A brief history of leather

Back in the stone age, somewhere between 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago mankind’s first clothing and shelter were made of animal skin. Picture a cave man. What comes to mind? A rugged guy with a beard, long hair. What’s he eating? Hunted animal, vegetables and fruits. What’s he wearing? More likely than not he is wearing animal skin of a large animal like a cat or tiger, held together with sharp stones. Man began using animal skin as clothing back in the Paleolithic age, 2.5 million to 10,000 years BC. He hunted animals for food, removed their hide and skin and used them for shelter, clothing and footwear. The earliest evidence of man using animal skin was found in caves in Spain, and in Egyptian tombs. In both cases, art was depicted with men and women wearing some form of clothing or footwear made of skin. Archaeologists have found stone age tools 25,000 – 50,000-year-old all over the world which included scrapers used for cleaning animal hides. By itself, the skin rapidly decayed so a method for preservation was needed. 

Leather tanning, the art of creating a material that lasts

Leather is animal skin that has been treated for preservation. Leather making as an art began around 7,000 years ago. In the beginning, man started by stretching out the hides on the ground and rubbing fats into them. This process would soften the skin and preserve it. Over time, man discovered that keeping animal skins out in the sun or over a fire, salting them to dehydrate them, preserved them for longer. Further, man also discovered that treating dried skins with an infusion of various tannins – including tree barks, leaves extended the life of the skin. 

Hides of mammals are composed of three layers. Epidermis, a thin outer layer; corium or dermis, a thick central layer and subcutaneous fatty layer. The corium or dermis is used to make leather after the two sandwiching layers have been removed. Fresh hides contain 60-70% water, and 30-35% protein. 85% of the protein is collagen, which is a fibrous protein. Tanning is the process of using a mixture of acids, bases, salts and enzymes to dissolve fats and nonfibrous proteins to strengthen the bonds between collagen fibers. 

The preservation process is a chemical treatment process calling tanning. Tanning converts the perishable skin to a non-decaying material. Today, the most common animal skins and hides are those of cattle (cow, sheep, goat being the most common).

There are two main treating processes:

  • Vegetable tanning using an emulsion of tree barks, vegetables and fruits. Vegetable tanned layer often has natural fluid shades. The leather ages beautifully, getting a patina over time.
  • Chrome tanning using mineral salts like chromium sulfate are used. Chrome tanned leather has a solid color, with limited to no shading. The color stays more or less consistent as it ages.

Here are Navie, we use the highest quality leather for our bags and offer our products in vegetable tanned leather and chrome tanned leather. Vintage brown in most products is vegetable tanned leather and others are chrome tanned.   

Product: The Vintage Weekender  

Color: Vintage Brown  

Treatment: Vegetable Tanned   

Product Link: Here

Product: The Vintage Weekender 

Color: Golden Tan  

Treatment: Chrome Tanned   

Product Link: Here


So what style do you like, vegetable tanned or chrome tanned? Leave your comments and let us know. 

Content Sources:

  • UNESCO heritage site. Dance of Cogul tracing by Henri Breuil
  • shorthistory.org
  • Britannica


Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published