Java part 1: Magetan tanners and sustainability question

Vegetable Tanned leather factory

I went for a small business trip to meet some new and current leather suppliers in the area and see the process of my tanners and rattan makers to answer sustainability and pollution questions for me and my customers. This trip was about finding and confirming proper suppliers who meets my requirements and I can be sure with my products when i sell it. The journey and research started in Magetan area after 15 hour bus ride from Bali…

I visited several places and my main personal and business goal was to clarify, confirm and compare that my people are working in ethical conditions and are aware of the environmental impact. As i mentioned above Magetan area is known and famous for tanners of all kinds. I am mainly doing vegetable tanned leather due to its lower impact on our nature and even that is not perfect as I found out, but we can minimize bad outcome for the environment when we choose the right people to work with. Continue reading to find out more about the leather situation, but first what actually veg. tan. leather is?

What is vegetable tanned leather (veg. tan. leather)?

Tanning is a processing animal skin to make leather by using chemicals or plant based liquid. Vegetable is the specifying the tanning process. Vegetable tanned means that during the process they use water with acacia bark instead of chemicals. The most popular chemical process is using chromium, which is used mostly in the world due to its effectiveness and price to make it.

Fun fact: You can sometimes see written in the description veg. tan. leather – it has nothing to do with color tan, it is short for “tanned”.

Ethical working condition for people? Confirmed.

I visited small and big tanneries and even though they differentiate with its size and process, which i will describe later, they have a common view how to treat people. They all provide gloves and boots, which is the minimum their workers need to protect themselves from the liquids, putty, tools and leather. You will not see people working with their bare hands or bare feet like in other tanneries in developing countries in Asia or Africa. This is a great achievement for people working in these conditions as their health matters and I am glad my first requirement is confirmed with my leather supplier in Magetan.

Pollution and sustainability. Confirmed and sorted!

I always minimize my impact on our environment and therefore I was looking at the process and each part of the process of some tanneries. What I found out is disappointing and it also includes other people and brands, who talk about sustainability and Eco-friendly products and while they talk about it they have no idea how their materials are actually made. Luckily there are still responsible people and I can work with tanners, who actually care about the regulations and environment with proper filter.

Issue with polluted river

Most of the tanneries have the same or similar process and you can read about the whole process below as it includes cleaning the hides, cutting the hides and dehydrating. Where it is not same is the final liquid waste and where it goes. Some tanneries put the processed water back to the river and they don’t care about its damage. Nobody wants to have smelly and unhealthy rivers.

Acacia bark bath with leather
Acacia bark bath with leather
Chemical free, but would you still waste unfiltered liquid it to the river?

As Indonesian person I can go around and get the information I need and can see what happens with my own eyes. Unfortunately there are people, who are extremely irresponsible for the environment for whatever reason they have. Luckily not all people are like that and I found tanneries, who work as a community and share the filter system together. I would like to emphasize and urge all people to check on their leather suppliers on what they do with the polluted water and how they treat it.

Responsible suppliers. Filter the liquid waste!

There are many suppliers and makers, who care for other people in the area and are responsible with their work. We just need to find them and work with them. Usually they will work as a community or it is a big tannery as the filter installation is expensive and one small tannery just cannot afford it.

The responsibility goes especially to the chromium( and other chemicals) based tanneries, which definitely need to have protective gloves and boots at least and filtering process for waste management.

I want to be responsible for my products and that’s why I went to explore the options and see it in person rather than just saying – yes we use vegetable tanned leather we are Eco-friendly. I want my customers to know that we can do better and we do.

Filter system, last process is in the blue barels
Filter system, last process is in the blue barels

Tanning process

The bigger factories process the leather same way as small home tanneries.
1. Mix the raw hide with lime and give it a spin in the huge barrels known as lime bath. This will clean hide from all parts like hair.
2. Put each hide through a press looking machines, which will clean the hide from last pieces of meat and leftovers.
3. Bath the leather in acacia bark for few weeks or months in few simple The leftover kind of muddy and fatty part is dried out on the sun. After few weeks it becomes a soil and can be used as a building material.

Fun fact: There is no major damage done to the acacia tree itself. Workers just take the bark from the tree and that bark re-grows back in 2-3 months. There is no need for destroying the trees or forest.

Acacia bark
Acacia bark


WildIndo is not just a fashion brand. WildIndo and I stand for well made products, ethical work and environment. All these parts are very important to me and I think it should be important to everyone. If you purchase any leather product, you should know from where and how it is produced that you do not accidentally and indirectly damage world’s nature. I am bit sad as I found out that vegetable tanned leather does not necessarily mean Eco-friendly. At the end it depends on each tanner and supplier how responsible they are and you have the power in choosing your brand and right business partner. The same way I check on my partners and the process.

Interested in rattan products instead of leather? Second part of my Java trip was concentrated on my rattan maker in Jepara area.

Posted on

Leave a Reply