At Mule we hold ourselves to the standard of creating quality products using materials and processes that benefit both our customers and the planet. This blog post has been written to explore the rationale behind our use of vegetable tanned leathers that help us to meet our own high standards of craftsmanship.
In societies of past and present, leather has been universally renowned for its beautiful aesthetic and durable, yet pliable properties.
But are all leathers alike?
Though the original animal hides may have once been the same, a manufacturer’s chosen method of tanning has everything to do with the quality of the end product. There are two main methods to tan leather; vegetable tanning and chrome tanning.
Vegetable tanning is the oldest method of tanning, using naturally acidic chemicals called tannins that exist in many plants, barks, and fruits in order to give the leather its color, flexibility, and bacteria resistant qualities. Because vegetable tanning uses relatively weak natural acids produced by plants, this process can take 1-3 months in order to fully tan the leather. This natural tanning process allows leather to develop the beloved patina that’s created as the leather begins to age.
Though the process is slow, vegetable tanning ensures the preservation of leather’s rugged internal structure, naturally grain, and rich earthy tones that are produced by tannins.
Chromium Salt Tanning
Developed during Europe’s Industrial Revolution, chrome tanning leather uses harmful man-made chemicals in order to expedite the tanning process from 1-3 month to 1-2 days, cutting costs exponentially for manufacturers compared to the slower, intensive, and expensive process of vegetable tanning. Unlike vegetable tanned leather’s patina, chrome tanned leather will not age well as it eventually breaks down and becomes more cloth-like than leather.
Chrome tanning is by far the most common way in which leather is tanned at present, with 85% of all leather goods today being created using this method. The fashion industry especially loves this method as the chemicals break down the hide’s cell structure at a rapid pace, destroying leather’s signature durability and longevity in favor of creating a cheap, highly flexible material that is well suited for mass producing items like footwear, clothing, and handbags.
But the drop on the product’s price tag comes at a steep price to both the planet and the customer...
Most chrome tanneries are located in developing countries like India, Bangladesh, and China because they have less stringent regulations about the use and disposal of chemicals that are toxic to both workers and the environment. Waste product from these chrome tanneries are often dumped straight into rivers and canals with little to no treatment, causing manmade chemicals to pollute the waterways, soil, and aquatic species. Not only is the environment impacted, but amultitude of studies have shown links between working in (and living near) chromium tanneries and an increase in risk of respiratory, nasal, testicular, bladder, kidney, skin, and pancreatic cancers.
Why We Use Vegetable Tanning
We believe there’s nothing more authentic or beautiful than natural materials.
Due to the incredible amount of harm chrome tanning inflicts upon the environment and human life, Mule has embraced the more costly method of vegetable tanning. We choose to use vegetable tanned leather in order to preserve the high quality of our product and to do our part in fighting against environmental destruction.