beautiful patina over time. This rich patina of this kind of leather is brought out due to the artisanal nature of the tanning process.

Chrome tanning produces softer leather which does not bring out leather's original color and feel. This makes it a cheaper leather product.

Compared to the chemical smell of synthetically treated leather, vegetable-tanned leather has much more of a woody, pleasant, and distinctive leather smell.

Contact our office at (417) 860-0546 or email us at support@stonestreetleather.com for more information about our range of products.

Is Vegetable-Tanned Leather Real Leather?

Vegetable-tanned leather is a natural leather made from animal hides. The only parts of it that are plant-based are the ingredients used to process the hides into leather.

Genuine vegetable-tanned leather is premium leather used to produce high-quality leather goods.

Why Vegetable-Tanned Leather Is a Preferred Leather

Even though chrome tanning is cheaper, it has a negative environmental effect. Nowadays, vegetable tanning is more commonly preferred by consumers.

Vegetable-tanned leather offers strength and quality, used in making bags, shoes, and saddles.

Because it retains its print, it is more frequently used in embossed leather goods.

Also, the burnishing technique ensures that vegetable tanned leather does not crack, adding to its durability. It is versatile and can be molded into any shape simply by boiling water and drying it overnight.

As the leather ages, different elements like sunlight, water, and conditioning will give it a rustic, woody look. Even though vegetable-tanned leather darkens if it is not regularly greased or oiled, it gradually lightens over time.

However, the vegetable-tanned leather will develop the most beautiful patina as it is worn or used.

If you are interested in learning more about vegetable tanned leather, contact Stonestreet Leather at (417) 860-0546 or email us at support@stonestreetleather.com.