Leather Tanning

Leather is a key part of our products and a material that we'll be increasingly crafting for future products. Leather is luxurious, versatile, and develops a beautiful feel and patina with age. A well-worn luggage tag or bag handle tells the story of your travels. To give leather that classic look, it first needs to be “tanned” - that is to say - a chemical process that renders a rawhide water, mold, and bacteria-resistant.

We use leather in a variety of our products, ranging from our luggage tags to the grip on our duffel bags and the tabs on our shaving kits. Every one of these products use leathers that are tanned. There are two types of tanning: mineral tanning and vegetable tanning. We use both types of tanned leather in our production. 

Tanning, whether vegetable or mineral, is necessary for a hide to become the leather we know so well. The process is molecular, changing the protein structure of the skin to prevent decomposition as well as protecting the skin from susceptible elements such as bacteria and mold. 

Before leather can be tanned, the hide first needs to be unhaired, degreased, desalted, and soaked in water to soften the skin as much as possible. This process can take weeks to months depending on the practices performed by the tannery. More natural ways tend to take longer, but yield very high quality leather. This kind of leather is always worth the wait. 

Vegetable tanning uses a class of polyphenol astringent chemicals known as tannin (this is where the word ‘tanning’ derives from). Tannins are naturally found in many plants. They help protect the plant from deterioration. Tannins are also the reason you experience a dry and sour taste in your mouth when you try an unripened fruit. Modern vegetable tanning uses tannins from the bark of trees, with chestnut, oak, mimosa, redoul, tanoak, and hemlock being the most popular. For our vegetable-tanned leather, we use the bark of mimosa trees. 

Once the animal skin is ready, the back of the mimosa is ground very fine and immersed in varying concentrations of tannin. The process takes about two weeks, and when finished, the vegetable-tanned leather becomes very flexible and soft, best used for luggage products and furniture. 

We use our vegetable-tanned leather for our famous luggage tags. We source all our hides from North America, some from the states, with most from Canada. Our main supplier is Pennsylvania's Wickett & Craig, which has been in business since 1867. 

Mineral tanning is often a much faster process, only needing to let the hide soak for less than a day. According to the EPA, about 90% of all tanning in the U.S. is mineral tanning. Similar to vegetable tanning, the mineral is added to the hide to render it. In our case, we use chrome-tanned leather. This process adds a chromium species to the leather. Other mineral tanning includes alum, zirconium, and titanium. 

We use mineral-tanned leather for our Franklin Wallet. This leather is sourced from the good folks at Horween in Chicago. 

With either type of tanned leather, the next step closer to a finished product includes splitting the hides to the desired weight - in our case - eight ounces. After they are split, the leather is soaked in oil and dried to perfection. 

To prevent damaged tags and to ensure the maximum use of our leather, we only purchase top grade leather, which is generally free of natural defects. Our wallets are then cut to the desired pattern and hand-sewn using high-abrasion resistant bonded polyester thread. 

For our leather tags, the leather is cut out using an eight ton clicker press. Once cut, the leather is ready to be customized by embossing, an impression that will hold for an eternity. 


Further Reading

Leather Tanning,” by Eviromental Protection Agency