What is vegetable tanned leather?

What does vegetable tanned leather mean?


At Alta Andina, we think vegetable 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.

How does leather tanning work?

We know from the old ad campaigns that happy cows come from California, but leather tanning has nothing to do with sunbathing cattle. So what is leather tanning? 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.

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. So what’s the difference?

Vegetable Tanned Leather vs. chrome Tanned Leather


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. Vegetable tanned leather comes out beige, and is often left completely untouched after tanning. The natural beige color is coveted in the world of leather.

If you saw chrome tanned leather without context, you’d never guess it was leather. Chromium III is a blue powder. So 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. Paint as a finish for leather can be scratched off with your fingernail and will eventually peel off with time and use.

Alta Andina uses only vegetable tanned leather. We source leather from one provider, Curtiembres del Valle, who produce 100% vegetable tanned leather. There is no chrome or other synthetic chemicals anywhere at their facility.

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