Lo Stivale tannery in Santa Croce sull’Arno, in the Tuscan Leather District (Italy), has always held a protagonist role within its industry’s national history. To know more about it we’ve interviewed Emilio Martelli, 82 years old, 71 of which spent between tanning tanks and drums.
“I joined the tannery when I was only 11 years old” – he says. “That’s how it used to be those days; people started working when they were very young. I immediately learned the art of vegetable tanning with tannin. By the time I was 14, I had already acquired a fair amount of experience and I moved to another company that used a different tanning method from the one I was used to, namely chrome tanning.”
“Unfortunately, I didn’t last long: I found out I was allergic to chromium and I always felt an itchy skin, especially on my hands. And when it’s like that, you have to stop. With vegetable tanning and tannins, on the contrary, I never had any problems. I can certainly say that I am a living proof that vegetable tanning is really suitable for even the most sensitive skin!”
In the 1950s, working in a tannery was a very tough job: “You went up and down the stairs carrying hides on your shoulders, there were no elevators,” Martelli says. “Initially, only the tanks were used; the drums came later. This was a substantial change: it made the tanning process faster and more efficient. In fact, the tanning of hides in drums lasts about 12 hours; for leather soles, on the other hand, it is still necessary to use tanks and wait for at least 3 months.”