What is Vegetable-tanned Leather?


 girl standing in field with leather backpack on
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 it's 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 and plastics used in the process, vegetable-tanned leather acts like the material it is, skin. Each skin 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 lighter shades will darken slightly and the backpacks will sag, taking on a softer shape that moulds to your body. 

Here you can see a brand new Rivers backpack vs one which has travelled the world with me 

Rivers backpack
Rivers backpackVegetable-tanning process

Step one.
Soaking the skins in a solution of pigeon poo and tannery waste (3 to 6 days)
leather tannery marrakesh
Step two.
The skins are then squeezed out and left to dry, all hair is scraped off and the skins are re-soaked in a pit of lime and organ-kernel ash.
moroccan tannery marrakesh
Step three.
The skins are then washed and placed in yet another pit of fermenting formula made up of pigeons poo and water.
leather tannery marrakesh
Step four.
At this stage the skins have become thin and stretchy, now begins the actual tanning process. The hides are prepped to receive the dye. Traditional tanners only ever use plants to dye their leather. Roots, barks, seeds and fruit. The dye is applied by hand and the hides are left out to dry in the hot Moroccan sun.
leather drying
Step five.
The skins are then stretched and smoothed. This work is physical and only carried out by the younger men.
leather artisan working leather
The hides are now ready to be worked with. This process can take up to 60 days to complete, using only man power, natural ingredients and elements during the whole process.
boy standing with duffle bag in his hand
Also Read :
Meet the Makers - Meet the artisans behind Lost Little One 
Ethically Made - What is it that makes us ethical?
Leather Care - How to care for your vegetable-tanned leather bag