Can a centuries-old tradition be renewed in the name of eco-sustainability? According to Giuseppe Volpi, owner of the Volpi Tannery, the answer is definitely “yes”. Especially if you start from principles that already embed the concept of ecology. And vegetable tanning made with tannin is certainly a perfect example.
Says Volpi: “Our company was founded in 1951 by my grandfather. Today we are in the third generation. We have always been involved in vegetable tanning. At the beginning our offer was mainly focused on sole leather.
In the mid-nineties we also started producing vegetable-tanned leather, an activity that has grown over time and is now predominant. Sole leather, however, continues to represent around 40% of our total turnover. We supply prestigious Italian and international brands, as well as shoe artisans all over Europe”.
In the 2000s, we witnessed a change in trends, particularly with regard to men’s footwear: the classic formal shoes were replaced by sneakers, which feature different sole models. This has led to a change in market demand, making our decision to expand the company’s core business definitely far-sighted. “Between the production of leather and vegetable-tanned leather, we can therefore say that today our tannery can supply not only the footwear industry, but also the producers of belts, bags, wallets and other vegetable-tanned leather accessories. We are also members of both the Consorzio del Cuoio and the Consorzio Vera Pelle Conciata al Vegetale.”
Due grandi ambasciatori del Made in Italy e della concia al vegetale del comprensorio toscano Two great ambassadors of Made in Italy and of the vegetable tanning. Volpi explains: “We have always been faithful to this tanning method, based on natural materials, tannins, which over the centuries have become the key ingredient of a great tradition. But the processes are certainly not the same as 300 years ago! Thanks to the research, vegetable tanning made with tannin has been constantly renewed and today we can count on evolved processes that combine technological efficiency with great attention to the environment. The result is timeless leathers that are suitable to create unique accessories. Vegetable-tanned leather changes over time, taking on a unique and original appearance depending on how the object has been experienced. It is not a static material; on the contrary, it can tell its own story and that of its owner. It is also extremely safe for people with sensitive skin because it is naturally metal-free.
All these features are now increasing the interest of an evolving market. “We try to meet the needs of an ever-more informed and aware consumer. Vegetable-tanned leather items last over time, even for generations. This means that you don’t have to throw them away and buy new ones, which is the typical Fast Fashion approach. We are therefore dealing with durable goods, produced through environmentally friendly processes and using a natural extract, tannin, as a tanning agent.
In addition, at the end of its life cycle, the vegetable-tanned leather item can be easily disposed of, after hydrolysis, in an organic fertiliser. These are all characteristics closely linked to sustainability,” Volpi says, “a concept that has recently been repeated almost obsessively and often improperly. I would like to understand what exactly this increased sustainability consists of. The environmental issue exists, but it cannot be solved with marketing ideas. If we consider that the planet’s resources are not unlimited, then objects must be created to last, not to be replaced after 4 months! Fortunately many are changing their minds, both consumers and big brands; I am thinking, for example, of Giorgio Armani’s statements after the first lockdown”.
After all, trends change, but authentic products remain.