DesertSpring, leather tanning based on sea buckthorn

A revolutionary, circular, metal- and chrome free tanning concept

A joint venture between Smit & Zoon, venture building studio Enviu and SN Botanicals resulted in a game changing plant-based innovation for environmentally friendly leather tanning. Traditional leather tanning is often done with heavy metals like chromium, if misused these could leave a huge environmental impact. The innovation, called DesertSpring (bringing life to deserted grounds) is a circular, metal- and chrome-free tanning concept based on the extract of the sustainably grown sea buckthorn plant. This bio-based tanning poses an opportunity to replace fossil and metal-based tanning products and to reduce the amount of salts and acids used in the tanning process. DesertSpring is now exclusively working with frontrunning partners that are eager to adopt environmentally friendly alternatives to leather tanning.

Plant based leather tanning combines environmental and social impact

  • Newly introduced product DesertSpring is based on sea buckthorn, stimulating the prevention and desertification while supporting local economies;
  • First in its kind that provides a 360 degrees approach in the leather value chain;
  • DesertSpring is a unique step forward in creating a circular value chain in the leather industry.

Using raw materials from climate resilient agriculture

By using sea buckthorn, grown in areas affected by soil erosion, DesertSpring stimulates the prevention of desertification and brings value to the local communities. As such, DesertSpring is the ultimate alternative tanning concept to make the leather value chain more sustainable.  DesertSpring is based on sea buckthorn leaves that come from climate resilient agriculture. The plant is grown in a fully transparent supply chain of sea buckthorn leaves in China, from wild forests and organic plantations. By only harvesting the leaves and not the shrubs, the local biodiversity is protected and locals can still harvest the berries.

Sea buckthorn thrives in poor soils and improves soil conditions thanks to its unique rooting system. In China, the shrubs are widely planted in areas affected by soil degradation. By sourcing from these regions, DesertSpring brings new income opportunities to the affected regions, and stimulates soil improvement projects.

“Leather is a very sustainable product as the hides are a by-product of the food industry.” says Pim Wilgenburg, venture manager at Smit & Zoon. “With DesertSpring we set another step in increasing the sustainability of the supply chain around this industry. The tanning agent, which can replace traditional tanning agents, is a game changer both in terms of quality and performance, and for it’s environmental and social impact.”

Collaboration resulting in ready-to-market venture

DesertSpring leather tanning is a step towards a circular leather industry, based on biological ingredients. Smit & Zoon, Enviu and SN Botanicals, have collaborated closely the past years to turn this high quality tanning concept into a game changing joint-venture that is ready for the market. SN Botanicals is the expert in sea buckthorn who has developed the extract, patented it and built the supply chain. Smit & Zoon and SN Botanicals collaborated for more than 3 years to finetune the application of the extract to leather tanning. In 2019, Enviu, a social venture building studio, strengthened the team, bringing the required experience to launch the tanning concept as a strong social joint venture to the market. The past years were also made possible thanks to the support of RVO and DEG.

Currently, DesertSpring is ready to grow with front-running partners to launch the first market-ready articles.  For more information, please visit

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