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Vegetable tanned leather, a natural material for a sustainable fashion

More and more consumers are orienting their purchase choices on sustainability criteria and respect for the environment. In particular, there is a growing interest in innovative materials, many derived from the recovery of vegetable waste, often presented as an “ecological alternative” to traditional solutions considered more polluting. Fashion is one of industries most affected by this change, especially with regards to accessories, such as bags, shoes and belts. The adoption of new materials and products is a positive sign of market vitality. However, information overload from the Internet and social media can be confusing. The equation “innovative = ecological” vs “traditional = polluting” is not always valid: sometimes the real sustainable choice is represented by traditional solutions. Vegetable tanned leather is a perfect example. Originally a by-product of Food Industry, it requires only a 100% natural substance extracted from vegetable sources: tannin.

Here are several valid reasons to rediscover this artisan excellence.

Vegetable tanned leather: when innovation comes from tradition

Tannin turns vegetable tanned leather into a true cornerstone of sustainable fashion. And for many different reasons:

  • It is a 100% natural substance. All plants contain tannin. In Nature, it has the task of protecting them from fungi and bacteria. Men extracted it for centuries and for multiple uses; leather tanning is one of the oldest.
  • It respects the environment: the most widely used plant sources for tannin extraction on an industrial scale are Chestnut and Quebracho wood and Tara pods. The supply of raw materials respects the natural balance, since they come from responsibly managed forests, and it is subject to strict regulations and controls by the national authorities. Tannin producers are the first to protect the woods, in order to guarantee the procurement of the raw material over time. The tannin industry has thus contributed to protect the forest heritage against building and construction industry and intensive farming. Indirectly, this has also supported local economy, preserving rural and wooded areas from abandonment.
  • It is obtained according to sustainable processes. Tannin extraction from the wood has remained substantially unchanged over the centuries: it requires only the use of hot water, without any chemical additives. The wood is reduced to tiny pieces and left to macerate in autoclaves. The operation is a real infusion, like tea brewing. The liquid tannin then undergoes a drying process that transforms it into a colored powder, more suitable for being stored and transported. The water that comes from the process is reused for new infusion processes; exhausted wood can be sent to a biomass plant to produce new energy or transformed into completely natural pellets for stoves.
  • It allows an effective product disposal. Once their cycle of use is over, vegetable tanned leather goods can be easily disposed of as organic waste. They can even be turned into natural fertilizers for organic farming.
  • It gives unique qualities to the leather. The vegetable-tanned leather used in shoes manufacturing prevents the formation of unpleasant odors. Thanks to tannin, vegetable tanned leather becomes breathable and absorbent, avoiding the formation of environments favorable to the proliferation of bacteria that cause the bad smell. Every time we wear shoes with vegetable tanned leather linings, the foot remains fresh and dry. The shoe interior is therefore not a bacteria incubator.
  • It is an ecological alternative to chrome. Currently, the most common tanning method is chrome tanning, which uses chrome salts as tanning agents. It is a consolidated method, fast and cheap, but produces waste that, if not properly treated, can be highly polluting. Tannin, on the other hand, is natural and absolutely not contaminating. Furthermore, in contact with sensitive skin, chromium may cause allergies; the tannin, 100% natural, is safe even for the most delicate subjects.

 The tradition against “Fast Fashion”

The current fashion system encourages a continuous change of clothes and accessories, aimed at feeding an industry in constant need of renewal. It is the so-called “Fast Fashion” and has a significant environmental impact.

  • 73% of the clothes produced in the world end up in landfills or are incinerated;
  • less than 1% of the materials used to produce clothes are recovered to produce new ones;
  • less than 15% of discarded clothes are collected for recycling.

With the increase in world population (which should exceed 8.5 billion people by 2030), the fashion industry could see production growth around 63%, making a bad situation worse. Imposing stricter regulations on manufacturers is not enough to eradicate this problem: we need to change mentality, rediscover the value of durable objects. Like vegetable-tanned leather accessories, which over time absorb the traces of our experience and acquire an inimitable uniqueness.

An ancient and noble artisan tradition

 Vegetable tanning is a traditional process closely linked to the excellence of Made in Italy in the world; has remained substantially unchanged over the centuries and involves only tannin as a tanning agent. An ancient and noble artisan tradition deep-rooted in Tuscany, in the so-called “Leather District” between Florence and Pisa.

An artisan quality protected by the Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium, which brings together various Tuscan tanneries. On shoes, bags and other accessories, this brand is the guarantee that those objects have been made with tannins according to the tradition of vegetable leather tanning. The brand is promoted through a guarantee certificate, with a graphic layout accompanied by anti-counterfeiting systems and a progressive and registered numbering which allows the traceability of both the leather tannery supplier and the manufactured product. A symbol of exclusivity well represented by the motto “Creating requires both time and skill”.

Tannin goes on stage… online

To bring the general public closer to the world of tannins, tannins.org was born, a website entirely dedicated to tannin with insights on its possible applications in fashion, particularly in footwear. The initiative is due to a team of international companies, leaders in the field of plant extracts. An international ingredient branding initiative that aims to make end consumers know and appreciate the value of a substance with multiple virtues but unfairly little known. The presence of tannins in certain products or processes, on the other hand, is so significant that can acquire a considerable importance in consumer purchasing decisions.

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