Free shipping / Free shipping to France, Germany & Belgium.

Is there such a thing as vegetable leather?

vegetable tanned leather - vegetable leather

Wrongly used, the name vegetable leather has a definition just fuzzy enough to make you buy a non-animal leather fantasy. So Subtle goes back to what vegetable leather really is.

What is vegetable leather?

Vegetable and mineral tanning

Let's start with the basics: vegetable leather is animal leather with vegetable tanning. "But what is vegetable tanning, you may ask. Tanning is a chemical process that makes hides more durable, supple and rot-proof - and I invite you to go out "rot-proof" at the next family dinner, you'll be a sensation. It is only after the animal's hide is tanned that it can be called leather.
There are many different types of tanning and therefore different tanning agents: it can be done with oil (including vegetable oils), silica, resins, iron, sulfur and other heavy metals. Thus, depending on the tanning agent, one can speak of vegetable tanning but also mineral tanning. While these terms evoke nature, it is interesting to realize that the most common tanning is chrome tanning, which is a heavy metal and therefore classified as toxic. Chrome tanning is the fastest and cheapest. However, beware: the metallic element can cause allergic reactions, not to mention the fact that this production is polluting. Chrome tanned leather is not an eco-leather and this type of tanning should be avoided.

Vegetable-tanned leather is often wrongly confused with the term vegetable leather, which is a paradox. While there are different types of leather that can become vegetable-tanned leather (cowhide, lamb leather, etc.), it is always animal leather. Pineapple or pinatex leather (made from pineapple leaves) or even mushroom leather are, so to speak, abuses of language if we dwell on their leather designation in themselves. They are not of animal origin, have an interesting environmental impact and are perfectly suitable for vegan consumption. It is with this in mind that Subtle has created its vegan Epsilon sneaker in imitation leather, 100% vegan, 100% without animal leather and with an ethical and responsible environmental impact.

The etymological point: tanning is done with the help of tan, or other tanning agents. By the way, tan, from the Gallic radical "tann" (oak), refers to the oak bark that has been decomposed and reduced to dust in the old vegetable tanning methods.

To sum up, vegetable leather is the skin of an animal transformed into leather tanned using 100% vegetable substances. Contrary to mineral tanning, it is the oldest and least widespread since it uses tannins (vegetable substances from the polyphenol family) derived from organic substances (sap, leaf, bark). Furthermore, do not confuse vegetable leather with synthetic materials with a leather-like appearance, also known as imitation leather. These two materials have a very different origin and type of maintenance.

Environment and aesthetics

Subtle produces vegetable-tanned leather shoes. This type of leather and its production have negligible environmental consequences compared to chrome tanning. The vegetable leather is as such recyclable. To illustrate its environmental impact, imagine that buried underground, bacteria would be able to kill this type of leather in a few years. But don't worry: your shoes won't self-destruct in 24 hours in your closet. This chemical process also has less harmful effects on your health. On the one hand, the tanning agents are inherently less harmful, and on the other hand, the allergy risks involved with chrome tanning, for example, are irrelevant here. Another advantage of vegetable-tanned 100% leather that Subtle appreciates is that it takes on deeper, more nuanced shades. This makes the finish unique, especially when it develops a patina over time. Your shoes therefore have a very unique colour and finish.
The use of natural substances, the use of a type of tanning with a responsible environmental impact, the suppleness of the tanned leather and the unique way in which it develops a patina over time are the main reasons why Subtle offers its shoes in vegetable leather, when its models are not in imitation leather, and therefore vegan (All about vegan shoes)

A special interview

Beyond the ethical and aesthetic aspects of so-called vegetable leathers, let's come back to the maintenance of these eco-leathers used for certain models of Subtle shoes. The use of waterproofing is important. Remember that leather is a living material, the skin of an animal, which takes on a patina over time and requires special and regular maintenance. Vegetable leather is sensitive to water and does not have a chemical finish. It is therefore essential to protect it from water and stains with a waterproofing agent. So take a minute before you even wear your shoes for the first time to spray a colourless waterproofing spray 30cm away from your shoes. This way, your shoes are protected and you don't risk creating stains on your leather.

Find all our advice for take care of your leather shoes.

You might also like


Benefit from 10 % reduction on your next order with the code WELCOME

Follow us

By continuing to browse our site, you agree to the use of cookies. 🍪