All About Our English Vegetable-Tanned Bridle Leather

What’s so special about our English vegetable-tanned bridle leather 

Diamond Dogs uses premium quality English vegetable-tanned bridle leather for all our  leather products, which are handmade in the UK by our traditionally skilled master craftsmen and women. This specific leather description identifies that the leather is cowhide from English cattle tanned in the UK using a centuries-old process with the use of vegetable matter from tree bark and shrubs but utilizing absolutely no chemicals. It is traditionally used for saddlery, bridle and horse harnesses and, as one might expect, it requires very strong leather to restrain a horse, requiring the leather to be durable, flexible and soft against the horse’s muzzle so that the horse is comfortable and the rider can trust the integrity and safety of the harness and bridle they buy. In particular, riders need to be assured that the leather doesn’t deteriorate over time, maintaining its strength and integrity so it can be relied upon and doesn’t need to be replaced regularly. Diamond Dogs utilizes this premium quality leather for all these reasons because when you  walk your dog you need to trust the integrity of the collar, lead and harness you use for the safety of your pet.

When you purchase items made by Diamond Dogs, which are all made using English vegetable-tanned bridle leather, the quality is apparent in every aspect of the raw materials utilized and you should expect that it will last for many decades with just a little care. Our English bridle leather becomes butter-soft within a very short period of use while retaining it’s incredible strength, durability and beauty which requires minimal care. There is no other natural or synthetic material that can compare in terms of quality, longevity or desirability. Vegetable-tanned leather will last for many decades, even centuries, with just a little care and the production of vegetable-tanned leather is not environmentally damaging. Articles made from vegetable-tanned leather can be seen in museums displaying leather bottles, shoes and other ancient, vegetable-tanned artefacts,  which were tanned using the same, natural vegetable-tanning process as our leather is today.  Absolutely no chemicals are used during or after the tanning process of the leathers we utilize in our products.

English bridle leather is renowned the world over for its extremely high quality and therefore is highly sought after. Our upper leathers are 5.5oz. – 6oz (2.2mm – 2.7mm thick), which is adjusted according to the size of dog the item is intended for. At its full thickness, our leather is tannery tested to 1000lb. pressure per square foot. We line all our products with soft Italian, vegetable-tanned clothing leather of 2.5 – 3oz (1.2 – 1.4mm) thickness to provide a superior product which provides maximum comfort to your pet and which you will never have to replace. The only care required is the application of a suitable leather conditioner, such as Fiebings Care 4, or neutral wax shoe polish once or twice a year. (Please see our separate page on how to condition your Diamond Dogs leather goods). Vegetable-tanned leathers are much more valuable due to their inherent qualities and painstaking tanning process,  thus the finished hides are sold at a considerably higher price compared to all other types of leather. Our leather can only be worked by hand using age-old, traditional skills whereas chrome tanned and synthetic leather articles are almost always machine manufactured.

“Vegetable tanning seems to have been practiced in prehistoric times. In historic times, the Hebrews tanned with oak bark, and the Egyptians, with babul pods. The Romans used bark, certain woods, and berries. The Arabs tanned with bark and roots, and in the Middle Ages they reintroduced the art into Europe via Spain. By the 18th century the value of materials such as oak bark, sumac, valonia, and hemlock was well established. The procedure, essentially unchanged in modern times, involves soaking hides in vats of increasingly strong liquors, or liquid extracts of vegetable tannin.” ¹

This system of tanning relies on the chemical reaction of vegetable  tannin, or tannic acid, which displaces water in the hides and cements the fibres together. Vegetable tanning, is an artisanal and slow process  which utilizes bark and other plant material from discarded organic oak, chestnut or mimosa, with the hides being soaked in large vats of these plant materials over an 8 week period. The prolonged saturation process allows both the deep interior fibres and the exterior fibres of the hide to become impregnated with tannins. Natural plant oils also play an important role in the leather production process which are used to help achieve properties such as softness, a luxurious appearance and which help to create an exceptionally strong, flexible, yet durable leather. Our leather is never greasy on the surface and oil never leeches out of the hides but the oils impregnated in it during tanning allows our leather to become very soft and supple with just a little use and helps keep it in good condition without drying out quickly. This centuries-old process was the singular method of producing tanned leather, which is an environmentally-friendly process.  However, “at the end of the 19th century the invention of chemical tanning using chromium salts was introduced. This was probably the first change in the chemistry of leather production in at least 2,000 years.” ¹


Chrome Tanned Leather

“In this chemical process of tanning, the hides are soaked in revolving drums filled with increasingly strong chromium sulphate solutions. Aluminium and zirconium salts are also used in tanning” ¹, all of which are heavy metals hazardous to the environment and the people who use them. Tanneries in many parts of the world are known to discard the used chromium waste in rivers, causing major pollution. “There is worldwide concern about the management of solid waste generated from the tannery industry, primarily because of its chromium toxicity. In many developing countries the solid tannery waste, which is high in protein content, is utilized as animal feed. Recent studies indicate that there is a link between chromium in solid tannery waste, in the animal feed and in the animals themselves.” ²

Because chrome tanning is a much quicker and cheaper method of producing tanned leather, taking just 24 hours, it is widely available and now accounts for 90%+ of all leather produced around the globe. Most leather belts, handbags, footwear and other leather goods, including many of those from many luxury brands, utilise this environmentally damaging material. They are invariably thin materials,  being less than ⅓ the thickness of vegetable-tanned leathers,  this is an inherent weakness. Needles to say, the thinner the leather, the less strength and durability is inherent in the finished product.

However, many manufacturers deceive the consumer in their use of chrome tanned leathers because in order to provide ‘body’ and give a better feel to the finished product  they have to insert a synthetic core into every article. We have even seen cardboard used to provide substance to dog collars, leads and belts! It is shocking to see the lengths that  some manufacturers will go to in order to produce cheaply while reaping high retail prices for name-brand leather goods. Linings added to the back of articles are either synthetic or chrome tanned leather. All of these goods are marked as “genuine leather” and there are even items sold with this description that are made using a composite material of leather waste, just as chipboard and fibreboard are made from wood waste!

As a consumer it pays to understand what your intended purchase is made from because not all leathers and the products they are made from are equal.

Most often, dog collars, leads, belts, handbags, or other articles in regular use that are made with chrome tanned leathers or composite leather will break or tear where the item is fastened after a relatively short period as there is little inherent integrity in the material. It should always be remembered that the quality of any item made from any kind of leather is only as good as the weakest material it is made from. Products made from chrome tanned leather can easily be spotted because they always have a thin, turned upper and lower edge, where the leather is turned back on itself,  which hides the synthetic core while the main body of the article often feels spongy due to the synthetic core.

Chrome tanned leather is readily available in a wide range of colours, which generally looks good when brand new, but because it lacks strength and durability it quickly deteriorates with use. It is often impregnated with synthetic “leather aroma” to simulate the woody, aromatic smell of vegetable-tanned leather.


Synthetic Leather

Several of the largest fashion brands on the planet resort to using synthetic leather for shoes, bags, belts and other ‘leather’ goods,  the durability of which is strictly limited. Production of synthetic leather has relied heavily on toxic chemicals to produce it. Although a newer method of manufacture has been found which utilizes water, the production method expels a high level of carbon dioxide ³  which is not captured, but released into the atmosphere further exacerbating climate change.

There is simply no comparison between high quality English vegetable-tanned leathers and inferior chrome tanned or synthetic leathers.

The ultimate test is in the beauty, quality, strength and durability of vegetable-tanned leathers, which is second to none.


The Environment & Sustainability

Diamond Dogs has a strong commitment to protecting the environment and having a zero carbon footprint. Although cowhide is a by-product of the cattle industry, until such time as everyone becomes vegan, cattle will be bred and the use of their hides ensures that nothing goes to waste. Vegetable-tanning is the least damaging to tannery workers and to the environment. Our tannery does not import rawhides for tanning, strictly using hides from UK reared cattle, with each hide being traceable to the farm it came from. The same holds true for the Italian vegetable-tanned clothing leather we use for linings, which are added for comfort, because our products don’t require a synthetic core to be concealed.

Diamond Dogs will never resort to using chemically tanned leathers of any description and uses traditional hand-working skills to create our products. It is worth noting that almost all the dog collars, leads and harnesses that are available in today’s market place, except those made by Diamond Dogs or by saddlers, are made from chemically tanned or synthetic leather which contribute to an industry that is damaging our environment, the people and animals that live within it and those who have to work in chemically toxic tanneries.

Please purchase your leather goods knowledgeably and responsibly.