shopping-bag Unbenannt-3


By Ronny Schröder June 29, 2021 4 min read

How we’ve been tanning for 5,000 years.

Even Homo neanderthalensis already knew how to process and preserve the skins of its prey in the Stone Age. From smoke and fat tanning, around 1,200 years before Christ, vegetable tanning emerged as we know it today. Since then, not much has changed in the basic idea. 

Various barks, nuts and roots are particularly rich in tannins. The skins are stored in a pit with the always purely vegetable, liquefied tannins for several months and are thus made durable.

So why vegetable tanned leather hides for ESDE accessories? 

As you may already know, I’m a big fan of the original. When I discover something new that I like, I tend to want to find out who invented it. I am researching the first or best version. I’ve always been fascinated by the patina of old leathers. In my years working at the Heritage Post, I learned a lot about the materials they used in textile production in the early 19th century. 

The patina of a Swiss Army backpack, old saddlebags, tool rolls, medicine balls or furniture produced in 1922 is simply captivating in 2021. The smell, the feel and the versatile possibilities put me under their spell.  And everything was due to one and the same basic material – the vegetable-tanned leather.

The 4 most important reasons why ESDE works with vegetable tanned leather.

Characteristics and Pristine Nature

No other leather looks so natural and still shows its rough edges – meaning scars, insect bites and discolorations – as beautifully as this one. It has a special color rendering, a natural brownish note. The skins, which are usually not completely trimmed, have a soft, velvety surface. You can feel the unique structure that seems smooth and rough at the same time. The woody, loamy smell, warm and nutty, guarantees quality. There is not even a hint of a pungent chemical plastic smell. Unlike other leathers, this material can be processed very thick, up to over 1cm thick. What do you need that for? Maybe desk pads;)

Processing and possibilities of vegetable tanned leather

Vanessa folding an ESDE piece

I am now simply assuming that you have already seen one or the other of my pieces. I like to deform, wash, pull, squeeze, press, emboss, crease, hammer, grind, rust and only one material endures this treatment: vegetable-tanned leather. It gives me limitless possibilities in processing and that is incredibly exciting and liberating. Many of my designs work solely because of the properties of vegetable tanned leathers.

A thought of the future

chemicals from the leather production
Everyday, 50 million litres of highly toxic waste water is generated by the tanneries of Kanpur. Picture by SEAN GALLAGHER

“Dhaka” and “Ranippettai” in India are considered to be the most polluted places on earth. And, trick question: Do you know what is mainly produced here? Chemically tanned chrome III leather. For every 40kg of leather it takes 20kg of chromium salts and other chemicals, which are then disposed of in the environment. Unfortunately, you have to realize that 85% of all leathers are produced this way. The other 15%, vegetable tanned leather, did not require any toxins, which are so harmful to humans and the environment, for tanning.

Most of the tanners for vegetable leather are based in Europe and are therefore subject to strict regulations and annual controls. That is probably also the reason why we mostly find chemical tanning in the Far East, where these controls do not exist. In addition, vegetable leathers contain no chemicals and are completely skin-friendly, even for dry and combination skin. Yes, kidding. 😉

Durability and development 

old pencase
This is an old pen case from 1920 which is was an inspiration for one of my pieces

My favorite point: A 100 year old leather bag that has been reasonably cared for is still absolutely ready for use. Isn’t that totally amazing? As a counter-example, my mobile phone is made of glass, it could fly to the moon, but it certainly won’t survive two years. Leather bags have been found in shipwrecks that have been under water for 400 years. Dried and put in the museum, they at least look incredibly beautiful. And we can trace all of that back to this incredibly unique material. As I write these sentences, I could fall in love again – the phenomenal patina, the sheen, the buttery-soft feel. 


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