The skins themselves are from various parts of the world where they are farmed (for example The U.S.A for Alligator as Alligators are a native species, Africa or Australia for crocodile, and generally Europe for cow hides. It is important to know that we ALWAYS abide by CITES regulations to ensure our skins are from sustainable and audited provenances, Not only is this a legal requirements for most countries but also because we care about sustainability and traceability.
Once these skins are harvested, they are sent with a CITES (basically an official passport for the hides that traces where they are from etc.) to Europe.
Once in Europe they are transformed into leather by some of the best tanneries in the world. We use tanneries in France, Italy, Belgium, and the U.K. all of which are highly reputed. Although this means the cost is infinitely higher than elsewhere, the quality is unsurpassed and guarantee that the final product is free of toxins and made to last and look beautiful.
The goal of tanning is to remove the organic materials that would make the skin rot, and to STRENGTHEN THE FIBERS OF THE SKIN TO MAKE THEM PLIABLE, SOFT, AND DURABLE.
The following overview should give you a good understanding and appreciation for the craftsmen who tan these skins.
Curing: This step is essentially soaking the skin in salt to prevent bacterial growth and avoid rotting. To give you an example, imagine leaving a wet kitchen towel for a few days, the smell would be awful as bacteria develop. If you wash and dry this towel, then there would be no bacterial growth from leftover food and moisture. This is mainly done for transport reasons.
Liming: The skins are washed with clear water and then soaked in limewater to remove any organics left on the skin such as hair, follicles, etc. (The pH of the skin is now highly basic)
Deliming and bating: The skins are treated with acids and salts to de-swell the hides and lower their pH as well as further soften the protein fibers in the hide.
Pickling: the final step before tanning is treating the hides with strong acids to bring the pH to a very low acidic state (around 3 to 5) This means the skin will be rid of agents which would cause it to rot as well as opens the pores of the hide for tanning agents to penetrate. Moreover, this shift in pH brings the protein fibers below their isoelectric point. They thus become positively charged. This is important for the following process
Tanning (Chrome or Vegetable): The skins are set in a solution with tanning agents to absorb.
Chrome tanning: Chrome tanning is the process in which chromium salts are used.
Strengths: The tanning is very even and can be of any color Weakness: The chrome does not penetrate the skin very far
Vegetable tanning: Vegetable tanning is the traditional method of tanning using bark
Strengths: The tanning shows off the natural grain of the leather and has a very “vintage” look Weakness: The colors are limited to brown and black hues