Is Alta Andina a leather company?

Alta Andina is more than a leather company, but the first material we decided to integrate into our supply chain was leather for a few reasons. Three of the best natural vegetable tannins in the world to make vegetable tanned leather come from South America. Mimosa from Brazil, Quebracho from Argentina and Tara from Ecuador and Peru. You would think that because these tannins are so prevalent in the region, South America would be a major player in the global vegetable tanned leather market. Instead, raw tannins are exported to the United States and Europe, where most of the actual tanning takes place. Extracting raw materials from developing countries, adding the value elsewhere to sell, and selling high end product is not a new story in this region. We often use the comparison of cacao and chocolate. The vast majority of fine cacao is grown in developing countries, while artisanal chocolate is produced in Europe and the United States. Moreover, we wanted to call attention to the fact that over 90% of the world’s leather is chrome tanned, which is a serious environmental crisis. We believe that by educating people about the global leather market, consumers will want to support companies offering vegetable tanned leather.

What does Alta Andina do?

Alta Andina crafts products using natural inputs and recycled materials within a local Andean supply chain driven by our commitment to conserve the environment, traditions, and heritage of the Andean region.

Shift consumer demand and industry standards toward responsibly sourced and manufactured products.

One of our first conservation projects will be with our partners Whole Forest, a for profit US company with its roots in Ecuador fighting for conservation, much like Alta Andina. Whole Forest is working to protect the Choco Wet Forest in Northwest Ecuador. Alta Andina and Whole Forest share a common vision and an uncommon approach to achieving that vision, which is to create high quality, sustainably and responsibly sourced and manufactured products.

We believe that the more we can connect people to the great outdoors, the better chance we have of preserving nature. We’re collaborating with the international NGO The Range of Motion Project (ROMP) and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment to construct the world’s highest altitude, self-guided trail accessible to disabled individuals. The trail is over 14,000 feet above sea level, along the continental divide in the Cayambe Coca National Park, 50km from Quito. In adherence with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this trail will ensure that disabled individuals enjoy equal access to public lands – and for the first time globally at such extreme heights.


What do you mean by local Andean supply chain?

We source all our raw inputs, and manufacture our finished product within the Andean region. By doing so, we add value through every step of our supply chain. Moreover, we reduce every product’s overall carbon footprint drastically, just by reducing the miles that product and all its components have traveled before being sold. In fact, Alta Andina products have traveled less miles than an average product created within the global supply chain by a factor of almost 10. We are committed to operating within our local andean supply chain.


What do you mean by natural Andean leather?

The tanning, dyeing, and finishing of our leather is all 100% natural.

To start, we leave the leather in its natural form, that is to say its full grain form. The grain is the outermost protective layer of the hide, where leather gets all its strength and durability. Scars, marks and variations in color are all characteristics of full grain leather. Many companies choose to sand down or alter the grain, opting for a blemish free surface over quality, long lasting leather. We think that’s a bad choice. The natural variations in our full grain, vegetable tanned leather make each product truly one of a kind.

Our vegetable tanned leather is tanned using a blend of natural tree tannins, Quebracho and Mimosa, two trees native to the Andes. We use only 100% vegetable tanned leather.

Our miel and café colors come from natural anilins. Once tanned, hides are placed back in the tumbler with natural aniline dyes, so that the leather absorbs the color completely. We never paint, or spray any synthetic finishes over our leather.

With exposure to oxygen, sunlight and the natural oils from your skin, your product will change in look and feel over time – that change is called a patina, and it is a hallmark of full grain, vegetable tanned leather.

What does leather tanning mean?

Leather tanning is simply the process of taking an animal hide, and turning it into leather.

The word tanning comes from the word tannin – which stems from the wordtanna – an old Germanic word for an oak or fir tree. Oak trees, along with Andean tree species like quebracho, mimosa and tara, contain tannins that are excellent for turning an animal hide into leather.

Alta Andina’s leather is all tanned using a blend of Quebracho and Mimosa tannins. Hides are tumbled in this natural mixture for several days, then dried and finished.

The process of tanning leather is quite different depending on whether the tannery produces vegetable tanned leather or chrome tanned leather.


What is the difference between vegetable tanned leather and chrome tanned leather?

Vegetable tanned leather is produced using natural tannins from trees, bark or fruit from trees. Chrome tanned leather is made with harsh, toxic heavy metals. Making vegetable tanned leather takes longer and costs more than making chrome tanned leather. The entire chrome tanning process can be finished in hours, whereas it can take several weeks to finish a batch of vegetable tanned leather.

Seeing vegetable tanned leather hanging to dry after the natural tanning process is immediately recognizable as leather, coming out a beautiful beige color.

If you saw chrome tanned leather without context, you’d never guess it was leather. Chromium III is a blue powder. Thus, when hides are tanned with chrome, they come out a pale blue. Chrome tanned hides are referred to in the industry as “wet blue.” Because of its unnatural and unappealing color, wet blue needs to be heavily processed after tanning to make it viable for use. To make consumers think of wet blue as leather again, it is almost always painted.


Is your leather genuine leather?

Genuine leather is one of those misleading marketing terms used to make bottom of the barrel leather sound high quality, its a catchall term used for any product that once contained leather.  People use the term to differentiate bonded leather from polyurethane leather, which are extremely similar in their look and feel. Polyurethane leather contains no actual leather, is is a plastic imitation of leather. Bonded leather is made up of leather scraps that are scraped from the tannery floor, melted down, and mixed with plastics and polymers. Saying genuine leather is real leather is kind of like claiming genuine fast food burgers are “100% real beef.”


What is vegetable tanned leather?

At Alta Andina, we thinkvegetable tanned leather is a confusing term at best. Vegetable tanned leather is made from an animal hide, but its treated using natural tannins instead of harsh, toxic heavy metals like chromium. There are no chemicals used in the making of our leather, instead, we use a blend of native Andean tree tannins, which is why we call our leather Natural Andean Leather.

Our natural Andean leather is safer for the environment, the leatherworkers, and the end client.


What is full grain leather?

Simply put, full grain leather is the highest quality leather around, it is the strongest, and longest lasting leather available on the market.


So what is the grain?

There are three layers in a cow hide:

The Grain: The outermost protective layer of the hide. The natural fibers of the animal are tightly bound together, giving the leather all its strength and durability.

The Junction: This middle section is where the grain meets the corium, and the fibers start to weaken a bit, losing a lot of their tightness.

The Corium:  The under layer of the hide, where the fibers are loosest and softest, or just a fancy word for suede.

Full grain leather is defined by leaving the grain intact. Pretty simple, do less to the hide, and it will last longer and develop a richer patina.

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