What makes our leather so special?
Exceptional leather lasts long, doesn’t bulge or tear and develops a characteristic patina over time. It features a natural, delicate texture that feels warm and supple. Great leather has a pleasant, unobtrusive smell and a rich color that doesn't rub off.
From start to finish, we choose the most exclusive parts and methods to get all these characteristics right.
The most crucial difference in leather quality comes from the fact that every skin is sliced into two pieces: the outer part (grain-side) and the inner part (flesh-side).
The outer part is much stronger and has a natural grain.
Most of the leather sold as genuine leather is made of the inner part (every country has a different rule for what can be called genuine leather). It is not meant to last long and requires heavy coating and an artificially embossed grain pattern to make it look like leather. The same applies to bonded leather, which is leather waste that has been glued together.
The more valuable grain-side is divided into different qualities, based on the condition of a skin. An animal might have gotten scratches from rocks or bite marks from insects. Sometimes, these imperfections are sanded off. This is then called top-grain/corrected leather and usually requires coating and an artificially embossed grain pattern, leading to a less durable leather.
If the natural grain-side is left intact, the leather is called full-grain. We exclusively use full-grain leather. Our tannery sorts through every hide and sets the most flawless ones aside for us. It also means that we can use almost the entire surface of the hide and allows us to construct our jackets with as little parts and seams as possible (seams are the most vulnerable part of a leather garment).
Animal skin needs treatment to be turned into durable, flexible leather. Otherwise, it would decompose. There are three common methods and combinations of them to do this:
- Chrome tanning (wet blue)
- Vegetable tanning
- Synthetic tanning (wet white)
Chrome tanning, developed in the 19th century, uses chromium salts as the main agent. Almost all leather is made through this process today because it is fast and produces leather with great qualities.
Vegetable tanning is the oldest method, takes longer, and uses naturally occurring tannins from plants. The resulting leather ages differently from chrome tanned leather and gains a beautiful patina from wear and sun exposure. It produces a stronger, more rigid leather than chrome tanning.
Synthetic tanning is the newest commonly used tanning process. It produces similar leather to chrome tanning, but uses tanning agents like formaldehyde.
We wanted to avoid chrome tanning for different reasons. Chromium is a heavy metal that contaminates water and soil if a tannery doesn't treat the water it uses properly, which is a problem in countries without strict environmental controls. There's also a danger that the chromium salts change nature and become carcinogenic, although strict supervision can almost eliminate this risk. Still, the chromium salts are not biodegradable once the leather is disposed of. In the end, why support a process with potentially high risks, if safer methods exist? It feels wrong.
The potential severe health effects of the agents used in synthetic tanning (e.g. formaldehyde) also made it an undesirable alternative.
Together with a leading French tannery, we tried to develop a purely vegetable tanned leather for SAPAYOL that is both soft enough for garments and meets our expectations regarding its color. After two years of tests, we paused our experiments.
Fortunately, in the meantime, a brand-new process that we were monitoring became mature enough for industrial use: wet-green tanning. The method uses an extract from olive leafs as the tanning agent and is so safe, that you can drink it. Our tannery in Turkey is one of the first producers in the world to apply the method and has produced an incredibly beautiful, soft, durable, and colorful leather for us.
There are various ways to dye leather. The easiest and cheapest way is to spray color on top of it. Once the color rubs off, the color of the leather underneath it will appear. Most leather, however, is first immersed in a dye bath in rotating drums and then covered with a finish that either has color pigments in it (pigmented leather) or not (aniline dyed leather). Aniline dyed leather feels softest, but is susceptible to stains, dirt, and scratches. Pigmented leather has uniform color and is easier to maintain, but loses its natural grain, and feels colder and less soft.
We've asked our tannery to add as little pigmentation to our drum dyed leather as necessary, to achieve an even color with a glossy effect, and give it some protection against rain, dirt, and the sun, without loosing its buttery soft touch. This approach is called semi-aniline dyeing.
Healthy animals from humane sources
Apart from the very fundamental difference between bovine skin and sheep skin for example, or the fact that younger animals have more flexible skin than older ones, the health of a skin is also directly affected by the general health of its animal.
The meat industry is broken and an incredible amount of animals are kept under undignified conditions. Fortunately, there is no economical upside of keeping sheep outside of their natural habitat.
All our lamb skins come from Turkey, where animals are being herded in traditional ways, get ample movement, sunlight, and natural nutrition.