I’m not sure what creates that magical high we experience when we take a sniff of a new leather bag, but somehow that glorious smell whispers to us, “hey, I’m reaaaallly great, you should buy me.”
A good leather is much more than its alluring aroma.
Just like fabrics, there are many different types of leathers which all work very different jobs. I’m going to break down a handful of our favorite varieties, how we use them, and why.
- Vegetable-tanned (veg tan) leather.
What is it? Veg Tan is the big buzz word these days, as it’s a really popular leather often used in wallets, belts, horse saddles, etc. While it can be dyed at the tannery, it’s most often seen in the “flesh” tones: tan or peach in color. It’s really stiff when newly purchased which makes it great for stamping, carving, and moulding. As it’s broken in, it softens and darkens drastically, developing what is called a “patina”. We use veg tan in a variety of colors from light tan to black.
Nerd talk: Veg-tanning leather is arguably the most “organic” method as it uses components such as oak tree barks and other natural elements during the tanning process, as opposed to chemicals and salts used in other tanning methods. There are arguments to say that not all modern methods of veg-tanning are 100% “organic”, but I’d venture to say that of the tanning methods, it’s the most environmentally-friendly.
What we use it for: We a variety of veg tan called English Bridle on most of our wallets and small accessories. It’s stuffed with hot waxes in the tanning process which gives it a nice feel, and it breaks-in beautifully over time.
2. Oil-Tanned leather.
What is it? It’s a bit heavier and stiff like veg tan, but a little more bendable and soft. Sometimes it can also feel a bit slick or oily on the surface. It’s often found on shoes, boots, and bags.
Nerd Talk: Oil tanned leather is made using different oils and waxes which are impregnated (stuffed) into the hide during the tanning process, giving it waterproofing qualities and a distinctive feel. And yes- sweat-proof, too. That’s why it’s used for boots!
What I use it for? I use it in a heavier weight for tote bags, and other larger bags that I feel need some structure and durability against mother nature on any given day.
Oil tan leather can withstand some pretty serious abuse and frankly, it looks better from it. It breaks in nicely, meaning that over time it develops a slight patina and will take on some character depending on how rough you are with it, but not quite as drastically as veg tan in my opinion.
I let mine age naturally without adding any oils or protective finishes. It handles the dirt of life well, as you can just wipe it off and move on. Oh, and it’s also pretty much waterproof because of those oils added into the tanning process. A big bonus in my book.
3. Chrome Tanned Leathers.
What is it? Imagine napping on a really soft Italian leather sofa. Or sliding into the front seat of a luxury sports car (actually, I have no idea what this feels like but I want to). The leather used in both dream scenarios is what’s called a chrome-tanned leather.
Nerd Talk: Chrome tanned leather is processed using acids, salt, and chromium sulfate to produce a very soft, beautiful subtle leather often in many different colors, patterns, and thicknesses. It makes up 90% of the leather you see used in upholstery.
What I use it for: Mostly handbags which I want to have a little bit more of that soft luxury look and feel. Its another great product for everyday use as it’s generally easy to clean with some soap and water, not too easily scratched, and it doesn’t develop too much of a patina as it’s used. I also like that it’s softer and more flexible than veg or oil tan.
What I appreciate most about these leathers is that they each have very different qualities which makes them better at doing different jobs. Learning what leather works best for each application has really helped me to design more with purpose, and really think about a products intention and durability for a lifetime of use.