Vegetable-tanning is the ancient, traditional method for producing leather. Undoubtedly physical and hard work, requiring artisanal skill. This method is free from harmful chemicals. We chose to use vegetable tanned leather because of the history that ties it to Morocco and its people. When I first arrived in Morocco I was truly amazed by the craft of the locals and just how proud they were of their rich history, enticing me to learn more. The tanners were believed to have been the first to settle in Marrakech over eight hundred years ago, and here they remain still using the same ancient techniques to produce Moroccan leather.
This method of tanning produces beautiful leather that is very different to leather that we are accustom to seeing and using. The first thing you'll notice about our bags is they have a 'earthy' smell about them. This is because of the natural elements used while turning the hide into leather, however with just a few uses the smell diminishes and eventually will be completely gone.
My personal favourite thing about vegetable tanned leather is how it changes. Because there are no chemicals used in the process, vegetable-tanned leather acts like the organic material it is. Each hide is different, with unique markings that can be noticed on the lighter tones, these characteristics show the natural quality of hand worked leather. Vegetable tanned leather changes with use, it distresses, softens, creases and your bag transforms. This is why we opt for goats leather for most of our designs, being strong, yet malleable allowing for these beautiful bags to truly become your own. The natural tan colour will darken and your bag will soften, taking on a new shape that moulds to you and the way you use it.
Here you can see a brand new Rivers backpack vs one which has travelled the world with me.
This process is performed in tanneries by leather artisans using tannins from bark and leaves. First, the skin is cured, usually with salt, to prevent collagen breakdown. It’s then soaked to remove the salt and increase moisture. Then the hide is limed to remove fat, grease, and hair. Chemical unhairing follows (often by soaking in urine), and then a manual unhairing process called scudding. To soften the hide, it undergoes a process called bating. Historically, this meant either pounding pigeon or dog dung into it. The final step is pickling with salts to lower the hide’s pH. Only natural ingredients are used, like tree bark and plant extract, resulting in rich natural browns. The whole process can take anywhere from six weeks to three months. This is slow, slow fashion.