- Understanding the Tanning Process -
To understand our leather garments, allow me to explain the process, from the live animal to the finished product.
Few people realize it, but leather is actually a by-product of meat production. Aside from fur-bearing animals, there are very few animals in the world today that are killed for their skin. The leather business is one in which supply of, and demand for, our product are totally unrelated.
In an ideal market, supply and demand would be fairly closely matched and prices would remain stable, but in today's market, however, demand from virtually all leather-using sectors is strong, and supply is on the decline.
Because leather is only a by-product of the animal, our restraints on supply are due to the present decline of the red-meat demand. Evidently high demand on leather yet shortage of supply in commodity undoubtedly has caused our raw material prices to rise at what often seems like an unbelievable rate.
The old methods of tanning and finishing yielded a firm durable material that could literally wear for years. Today's leather is a dramatically different product. It is softer, more supple, lighter in weight and available in every colour of the rainbow.
Leather has become a very specialized and sophisticated high fashion fabric that requires a talented specialist to turn it into a quality garment. Just like our own skin, it requires care and consideration in handling to ensure its beauty and durability.
Basically, tanning is the process by which bacterial deterioration of the skin is arrested. Once this process, often known as bluing, is complete, the skin has stabilized into a piece of basic leather and can be put through the various dyeing and finishing steps that yield a piece of leather ready to become a leather garment.
Tanning, although simplified in my explanation, is by no means a quick or easy process. This procedure is extremely time and labour intensive. From the moment the skin is pulled from the animal to the time the tannery has it in a finished state and ready to ship, nine months or more may have gone by, and each skin may have gone through more than 150 different processes. To further complicate matters, a miscalculation in chemicals, a machine failure, or even an error in human judgment at almost any step along the way can force the tanner to reject the skins, then take a fresh batch and restart the process again.
Beyond this basic understanding of tanning, it is very important to review the different types of skins and finishes that are available for producing leather garments.
First, we come to kid leather. Today, commercially viable skins, in order of demand, come from:
As said before, these skins are Commercial Skins NOT Exotic Skins.
Each skin offers its own pluses and minuses and each has its own niche in the marketplace. Goats, for example, are not as numerous as lambs and tend not to be as well protected from the environment so they are not as widely used in garment production.
Pig can make beautiful suede, but it is not a terribly nice grained leather. In the past they have been very closely associated with promotionally-priced garments.
Cowhide, at the higher quality end, makes a beautiful product known as Plonge, but the natural defects and other characteristics of the skin make Plonge only truly viable in black.
Sheep or lamb are plentiful animals, and from the better sources offer relatively unblemished skins. Their particular fiber structure and natural characteristics lend themselves perfectly to today's fashion leather garments.
As a source, New Zealand and England offer an excellent mix of variables -- plentiful supply and a good mix of quality, price and availability -- and this has made them one of the most sought after leather garments today.
New Zealand lambskins have their own natural characteristics. The most widely recognized are the natural growth marks in the neck and tail areas. The better the quality of skin, the less predominant these marks will be, but they will always be present.
These sorts of characteristics make New Zealand skins neither good nor bad, just different from their cousins. In fact, there are a great many similarities between lambskins and people. People look different in different parts of the world, but their appearance generally tells their origin.
It is important to note that no two lambskins are exactly alike. This makes it nearly impossible to have every skin dyed in the same batch look exactly the same. The skins can be compared to our skins.
If one were to pick any dozen similar looking people and lay them side by side for two hours, there would almost certainly be no two identical tans or sunburns.
To make the most efficient use of the run skins the tanner is forced to subject them to numerous sorting procedures. They are often sorted in the pre-tanning stage into half a dozen different selections (based on quality) and then before dyeing they are again sorted into another three or four selections.
Finally, once the skins are tanned, dyed and finished, they are sorted into two or three selections and even at this late stage a portion of the skins are sorted out as rejects. All of this is done to ensure that the best skins are used to make the best leather garments.
There are basically three ways to finish a plain piece of leather; Pigmented, Semi-aniline and Full-aniline, any of these can be compared to the treating of wood.
Pigment finishes are much the same as painting wood -- the end product is one which is completely protected from the elements, is identifiable as a piece of wood, but the natural beauty of the wood is completely hidden.
Semi-aniline finishes are much like putting heavy coats of stain on a piece of wood. The wood is protected, some of its natural faults are hidden, but one can still get a sense of the beauty of the raw material.
Aniline leather can be compared to wood that is stained and wiped. There is very little protection against the elements, but you have the desired colour and all of the natural beauty of the raw material is allowed to shine through.
Just as with wood, the less finish that is applied to a skin of leather, the better quality of skin is required.
Once the skins arrive at a garment manufacturing factory, a similar level of expertise and care goes into creating a garment.
An experienced cutter must sort and match 6-8 skins for each jacket that is being made. The skins must be selected for matching shades and similar appearance, so that the finished garment "looks" and "feels" right.
Each garment must be cut by an experienced cutter individually, as no machine can measure the difference in shade from one panel to another, nor recognize any faults that must be cut around. At the same time as he is doing all of this, the cutter is ensuring that the minimum amount of wasted leather ends up on the floor. Consequently, no cutter presently fears the possibility of machinery replacing their highly skilled profession.
At the very end of all these processes we have the finished product, an elegant leather garment.
Special Care Instructions
Apply Tana Product "P16". This should protect the leather garment from some stains and rain spots.
Rub leather against leather. Take the inside of a cuff and rub it against the stain on the same jacket. This is also a good method of removing rain stains.
Always send a complete leather suit to the cleaner. Never send one piece, e.g. pant only, for there will be a slight change in colour from the jacket.
Never put stickers on leather garments. Always use handtags. The glue from the stickers will stain and damage the leather.
When placing Special Orders, always order by SET to assure colour matching.
Quality Doesn't Cost... It Pays!
|Steve's Sheepskin & Leather Shop
50 Mill St. West
Elora, Ontario, Canada
10:30 am to 5:00 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday during February and March