From raw hide to high quality eco-leather: Towards a natural and sustainable tanning process

Dr. Guilhem Mansion
Mon Dec 18 2017

Bored with cheap and disposable products, low-value items that are quickly thrown away and accumulate as non-recyclable waste on our planet? Has the time come to switch to sustainable and natural goods? If you think so, why not giving a chance to leather! Jackets, shoes, wallets, books, to cite just a few, are typical articles whose intrinsic quality and long-term stability greatly improve when this noble fabric is used as a raw material.

But before rushing to the next item, it is important to keep in mind ecological impact of leather production can be disastrous for the planet! This is the reason why Cervo Volante has started to manufacture its own leather in a way that perfectly matches the definition of “bio”: high-quality and healthy goods with a very low environmental footprint!

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No salted bill for the planet!

As the fresh skins are composed of two-thirds of water and one-third of proteins, they must be quickly treated to avoid any bacterial decomposition of the collagen fibres and subsequent putrefaction. At that point, we prefer freezing the pelts rather than heavily salting them, as is commonly done. Cold production necessitates energy of course, but its environmental impact is much lower than the pollution of soil and water with salt!

No heavy metals for natural leathers!

Today Chrome tanning is favoured by approximately ninety percent of the modern tanneries. The reason for this choice is simple! Chromium sulphate is much more stringent than any herbal tannin and the overall process demands a few days instead of months to achieve completion.

However, Chrome is a heavy metal, and harmful to the environment and our health during chrome-mining, tanning and waste-disposal. Chrome-tanned leather is saturated with heavy metal that can create serious skin problems, including cancers. Chrome-tanned shoes, wardrobe and accessories actually need to be disposed as hazardous waste.

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Both highly toxic tanning agents as well as children, who are working unprotected in the corrosive environment are a problem in the large part of the tanning industry in Central Asia.

Feel the vegetable tanning in your mouth!

Remember the typical “dry and bitter” sensation in your mouth when tasting a glass of young wine or a cup of black tea. This is not less than a provisory natural tanning process where tannins quickly form chemical complexes with salivary proteins in your mouth! Such tanning substances can be extracted from roots, barks, leaves or fruits of plants. They strongly bind to collagen proteins of the skin and coat them, creating a robust and resistant net structure – the leather.

VoVo-leather: the “pure vegetable tanning” process

To avoid environmentally and socially disastrous side effects, Cervo Volante has made its choice clear: no synthetic chemicals for our leather! We solely use what we call a “true vegetable tanning” process. “True” means we ban any substances like synthans or aldehydes, which accelerate the penetration of tannic agents into the collagen net. Such toxic and polluting compounds are often used during “pre-tanning” steps, even in products proudly displaying the “vegetable tanned” label!

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Here you see the difference between a chrome tanned (wet blue) and a vegetable tanned leather.

For our “true vegetable tanning” process we have thus carefully developed our own tanning procedure. We pay a great attention to the origin of herbal tannins, banning any potential invasive plant species as timber source. We prefer renewable plant tissues such as hand-collected fruits over wood from logging industry. This allows a gentle transformation of carefully selected wild hides by successive soaking and drying steps. The final leather is obtained after several months of intensive manual labour and can only be dyed by means of natural ingredients. Each piece slowly develops its unique character, with its own smell and colour. And this is exactly what we incline to: high-quality exclusivity rather than short-term mass production!

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The valonea oak grows in Turkey and in Greece. Its fruits are being gathered once a year.

Your choice!

Getting rid of synthetic substances, rethinking each step of leather production towards healthier and more eco-friendly practices, preferring tedious manual work over quick but polluting manufacturing techniques… Our 100% natural VoVo leather can be worn in good conscience and without any health concerns! All those efforts have their cost! This is the price for high-quality and uniqueness, for environmental protection, for human rights, the price for a future beyond 2050*!


Also published on Medium.