Frogskin breakthrough31 October 2002
After six years of intensive research and development, Rancho Kaeru Tannery in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have succeeded in producing frogskin leather which is strong yet soft and flexible, lightweight and waterproof. It is said to be stronger than bovine leather and eminently suitable for making footwear, leathergoods and clothing. The company claim it is the first time that frogskins have been made into fashion clothing such as jackets, coats and skirts. The skins come from frogs weighing up to 300 grams farmed in Brazil for their meat. This is exported all over the world to restaurants catering for exotic tastes. Previously, the skins were simply discarded but now up to 15,000 a day can be processed by Kaeru. A range of tannages, both mineral and vegetable, have been developed depending on the application but all are claimed to be environmentally sound and all share the use of recycled water. After tanning, the frogskins, which have a maximum 0.8mm substance, share a distinctive mottled pattern in which the central backbone area is essentially light but gradually becoming darker towards the periphery. The skins are attractive but the problem is their small size. It takes up to 280 to produce a jacket and over 500 to produce a coat. The major breakthrough achieved by Kaeru was to perfect a method of joining the skins together to produce a large enough area of leather to manufacture a range of items. Their approach was to prepare the frogskins as mini rectangular pieces which are butted together and bonded with adhesive to produce a totally flat surface. The sheets are reinforced with a light fabric backing. Consistency in tanning so that the complete sheet exhibits constant properties in stretch and flexibility, for example, is crucial. The frogskin leather, which is strong enough to withstand lasting strains even in extreme fashion styles, can be finished in a range of colours and finishes to suit current fashion demands. It is designed for use in those niche markets where the consumer demands something different and is prepared to pay for it. A 6.5 sq ft sheet of Kaeru frogskin leather costs US$320.