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 and recycled materials within our sustainable & ethical supply chain located entirely in the Andean region. We are driven by our commitment to conserve the environment, traditions, and heritage of the Andean region. We aim to shift consumer demand and industry standards toward responsibly sourced and manufactured products.


What is Unique About Your Supply Chain?

We start by using only natural and recycled materials. We source all our materials, and manufacture our finished product, within the Andean region. By doing so, we add value through every step of our supply chain by supporting skilled labor and dignified wages. Moreover, we reduce our product’s carbon footprint by reducing the miles that product has traveled before being sold. In fact, Alta Andina products have a carbon footprint 10 times less than products that are manufactured in Asia, bouncing between the East and West hemispheres before being sold.


What is Unique About Your Leather?

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

We start with the highest quality cowhides, and use only full grain leather. We never compromise the strength or longevity of our leather by sanding down the grain.

Our leather is vegetable tanned using a blend of naturally occurring tannins derived from quebracho and mimosa trees, both of which are native to the Andes. We use only 100% vegetable tanned leather.

We color our leather using natural aniline dyes. Once tanned, our hides are placed back in the big wooden tumbler with our natural aniline dyes, so that the leather absorbs the color completely. The color of our leather won’t peel or fade over time. 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 word tanna, 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.

At Alta Andina’s we use only vegetable tanned leather, made with a blend of quebracho and mimosa tannins. 

There are two ways to tan leather, vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. 


What is the Difference Between Vegetable Tanned Leather and Chrome Tanned Leather?

Vegetable tanned leather is produced using naturally occurring tannins derived from trees. Chrome tanned leather is made with chromium III and a slew of toxic chemicals. Vegetable tanning is significantly more expensive and time consuming than chrome tanning. The entire chrome tanning process can be finished in hours, whereas it takes 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 and painted after tanning to make consumers recognize it as leather.

Is Your Leather Genuine Leather?

Genuine leather is one of those misleading marketing terms used to describe the bottom of the barrel leather, and pass it off as high quality. People use the term genuine leather to differentiate bonded leather from polyurethane leather. Polyurethane leather contains no actual leather, its plastic. Bonded leather is made up of leather scraps scraped up off the tannery floor, melted down, and mixed with plastics and polymers. Therefore, those using the term genuine leather are typically selling cheap, low quality leather mixed with plastic. Saying genuine leather is real leather is kind of like claiming fast food burgers are “100% real beef.”