The main elements used in the tanning of leather, such as chromium and aldehydes, are harmful to humans and nature. Zanellato proposes a solution
The traditional tanning method and the development of Luxethic through almond shells
Since the first usages of leather, tanning has been a technique employed to prevent the rotting of the material and ensure its durability and maintenance over time. The most widespread method was developed in the 1900’s. It uses chromium through the trivalent bonds, binding to the collagen present in the fibers. The series of passages and chemical reactions that follow one another take place inside large barrels by immersion. Other materials used with a similar process include aldehydes.
Over the years, these processes have proven to be harmful not only to the environment but also to human beings who are designated as the user of the final product. Franco Zanellato, founder of the brand, goes on to illustrate how over the last eight years, together with his research team and the internal laboratory dedicated to innovation, he has been working on the creation of a different process that uses other raw materials. After different experiments and research, the choice fell on the use of almond shells, useful in the same way as the materials mentioned above for tanning.
The development and the choice of almonds material
The research was based not only on the identification of a high-performance material regarding the tanning process, but also on the possibilities to reuse the material in everyday life. The selected almond shells come from food industry waste, proposing the upcycling philosophy as the starting point. A significant natural property which this material possesses is its cross-linkage which can replace chemical reagents within the tanning process. Zanellato explains that some partners, selected by the company, have supported the brand in the selection of hides and in the intention to convert this into a new tanning technique.
«The tanning recipe», continues Zanellato, «is the result of continuous fine-tuning, in addition to the substances derived from almonds, various components are used in the blends that are responsible, for example, for the fragrance and lightness such as cloves and essential oils of marseilles. The key component, however, remains the almond shell from which a mixture is obtained». As for the conversion towards this type of non-traditional production, the research period has allowed experimentation and to propose to the partner tanneries a precise technique in terms of steps to follow, whilst still ensuring the success of the product.
Almost free from Chrome, aldehydes, per and polyfluoroalkyl
Since this type of production changes radically in terms of the components needed, there is no presence of chrome. Where the attestation of chrome-free comes up to a certain amount of substance present, Zanellato points out that in this production there are almost no levels of chrome which can be detected. Another element is the lack of the main aldehydes. Even if in metal-free tanning typologies, the use of aldehydes is foreseen such as glutaraldehyde, this process eliminates its presence. However, it cannot be declared aldehyde free because the percentage present on an acceptable level is the same that can be found in nature and also in food.
Zanellato explains that since there is no world or Italian standard that establishes a parameter for the presence of aldehydes in products, the brand has developed a methodology to determine this. «The most common object chosen to be analyzed were apples. Several apples were bought from different markets and with different origins. The experimental center of the University of Naples provided the testing. By analyzing the amount of aldehyde in apples, the result obtained is that on average a kilo of apples contains 144 ppm/Kg; while a kilo of Luxethic leather has one fifth of it», states Zanellato. Perfluoroalkyls and polyfluoroalkyl, substances mainly used to treat leather so that it can become water-repellent and waxy, are harmful because they are difficult to extract in water.
The process developed for Luxethic avoids these substances and makes it possible to return to nature the same water that was used for tanning, in a pure and reusable state. This element is relevant considering the large quantities of water that tanneries use during the treatment procedure. This new method does not impact on the use of electricity in this step. In that case, a broader reflection is needed regarding the specific district in which the production takes place. Zanellato specifies that their choice in terms of branding fell on an avant-garde district capable of self-producing the energy used, mainly through the employment of photovoltaic panels.
Properties and process of the final product
This processing technique does not cause the leather to lose softness, an essential trait for the processing and final product. Another property acquired by the final product through the use of this process is the lightness. This is what Zanellato defines as nature revenge. This type of tanning has allowed the brand to discover that the leather actually weighs around twenty percent less. Another characteristic is the presence of evident fragrances, already mentioned above, that through the ecological tanning manage to be far from the smell of chemical processing. Also, the performances studied in terms of resistance, brightness and final yield are declared suitable for use in the luxury field, with a higher result than traditionally tanned leather.
From 2022, the brand will make sixty-three percent of its leathers with Luxethic tanning, while the future goal is to convert 100% of the production by 2023. Talking about the biggest challenge in converting to this type of production, Zanellato explains: «The performance achieved has come earlier than we thought in the research period, the first Luxethic certification for Pura leather was in 2015». All the research carried out in terms of properties of the final product tends to reach and be classified according to a standard. This step involves an internal monitoring within the company for each batch of leather produced. To verify this standard, the company turns to a third party (in the case of hides, they go to ICEC) which verifies what has been declared by analyzing each batch and guaranteeing it to final customers.
Lampoon reporting: natural tanning process
In the research of these new methodologies it is key to work on developing a real and concrete process that can be applied on a larger scale. In this case, it is about designing the total tanning process, maintaining technical and aesthetic properties if compared to the traditional process. The use of the almond shells’ material allows to diminish in a considerable way the impact of the tanning process compared to the previous one. The yield of the final product remains unchanged, maintaining the typical characteristics of the leather used by the brand such as softness, malleability and durability.
Since there is always room for improvement, and the demand for vegan leather is increasing, Zanellato brand is beginning to develop certified natural materials through its research lab. In particular, those already created come from the reuse and recycling of food waste, predominantly apples, moving in the direction of an animal-free revolution. The future will also open up to hybrid innovations that will make it possible to recycle and reuse leather production waste and to create a new type of material by combining it with the food waste mentioned above.
In the panorama of technological innovation, in terms of processing natural and not harmful fabrics, it is difficult to identify brands that engage in research internally, often finding suppliers working on their own products for distribution. It would therefore be necessary to reflect on major luxury brands and on the effective commitment that they could make: having significant resources to invest in research and why they still do not make any progress.
Italian brand founded by Franco Zanellato in 1999. It began as a manufacturer of luxury leather goods for men and has since become an example of Italian manufacturing excellence, expanding into women’s accessories.