Inside Horween Tannery

As many of you know, Horween is one of the most renowned names in the leather business and has been around for decades. They are known for producing some of the best chrome and vegetable-tanned leathers in the world, from Chromexcel to shell cordovan, as well as newer tannages like Cypress.


Recently, our team had the opportunity to visit Horween Leather Co., one of our primary leather suppliers. Our tour took place on a busy Friday afternoon as the tannery was wrapping up operations for the week. John from Tannery Row kindly showed us around, and I must say, we learned quite a bit.


Below is a glimpse into their everyday operations.



One of the most intriguing parts of working with different leather tannages is observing the leather's journey from its initial stages. The first step in transforming animal skins into a usable material is to prevent them from rotting. To achieve this, the skins are cured and pickled, halting any potential degradation. Following this, the hair and fat are stripped away using large, tumbling machines, preparing the skins for tanning.



These preliminary steps typically take place at a Beamhouse, where the essential prep work is done before moving on to the major stages of curing and tanning. This initial process includes several steps: soaking, liming, unhairing, deliming, bating, and pickling. Each step serves a specific purpose, but the overall aim is to thoroughly clean the hide, removing hair, dirt, and other impurities.

 Here's an interesting tidbit about chrome-tanned leather: it starts off as what’s known as wet blue. After undergoing a lengthy curing process in large drums, chrome-tanned leather retains a light blue hue until pigment is added.



Color can be added to leather in several ways, each producing unique effects. Vat dyeing, as shown in our initial newsletter photo, ensures even color penetration by submerging the leather in large vats filled with dye, creating vibrant, consistent colors. Essentially each method is chosen based on the desired final look, texture, and use of the leather.



Horween’s Shell Cordovan room is truly a sight to see. The shell cordovan produced by Horween has become the gold standard for shell. The process for making shell is extremely time consuming, from the tanning to the finishing. Here, shells sit in piles of after they have been tanned. They are coated with a blend of oils and sit like this for months prior to finishing.