Leather is one of the raw materials our ancestors appreciated most. Since leather is a breathable material, people began investigating how to preserve its raw quality and how to make it more durable. This is what we call tanning. The process of 100% vegetable tanning is one that is done in the most natural and environmentally respectful way possible, as was done before, without using chemicals to help lower costs. One of the main characteristics of vegetable tanned leather is that its pores are left open, allowing the leather to create a unique and beautiful patina over time.
Thanks to this environmentally friendly process, the leather obtains qualities that are unthinkable when using the chromium tanning process. We use a traditional vegetable tanning process done in a purely artisanal fashion. Our artisans use different natural tannins from plants like Acacia or Quebracho, using the bark, branches, leaves, and in some cases, the fruit from these plants. The centuries-old formula of just how much of each tannin to use is the best kept secret of this process and gets passed down from generation to generation. The vegetable tanning process takes between one and two months opposed to the 1-day chrome tanning process. Below is a step by step process with in depth details of the vegetable tanning process.
Once the leather arrives to the tannery, they are placed into giant wooden barrels where they are mixed with water and the different natural tannins from plants like Acacia or Quebracho, among many others. After spending about three weeks in this natural solution, the leather has absorbed the tannins and is ready for the drying process.
The drying process is always done in a natural way, with wind currents in the dryers generated by the mountain breeze. Artisans strive to make this drying process slow and gradual, however the timing of the process is very dependent on the time of the year. Once the leather dries, it’s divided into two halves and then brought a machine where the thickness of the leather is reduced and evened out.
Freshly tanned leather is like a blank canvas, ready to be dyed with natural but intense colors that are a result of the different vegetable tannins. Once dyed, different layers of vegetable oils and beeswax are applied to the leather to protect it over time and condition it. The leather then returns to the drying stage once again.
After spending a few days drying, the leather is ready for it’s last step, where they give it one last layer of wax and oil, and add a finish to the skin by polishing it with a special piece of glass. The leather is finally ready to rolled up and shipped to our factory in Ubrique.
The differences in the processes and the final products are important. The most known and controversial method of tanning, due to its popular widespread use by the fashion industry, is chrome tanning. Using chromium salts, which are very harmful not only to the environment, but also people, causes the pores of the leather to close resulting in a plastic-like, unnatural appearance. Despite these disadvantages, the chrome tanning industry accounts for more than 95% of the world’s leather production. This is mainly because the tanning process is much faster, cheaper, and have less of a need for raw materials. this process is incredibly more simply and requires less expertise.
At Café, we are passionate about quality raw material that is respectful to the environment, hence is why we prefer the exclusive and different: vegetable tanned leather. We are willing to pay the extra costs in order to be a sustainable company. Our leather is unique, as there is no one exactly like the other. The colors are always natural. As the time passes, the different shades will be taking an incredible personal patina due to keeping the pores open, allowing the leather to have more personality. In addition, due to the respectful tanning process, vegetable tanned leather has a longer life–superior to that of chrome tanned leather. However, there are truly no words to describe our vegetable tanned leather. It’s smell, it’s incredible touch, these are things that we are unfortunately unable to share with you through a screen, but we can promise you, this leather is special.