The Leather Industry

The craft of making leather dates back as far as 3000 to 5000 B.C., when leather was used for sandals, clothes, buckets and more.  This makes the leather industry one of the oldest manufacturing sectors in the world. The raw hides and skins used in the leather industry come from a waste product of the meat and diary industry.

The leather industry has been making a huge progress to manufacture a sustainable and future proof material, bringing comfort, luxury and joy to consumers.

Did you know…?

Meat consumptions causes 7 millions tonnes of bovine hides yearly. The hide accounts for a small amount of the total value of the animal. Therefore the hide is a by-product of the meat industry. 7 million tonnes of hides is an average of roughly 1.000 trucks per day.

How do we handle this by-product? We can either loose it or use it. By loosing these hides for example by burning or disposing the hides as land fill would have a massive negative impact on the environment. Instead of causing environmental damage Royal Smit & Zoon promotes the use of hides and turning them into beautiful leather. As a result, leather is contributing to a better environment, provided that the leather is manufactured in the most sustainable way.

Leather Value Chain explained

The leather value chain involves the whole process of turning a skin or hide into a leather intermediate. The leather intermediate is then used to produce leather goods. For example leather shoes, bags, jackets, furniture and car interiors.

From hide to leather good: what are the steps in the leather value chain? These are the 5 key processes in the leather production cycle:

  1. Preservation
    A process that temporarily allows transport and storage of the raw material.
  2. Preparatory operations (beamhouse)
    Hides are cleaned from dirt, blood, salt and hair, the collagen structure is opened, they are fleshed, processed with base chemicals and split into grains and splits.
  3. Tanning
    In tanning the collagen of the hides is transformed into leather. Herewith the collagen of the hide is protected to microorganisms.
    Different tanning agents can be used, e.g. Zeology, chrome, glutardialdehyde (GDA), synthetic products or vegetable extracts.
  4. Post-tannage or Wet-end
    In wet-end the leather is given its final properties by the application of syntans, fatliquors and dyes.
  5. Finishing
    The ‘finishing’ touch of leather making. A final film of several layers is used to protect the leather, increase its performance and to create fashionable colors and patterns.

The infographic below gives a clear overview of the whole leather supply chain, from live stock to consumer.

Our role in the leather industry

Royal Smit & Zoon develops and produces sustainable chemical solutions for the leather industry. That means we do not produce or sell leather ourselves. We support tanneries, and indirectly also brands, in delivering consumers the best possible leather products.

We focus on solutions for these phases of the leather value chain:

  • Leather tanning | our brand Nera
  • Wet-End | our brand Smit
  • Leather finishing | our brand Codyeco

Our Chemical Solutions

Leather & Sustainability

Leather has many great and unique qualities such as:

  • Durability, a leather product can last a lifetime – and even longer.
  • It is made from a by-product of the meat industry. That means it recycles a hide or skin that otherwise would go to waste.
  • Leather can be a sustainable, circular and biodegradable material when using the right chemicals.

Read more about the Sustainability of Leather

Future of leather industry

We acknowledge the importance of a responsible leather industry around the world. That is why Royal Smit & Zoon wants to stress the need for sustainable alternatives in the entire supply chain. To support that goal, we want to cooperate with all stakeholders to share knowledge and innovations, in order to collectively deploy more sustainable technologies and solutions.

It is our ambition to create a socially and environmentally sustainable leather value chain, together.

Have a look at:

Our story

COP28 Leather Manifesto

Download (pdf)