shh...leather prices from a tannery

Category: Travel Journal

Let me share a secret with you. I talk to tanneries all the time to keep up to date on the latest trends and prices and I just got their most recent price list. This is from a tannery that only makes vegetable-tanned leathers. They also distribute some chrome oil-tanned leathers for other tanneries.

Please see their prices below (per square foot) on the following leathers:

vegetable tanned leather prices

As you can see, leather is expensive! And leather prices are rising every year. 

You can also see that the maximum thickness for full-grain chrome tan is only 4-5 oz. and that vegetable-tanned leather is about 3 times more expensive.

That’s huge difference. But why? Leather is leather, right??

Well….there are a few reasons, see below:

vegetable tanned leather vs. chrome tanned leather 

These factors like ingredients used in the process, time to produce, and production method all contribute to the final look, feel, and smell of the leather.

Just on appearance only, there are significant differences between vegetable-tan and chrome-tan leather. When you look very closely at veg tan leather, there are subtle differences in color all throughout the grains of the hide. On a deep brown hide, these different colors blend together. The result is an extremely rich, deep color tone.

Here’s our Mailbag up close #nofilter. Can you notice the subtleties and slight differences in color tone that blend together throughout the leather? It’s more noticeable in person, trust us. This color richness can only be achieved through the vegetable-tanning process which takes our tannery about 4 weeks to complete.

vintage mailbag

On a chrome-tanned leather, the color is uniform throughout the hide. There is not the same richness or subtleties in the leather. It basically looks like the leather has been painted 1 color.

When it comes to smell, chrome tanned leather has a strong chemical overtone. You ever smell men’s dress shoes? 99% of them are made with chrome-tanned leather and that’s why they smell like chemicals. Vegetable-tanned leather smells like…well…leather. It’s an intoxicating smell and one of the bonuses of running a vegetable tanned leather business is that my house and are engulfed in it. And the smell doesn’t go away. I have our prototypes that are literally 3 years old and still have that rich smell!

The truth that most leather companies (even those selling their bags for $600 and up) use the $2.75/sq ft. full grain chrome leather so they can keep their enormous margins. They probably get even better pricing since their volumes are so high. Somehow they’ve marketed this as the top of the line leather, banking on the fact that tannery prices are not seen by the public and that few bag companies use vegetable-tanned leather due to the high cost.