If you didn’t read the article on Vegetable Tanning, be sure to check it out. But to recap:
Vegetable tanned leather refers to the tannage, or method of tanning the cowhide into leather. It’s called “vegetable” because of the natural materials used in the tanning process like tree bark. It’s also eco-friendly. Vegetable tanning or veg tan as it’s sometimes called, is one of the oldest methods of tanning known to man. It’s literally been around for centuries. It takes about 6 weeks to complete the veg tan process.
Chrome tanned leather is pretty much everything vegetable tanned leather is not. It uses chromium and harsh chemicals. It can be completed much quicker, typically in a matter of days. Because of these differences, chrome tanned leather is almost always cheaper than vegetable tanned leather. It’s no surprise then that chrome tanned leather accounts for about 90% of all leather on the market.
I don’t mean to disparage chrome tanned leather. There are some good chrome tanned leathers out there. And they certainly serve a purpose. For example, another difference between vegetable tanned leather and chrome tanned is the stiffness or temper of the leather. Veg tanned leather tends to be a little stiffer, though it will soften some as it breaks in. Chrome tanned leather can be very pliable, you can even wad it up in your hand sometimes.
Also, because of the tanning process differences, vegetable tanned hides can be much thicker than chrome tanned hides. This cuts both ways, no pun intended. Sometimes you want a thicker leather; sometimes you don’t.
For example, most boot leather is chrome tanned because you want it to be very pliable to bend as you walk. It can also be a little more water resistant. But most of the high end leather bags tend to be made of vegetable tanned leather because of its shape holding ability, durability, character and the way it ages.
Take a look at some of our bag designs. It would be nearly impossible to achieve some of those shapes, and hold them long term, with chrome-tanned leather. For lack of a better word, chrome tanned leather is a bit mushy. By using thick vegetable tanned leather, we’re able to make bags that are sturdy, hold their shape, and age wonderfully, developing a rich patina.
This is perhaps a trivial point for some, but it’s something I notice right away. There is a very different smell for each of these two types of leather.
Chrome tanned leather tends to smell a bit “chemically” if that’s a word. It can be a little bit strong right out of the box. Some might even say nauseating if the tanning was done poorly. Chrome tanned leather that is well made smells okay.In contrast, vegetable tanned leather has that classic leather smell that is absolutely intoxicating and addictive. You’ll know it when you smell it. If you haven’t smelled a quality vegetable tanned leather, you’re missing out! I don’t want to go too overboard here, but there really is a big difference in smell between chrome and veg tan leather.