All you need to know about leather

Where does leather come from?

Leather is a durable material made from a natural main ingredient - animal skin. Leather has been used for over 5000 years, and some leather manufacturers still make leather in a similar way as our ancestors did, as you will discover below.

The vast majority of leathers are made using skins from the meat and dairy industries.*

Animals are not killed for their skin - leather production uses a by-product that would be wasted if not used to make leather.


So in my opinion, leather is an ethical material, and depending on its tanning method, it can be sustainable too.

* The exception is “exotic” leather like crocodile or snake, which I don’t agree with.

 

There are two main types of leather: chrome tanned and vegetable tanned leather. Their names come from the processes which are used to produce them.

 

Chrome leather

Chrome leather is made with various chemicals, the most important one being – you would have guessed – chrome. The process is very quick and cheap, contrary to vegetable tanned leather. It's a relatively recent tanning method, which appeared in the 19th century.

 

Vegetable tanned leather

Unlike chrome tanned leather, vegetable tanned leather is a much older tanning method that's completely natural. Vegetable tanning was the first process invented by humans to treat and process animal skin, making it durable and wearable. This method appeared thousands of years ago.
Vegetable tannins from trees (roots, leaves and bark) are dissolved in water and the skin is then soaked in this solution.

This leather is produced in much smaller quantities, in a traditional way, by skilled craftsmen. This process is much slower (a few weeks compared to just a day for chrome leather), and the leather produced is of greater quality.
This leather is special as it will improve and develop a patina overtime.
The natural beauty of this leather can be fully appreciated on the MISHA pouch thanks to its minimalist shape that lets the leather speak for itself. 

To summarise, vegetable tanned leather is much better for the environment, it's more durable and it improves with time. What's not to like?

 

MISHA handmade leather pouch

 

Where are these leathers used?

Chrome leather is the most commonly used type of leather in the world. Most high-street brands use it. It's quick to produce and enables them to bring the costs down.
It does have a negative impact on the environment, as it requires synthetic tanning products. If not treated, the toxic water the skins are soaked in can be really harmful for the environment. In developed countries, laws would usually require that the waste-water is treated and cleared from nasty chemicals before it's released into the environment, but this mostly won't be the case in developing countries. 
So when buying an item made of chrome tanned leather, you ideally would want to know where the leather comes from.

Vegetable tanned leather on the other hand, with its higher price point is mostly used by high-end brands and artisans who care about sustainability.
This natural leather represents only about 10% of the world production of leather, so it's relatively rare.

My products are all handmade, and vegetable leather fits perfectly with my philosophy, this is why I use it for my products.
I love the fact that this leather is sustainable, thick, firm, and it can be used with raw edges. The SCYLLA bag is a great example of all those qualities.

 

SCYLLA handmade leather bag

 

Where do I source my leather for Klès?

I always buy my leather from English suppliers, in particular from my main supplier in London, which is an old independent shop. I love this shop because I can choose each hide myself. It's important because every hide is different, they all have their own marks.

The leather I use comes from Italy and Belgium, where they produce some of the best leathers in the world. For my products I like to use cow leather. I find it nice to work with and I love its texture: rigid with just the right amount of flexibility, the most perfect leathers in my opinion.

 

How to take care of leather bags and make them last?
(vegetable tanned leather especially)

Leather needs to be cleaned and nourished every few months (every 6 months is great), it's a natural material after all.
I recommend using a natural leather balm 
that will moisturise the leather and shouldn’t darken it too much. 
Chelsea Dubbin Leather Food is a good example of natural leather conditioner.

Before applying the balm, clean the leather with a lightly damp cloth. Leave it to dry for a few hours, then apply the balm with a sponge or a soft cloth, rubbing gently.
Remove the excess with a clean cloth.

Exposure to the sun can damage and stain the leather. Liquids and leather don’t go very well together too! If your bag gets soaked in the rain, leave it to dry naturally and once dry apply some leather conditioner.

 

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