Vegetable-Tanned Vs. Chrome-Tanned Leather

February 11, 2018 4 min read

Leather wallet of black vegetable tanned leather with crocodile print

What exactly is vegetable tanned leather and why do we love it?

At DAPHNY RAES we believe in products that can last a lifetime. That is why we carefully select our materials. Only the best ones make the cut. Vegetable tanned leather is extremely durable and above all environmentally friendly which fits our brand values like a glove. 

Lots of people don’t know exactly what the term ‘vegetable tanned leather’ means since only 10% of world’s leather production is made this way. Let’s dive into that.‬

There are different sorts of leather tanning and not all of them are the right choice.

From a rawhide to real leather

Leather is made of raw animal hides and these skins need to be processed before we can call it leather. This transformation is called ‘tanning’ and is achieved by removing water molecules from the collagen of the skin. Otherwise, the skin will dry out and get stiff, as it is an organic material.

 Quality trademark of italian vegetable tanned leather

Vegetable tanned leather

Vegetable tanning is the most traditional, artisanal way of tanning and it has found its origin thousands of years ago. High-quality raw hides are soaked in pits or barrels with solutions made of natural tannic acids (from tree barks, branches and leaves).

This process takes more than a month, to fully rehydrate the leather and replace the water molecules. This complex method does not contain any harmful chemicals, which gives a rich and sweet smell to the leather.

Vegetable tanned leather is costly since the tanning process is slow and can take 1 up to 3 months and requires highly skilled and precise craftsmen. The result is an environmentally friendly, unique and most of all durable product with a long lifespan.

Chrome tanned leather

Unlike vegetable tanning, chrome tanning requires less expertise. This technique is developed in the 19th century as a cheaper and much faster alternative for mass production and fast-fashion.

Nowadays, with 90% of the global leather production, it is the most utilized way of tanning. Despite being harmful to the environment, natural tannins are replaced by chromium salts, chemicals and acids.

These chrome tannins are smaller than their natural counterparts and are responsible for a softer and thinner end product.

The lifespan of this type of leather is lower because the raw quality of skins is lower to start with. Secondly, the processing is much less intensive and can be acquired in only a couple of days which affects the strength of the leather.

Rawhides before and after the process of making vegetable tanned leather

Although these disadvantages are known, most brands choose for this type of leather in order to cut the cost of production. This said, there are some advantages and disadvantages for each method.

Advantages and disadvantages

Vegetable tanned leather - advantages

  • Durable, strong and has a long lifespan.
  • It develops a beautiful patina and has a genuine, natural aesthetic and smell.
  • Made in full respect of man and nature and does not contain any toxic substances.
  • In our tannery, the rawhides are a sub-product of the meat industry. The cattle had a good life and no animal was killed for its skin.
  • Because only natural tannins are used, the leather can be easily disposed at the end of its life.  
  • Made by highly-skilled artisans making the product more prestigious.

Vegetable tanned leather - disadvantages

  • The production time is long and takes about 2 months.
  • The process is complex and highly skilled craftsman are difficult to find.
  • It’s expensive: high production costs lead to high final costs.
  • Vegetable tanned leather cannot be acquired in all colors. Especially light and bright colors can be a problem.

Chrome tanned leather - advantages

  • Cheaper and easier to make and therefore more abundant than vegetable tanned leather.
  • The leather is supple and soft
  • The colors almost always remain the same

Chrome tanned leather - disadvantages

  • The tanning process uses chemical substances that are harmful to the environment.
  • Chrome tanned leather will crack faster and has a shorter lifespan.
  • The leather often does not feel and smell natural.
  • Chrome tanned leather goods can cause allergic reactions.

Guess what we choose…

Since we want our products to be a long-term investment, it is obvious that vegetable tanned leather is the right choice for us.

We embrace the uniqueness and character it brings to our vegetable tanned luxury bags. The variations in shade and color are a sign of quality.

What is a patina?

Natural leather gets more supple and develops a rich patina with time. The leather gradually matures when it comes in contact with your skin, the sun, oils and other substances.

All natural leather tells a story and you see the leather come to live. This characteristic is in our opinion far more superior than the look of chemical leather, which deteriorates by use.

Quality trademark of Tuscan vegetable tanned leather

Our tannery

For us, there was no better place than the renowned leather district of Tuscany between ‘Florence and Pisa’ to source our leather.

Our tannery is a 3rd generation family business and with their long-lasting expertise, they are able to select the best hides from cattle in France, Sweden and Switzerland.

They are also one of the founding members of the ‘Consorzio Vera Pelle Italiana Conciata al Vegetale’, which is a trademark that guarantees the outstanding quality of the leather. It also guarantees the leather is fully processed in the Tuscany region.

A dream coming true…

To make sure we live and breathe our products, we wanted to be close to our tannery and therefore we moved to Tuscany.

A whole new adventure is on its way and we could not be more excited to live in the heart of world’s #1 leather region and learn more than ever!

Curious about our vegetable tanned leather bags? Shop our collection here.

Talk soon!

Daphny and Han