Vegetable Tanning, Patina Leather and The Norma Tote

Hey Readers!

Brothers President, Beth, here! I get a lot of questions about what type of leather we use. Typically when I answer directly, and without a bit of explanation, most people don’t really know what I’m saying. To be frank, unless you know a little bit about leather, the short answer won’t mean much to you either. Today, I’m taking some time to talk about the different tanning methods of leather, what that means, and why we use the leather we do.


There are basically two tanning methods used on all of the world's leather (there are a few others, but I’m only going to talk about the main two for now).


Chromium Tanning: A mineral tanning method, which uses various chemicals to rapidly tan the leather (takes about 24 hours) and produces a very finalized and, somewhat, dead end product. This tanning method, which is used to tan 90% of the world's leather, is also not environmentally friendly and produces leather that isn’t biodegradable unless the chemicals are extracted back out of the leather.


Vegetable Tanning: A tanning method which uses the tannins from plants to remove water in the leather and replace it with themselves. This process gives the leather a beautiful finish that will allow it to age well and patina (we’ll talk about this word) over time. This all sounds easy, but it’s a very complex and artful process that takes up to two months.


Despite it’s more cost effective approach, we decided to forego tanning with the chrome method as it produces a leather that is incapable of graceful aging and is very harsh on our environment. Brothers makes the conscious choice to tan our leather using the vegetable tanning method as it is significantly better for the environment and creates a leather that can age and patina over a lifetime. There is a true artistry that is involved in tanning the leather using the touch of a master. It employs a great craftsman and we are proud to support these artists.


Let’s talk about leather patina. Patina is the art of graceful aging, to put it elegantly. And I like to put it that way because it really is a beautiful thing. Any natural product, like leather and wood, will develop a nice patina over time. It takes in all of the life around it, the oils from your skin, moisture, sunlight, heat, dirt, dust and so on, and turns that into a beautiful shine and/or darkening on the leather. A patina is really something to be proud of. It is a display of the journey that you’ve taken. It only happens when you use your bag in your daily life, letting the leather take in whatever is around you.

I’ve been carrying my Norma Tote for a year and half now and it is starting to patina. It’s gotten darker and more refined as it’s taken on my world all around it. It gets scratched and dirty (disclaimer: I’m a mother to three small children, expectations for my handbags are low) and still the leather uses those ugly things to become more beautiful. You can see in the pictures how my Norma (left) is starting to change compared to a brand new, unused Norma (right.) I’ve almost earned my stripes in the leather world. As you begin to see your Brothers bag developing its patina, I hope you are proud of this naturally made product and it’s ability to age gracefully. The quality is real and we hope you think so too. 

Take care,

Beth Kail
Brothers Leather Supply Co.

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