Tannery to Product: How We Choose Our Leather
Ever look down at an item you use and touch every day and wonder about its origin story? Like, the screen you’re reading this on—where did it come from? A tree with glass leaves?! (We don’t recommend thinking such thoughts before your morning coffee, as it may cause headaches and confusion.) While we can’t speak to the glass tree, we do know the exact source of our leather.
If you’ve been around awhile, you know that we at Distil don’t make our decisions lightly; we appreciate that the best things in life may take a little more time. Finding a tannery partner that was the right fit for us is a prime example of putting our brand’s beliefs to the test. So in the whole wide world of leather, how did we land on our current leather?
For our leather products, we use bovine leather that’s been tanned using a specially developed hybrid process. This gives our gear the renowned durability of mineral-tanned hides, and also a richness and ability to age handsomely like the vegetable-tanned heirlooms we treasure from past generations.
In our search for a suitable match, we visited tanneries from Northern Italy to Southern China. Before we started sourcing the leather that we use today, we first visited the tanneries to tour the facilities and meet the team in person. In total over the years, it's taken numerous flights, a handful of bus rides, one small-town taxi driver, and one very, very long walk (as said small town had only one taxi driver, and he was off that day)...
We found our material-making match with Simona Tannery, whose passion for their craft plus their true commitment and excitement for sustainability is inspiring. They were thrilled to show us around their bright facilities. We've since returned to collaborate on sustainability-focused projects—like our Rescued Leather Series, which utilized perfectly good found materials (that would have otherwise wound up in a landfill) and turned them into a limited run of MagSafe Wally Juniors and KeyLoop Kits.
Our leather partner has a longstanding Gold rating from the Leather Working Group (LWG)—their highest rating. The LWG is a non-profit “watchdog” which performs inspections and awards ratings to use as a benchmarking tool in assessing environmental compliance of leather manufacturers:
To maintain its rating, the tannery undergoes independent, in-person audits and inspections annually for compliance with stringent environmental-stewardship standards, including traceability of hides, environmental policies and procedures, employee safety, water consumption, air and noise emissions, energy consumption and waste management.
As cheerleaders and practitioners of conscious shopping, this accreditation is an important distinction to us. If you’re curious to learn more about our approach to materiality and environmental conscientiousness, check out the 3 Responsibility Standards We Hold Ourselves to at Distil.
Aging Handsomely: Our Leather Over Time
Leather is renowned for its ability to mold into a custom shape over time—just ask any baseball player how they like day one of a new glove versus at the end of the season. For traditional leather wallets, this results in a stretched-out, sad look that no longer stores your cards securely. For a slim wallet design that stays slim and secure, we developed MagLock™ pockets for our Wally Bifold to solve the issue, but this blog post isn't about design. It's about leather. So let's get back to it.
The beloved suppleness happens as a collaboration between you and the material: as you use your wallet, the oils from your hands penetrate the leather, causing it to soften around your cards. But when you over-stuff your wallet, you’re “teaching” the leather to form a bigger area that'll be there the next time you want to travel a little lighter—that's what leads to lost cards.
RELATED READ: 4 Tips to Slim Your Wallet
Like whiskey in a barrel or a fine wine, good leather gets better and more interesting with age. Over time, your wallet will develop a richer color and shine than what it was originally. This is what leather fans call a patina. We hope you'll embrace the fact that your leather is going to patina! It’s one of our absolute favorite things about leather, and it makes your wallet completely unique to you.
To deliver on the promise of a handsome patina, we use full-grain leather that is not painted or “corrected” (i.e. when the top layer is removed). You may see scratches, scars, or wrinkles, which are all normal, and we intentionally leave them as-is. We like to think of these variances as the storytelling element of our leather—a small glimpse of the animal’s life—like the bent skin of their elbow, or bugs that bite on hot summer days.
While blemishes may affect the look of the leather, they do not interfere with its performance in any way; in fact, over time, you'll add scratches, scuffs and a distinct look all your own.
Leather is an extraordinarily durable material, but it will break down eventually when exposed to microbes in the soil. In other words, because it is a natural animal product, real leather breaks down into the earth over time. This is not the case for the typical “vegan leather” alternatives made using synthetics or petroleum-based plastics. Thankfully there are a few true eco-friendly vegan options that are promising—like mycelium-based materials—and we are always keeping an eye out for new materials.
How to Care for Your Leather
To minimize the wear and tear on your wallet and help it live a long, full life, take care not to expose the leather to water, extreme temperatures, harsh sunlight, or darkly dyed denim pockets. Learn more in our handy Leather Care Guide.
One Final Thought:
Let your leather serve as a reminder that wrinkles are earned, getting older can be beautiful, and good things take time. If you’re in the market for a new leather wallet or keyring that you can love for a long time, we've got you covered.