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Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable tanned (or veg tan as its called by some) means that while in the tannery, before arriving in our workshop, the hides are treated with plant-based dyes and oils, as opposed to chemicals. Among the various tanning methods, vegetable tanning is the most traditional, natural and Earth-friendly. With no added chemicals, the vegetable tanning process is much less harmful to the environment and the final result is fully biodegradable!

Take one of our leather tote bags or crossbody totes for example, which are 100% handmade with only full-grain vegetable tanned leather and thread (no lining and no hardware): when disposed of, after a lifetime of use (or more!), they will be harmless to the environment and eventually naturally biodegrade, as would the hide on its own prior to treatment! We think that’s something worth being quite conscious about when shopping, don’t you?

 Cognac large and medium lamb leather tote bags


Moreover, leather production with these natural tannins is one of the oldest leather tanning methods known to man and has been around for centuries. Now that’s what we call traditional! Nonetheless, only roughly 10% of the leather available on the market has been treated this way, which is such a shame…

Vegetable tanned hides are produced by highly traditional generational manufacturers which are more often than not are family run. This alone is another great reason to prioritize vegetable tanned leather goods - to support smaller, more artisanal businesses.

Another aspect that makes vegetable tanning so unique is it can be used to make thicker leather and results in more body and character - perfect for bag making. Owing up to its artisanal nature, the vegetable tanning process produces some of the sturdiest, most durable leather available.

Initially its nature is more stiff and sturdy making it perfect for items that require resistance, such as our duffle bags and weekender bags - after all, when traveling you want to know your leather luggage will make it through the journey just fine! However, it does get wonderfully soft and pliant over time, which makes it the ideal material for long-lived products such as leather bags!

Speaking of aging, vegetable tanned leather also tends to get better over time and develop a rich patina with use. As you wear and enjoy your Linden Is Enough leather bag you will notice it darkening over the years. This happens because the leather, like your own skin, naturally soaks in environmental factors such as sun light or the oils transferred from your skin. This is a beautiful and rewarding process which over a lifetime of use will guarantee you with an item that is absolutely unique to you!

You’ll see a more noticeable difference in items that are originally lighter in color, as they darken over time. Let's say you own one of our gorgeous handmade leather pouches in cognac, which is one of our lighter shades. It is the perfect every day saddle bag so we are sure you wear it a lot. Well, in time you will see that already gorgeous cognac color slowly darken into a rich, deeper, coppery brown. Just beautiful!

Seeing as vegetable tanned leather acts a lot like our own skin, it is also important that you know how to take care of it. That way you will guarantee its longevity and cherish it for years to come as a true heirloom piece. Check out our blog post all about leather care to learn more about the love your handmade leather bag deserves!

And all that not to mention that vegetable tanned leather has that awesome classic leather smell, a unique and natural fragrance which is sweet, woody, and rich! You certainly won't find that special aroma on leathers that are chemically treated. Which is a useful tip to keep in mind when you are on the hunt for top quality leather items: sniff out that veg tanning, it will be worth it!

It is probably clear now to you why we love vegetable tanned leather so much and all the reasons you should too! But what else is out there? It is important that you understand some other, more commonly found, possibilities as well.


Chrome-tanned Leather

Chrome tanning is the most common method on the market, nearly 90% of leather items out there! As the name suggests, chrome tanning is chemical heavy, which is very harmful to the environment. Yes, vegetable tanning does require quite a lot of water to achieve, but mineral chromium is in essence toxic, not just to our planet but also to the workers processing it in the tanneries.

Moreover, chrome-tanned hides are simply less durable, as you can imagine, after all that chemical processing. The finished leather is often softer than our vegetable tanned alternative, but that also means it is more fragile and less durable - not ideal for leather bags. Think about our handmade leather messenger bag. If it were made with chrome-tanned leather it wouldn’t be so heavy duty and ultimately wouldn’t withstand the test of time.

You want a bag that you can wear every day and that will last years to come, so durability is certainly something important to consider. Additionally, chrome-tanned leather often has its edges treated with acrylic varnish, causing it to crack, peel, and split after just a few years. It might look snazzy and classic now, but give it a bit of use and you’ll have a run down item that was just not worth it (for you or our planet).

So if vegetable tanned leather is so superior to chrome tanned leather, why is it so rare? Shouldn’t all brands be using it? Well, as we see it, of course, they should! However, chrome-tanning is a much cheaper method which is easily industrialized and scaled. While veg tanning takes 40-60 days to process, chrome is ready in a couple of days. We all know about fast food, but what about fast leather? On top of that, veg requires skilled craftsman, it is after all a generational art, which means it can’t be mass produced like chrome can.


Faux or Vegan Leather

While the names may sound similar, vegetable-tanned leather is not to be confused with vegan leather. Vegetable tanned hides are animal products which are treated with vegetable based dyes, not leather made from vegetables! Therefore, if you are looking for items that are free of any kind of animal produce, what you want is faux leather.

Do keep in mind though, vegan leather is not always the more sustainable alternative. In fact, more often than not, it is much worse for the environment in the long run. This is because most of the faux or vegan leather found on the market is PVC based - yep, you guessed it, plastic! Thus, entirely chemical and non biodegradable! This means that from its production to disposal, vegan leather is quite dangerous and not environmentally friendly.

On top of that, faux leather is not durable. It will quickly start to crack and break, meaning you will soon feel the need to shop for a new one and transforming your item into more plastic waste. In contrast, items like ours, made from full grain vegetable tanned leather, despite being made from raw materials that come from animals, will last generations and be passed on. When thinking sustainability that kind of longevity is incredibly important to keep in mind, after all we want to be able to pass on our planet as well!

That’s not to say all vegan leather is bad. Technology has allowed considerable research to be done in this field, leading to the development of alternatives that are made from pinapple waste or even mushrooms! Pretty cool right?

These are young techniques which are still quite expensive to achieve, and as you can imagine still don’t really solve the durability issue, but it’s great to see things slowly moving in such positive directions. Do bear in mind that these futuristic natural leathers are not on the market just yet and only recently have discussion began around luxury brands adopting their use. Thus, most likely, that vegan leather bag you found online or on the high street is unfortunately PVC.


Did this help clear things up?

We hope this blog post managed to clear up some confusion around vegetable tanned leather and other methods, and gave you enough information to start making informed and responsible  choices when shopping for leather bags. If you have any questions we are also always happy to help so feel free to get in touch.

If you enjoyed this article, you will probably also find our post on full grain leather quite useful. Check it out!

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