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What is Vegetable Tanned Leather?



We talk a lot about vegetable tanned leather on this site. We make all of our products with vegetable tanned leather. We believe in it, love it, live it. So what is it exactly? Check out the whiteboard video above for a quick summary.

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.

Since vegetable tanning is a natural process, 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 has literally been around for centuries. 

Here's an awesome video from Wickett & Craig that is a great overview of the process:



The Process of Vegetable Tanning

Step 1: Pre Tanning

Our tannery partners source the cowhides from strong North American steers. First, the hides have to be prepped. So they spend a couple days rehydrating the hides and removing the hair. The whole hide is cut into two pieces called sides.

Step 2: Tanning 

vegetable tanning leather

The split hides are then put into large vats filled with natural tannins. Some of these natural tannins include bark of the Mimosa and Quebracho trees. The hides spend a couple of weeks soaking in this tanning liquor and must be frequently tended to in order to ensure full absorption. The hides are then removed, excess moisture is taken out and they are shaved to the desired thickness (from the backside).

For vegetable tanned leather that isn’t dyed, this is nearing the end of the road. That type of veg tan leather has a pale almost pinkish color to it. But the veg tan leather we use if further dyed to create the rich color and character that makes our leather so unique.

Step 3: Dyeing, Fat Liquoring, Drying

drum dyeing vegetable tanned leather

The tanned hides arrive at this step as a blank canvas and ready to be infused with rich color and character. The hides are dyed in enormous drums that look something like a wine barrel on steroids that rotates in the air.

The hides are then fat liquored with conditioning oils and waxes. Our leather is then hot stuffed, which is a special process that literally stuffs the leather hide to its core with waxes and tallows that give it a rich color and make it more durable.

After that, the hides are dried and staked. Staking is a process that softens up the leather just a bit.

Step 4: Finishing the Leather

finishing the leather

In this stage, the hides are sprayed another time with waxes and a sealant for protection. They are then ironed and graded.

The entire process is very time and labor intensive, taking about six weeks to complete. This is significantly longer than chrome-tanned leather, which is the most common tanning method.

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