As an ethical company doing our best to work responsibly with our artisan partners as well as the environment, we get asked a lot about where our leather comes from, so I wanted to address this question and explain a little bit about the environment for cattle in Tanzania.
First off, all of our leather comes from Tanzanian cattle (and a few styles use goat skin as well, as it is thinner). Industrialized farming is virtually unheard of in Tanzania. Cattle production is done mostly by pastoralist peoples, who spend their days herding cattle through the vast grasslands making up much of the landscape of East Africa.
(Herder with Cattle, photo credit Manyara Ranch Conservancy)
Cattle play a huge part in making portions of Tanzania habitable. In the grasslands, there are months without rain, making farming nearly impossible. The only consistent plant that is thriving is, of course, grass. Cattle are able to digest the grass which humans are not capable of digesting, and convert it into energy that humans can use (meat).
When closely examining the leather used to make our shoes, purses, and belts, you will notice small scratches. Cattle are herded across the grasslands and through thickets. They occasionally get scratches. Their hides differ from the flawless hides of farm-raised cattle–but Tanzanian cattle have had a life of free-roaming.
Leather is a byproduct of meat production in Tanzania, which is a necessary product for survival for rural people in Tanzania. Though in the Western world we have a multitude of options in selecting our diets, in much of the world the luxury of choice does not exist in regards to food.
The leather for our products comes from hides from pastoralist herders in Tanzania, which are then processed by a family-owned tannery in northern Tanzania on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Though leather production varies greatly depending on the qualities the finished leather must exhibit (thickness, strength, suppleness), almost all of our leather components used in all of our products are made from vegetable-tanned leather. This is the most time-intensive of all tanning processes, but it also has the least environmental impact, as leather is tanned using natural tannins occurring in plant material, rather than manufactured chemicals.
Many products branded as “vegan leather” come from petroleum-based materials, which are also produced with an environmental cost. All of our consumption choices have an impact on our environment–it is our responsibility as consumers to made educated choices. Don’t hesitate, when purchasing leather goods or any other product, to ask about origins, materials, and processes.
While many people choose not to use or consume animal products, we have made the choice to continue the rich history of leatherworking in East Africa–in the most ethical way possible.