Leather may seem simple, but it tells a rich story behind it - like coffee or wine, which transcends age, craftsmanship, and time.  Surprisingly, it has different varieties, which diverge in quality, character, aging, and purpose. 

Leather has become a timeless wardrobe staple. Leather can be a fashion game-changer when leveling up your look. You can achieve that effortless vibe just by adding a little leather - from that chic leather blazer even to the most straightforward leather bag.

While as timeless as it is, it is best to understand the tanning procedure that animal skins and hides undergo before transforming into these versatile pieces. As we deep dive into the mystery of leather and its timelessness, we aim to uncover practical reasons for evaluating and choosing your options in the future. We are even observing the difference between top grain cowhide leather vs. "genuine leather," which is composed of leather products but not the same as a layer of the actual hide. It's like comparing lumber to plywood or particle board. Top-grain cowhide leather is what we'll be referring to most often as we walk you through the ins and outs of leather tanning.

Leather tanning is the process of animal hide and skin treatment to produce leather. These skins and hides from different kinds of animals are treated and cured to prevent bacterial growth and putrefaction. 

In this article, we will discuss the main methods of leather tanning, see their differences and identify the best ones. 

Vegetable Tanning

Vegetable tanning seemed to be a daunting task as it takes up to 6 weeks of work. However, amid the time spent on legwork, it is also one of the most reliable cowhide tanning methods. In fact, “veg tan” has been around for centuries, and it is no surprise that it is still one of the most preferred kinds of leather tanning even nowadays.

It uses wood extracts, nut trees, and various types of shrubs. These allow the produced leather to be thicker and have a distinct aesthetic character and form compared to other tanned leathers. With this, products can maintain their shapes and rich texture. Products with vegetable-tanned leather, such as those from Jackson Wayne, age beautifully and maintain a lasting patina of luxury and class. 

Aside from its distinguished look, vegetable-tanned leather exudes an intoxicating smell that reminds you of the woods, richness, and tranquility. The good thing is, amidst the expensive and feel-good vibe it brings, you can get these leathers for a song here in Jackson Wayne. 

Chrome Tanning

Chromium is used in the chrome tanning process. Thus, the name chrome tanned leather.  This is considered one of the most popular processes in the leather tanning industry as it can be done much faster than vegetable tanning. 

As with the significant difference in the length of preparation and procedure, chrome tanning also produces softer, more flexible, and water-resistant leather. This makes chrome-tanned leathers the best choice for clothing, shoe, furniture, and glove making. 

It is no wonder why chrome has become the most prevalent tanning process, as it allows the production of almost everything leather in the fashion industry in the quickest way. Its products are lighter as well compared to the previous method. You can look at our backpacks, watch straps, and wallets as examples of these chrome-tanned leathers in their sophisticated form.

Combination Leather Tanning

This type of leather is produced using the vegetable tanning process first, then adding chromium salts afterward—basically, this type of tanning aims to have all the advantages of the two previously-discussed methods. 

Yes, it is possible, and the best thing is the leather that comes out of this tanning process is lightweight,  easily shaped, and can still hold its form.  It is known for its strong and stiff nature and resistance to cuts and punctures.

This leather is used for the production of rugged shoes and work boots.

Combination-tanned leather is often called  “retain, “veg retain,” or “semi-vegetable tanned” leather. 

So, which tanning method is the best?

All the tanning methods presented in this article promise excellent leather types. However, determining which is the best requires personal preference, purpose, and plans. 

As presented above, the tanning methods offer excellent points that can undoubtedly convince anyone.

For easier understanding, kindly check the following table;

Vegetable-Tanned Leather

Chrome Tanned Leather

Combination Tanned Leather

Thick and stiff leather; can maintain its form

Soft, flexible, and water-resistant leather

Lightweight can hold its shape and form, water-resistant

Addicting smell

Best used for clothes, shoes, furniture, and gloves

Best for rugged shoes and work boots

Perfect for bags, wallets, leather MacBook cases

The process is quicker than vegetable tanning but can take up to 6 weeks.

Now that these factors are pointed out, we hope it is easier for you to decide which tanning method is perfect for your specific needs. 

Natural Tanning and False Tanning

As surprising as it is, there is such a thing called “False tanning.” 

False tanning occurs when there is a need to use fats and oils. It is referred to as false tanning as it does not provide the expected tanning output as this process only treats dried rawhide with oils and the binding of these tannins to the fiber is often washable. It does not have an irreversible bond with the skin fiber, as seen in natural tanning methods such as vegetable tanning, chrome tanning, and combination tanning. 

Final thoughts

The leather industry may have a few challenges, especially with the environmental restrictions nowadays; however, because of its timeless quality and promise, it will continue to thrive in the next few years. 

Jackson Wayne’s promise of bringing you quality and substance in every purchase is guaranteed as we ensure that our products are crafted with attention to detail and style. Our crafting process, including the choice of materials used, is intended to produce quality and enduring classics. 

Overall, the three tanning processes discussed in this article are the three main methods we follow and practice for our luxury-level production. We guarantee excellent products meticulously done by artisans to provide your money’s worth in every purchase. 

January 26, 2023 — Matt Marciante

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