Keeping tradition alive31 October 2002
Not quantity but an outstanding unique quality; not mass production but production with passion. In the beautiful German towns of Schorndorf located near Stuttgart and Mülheim an der Ruhr, a tributary of the Rhine near Duisburg, leather has been hand-tanned by age-old traditions for more than 150 years. Breuninger and Hammann have been tanning leather since 1843 and 1879, respectively, but decided to unite their activities in 2000 in order to carry on the tradition of producing vegetable tanned leather. Using the best to make the best For the Breuninger-Hammann group, the quality of the raw materials is paramount. That is why they procure all their bovine hides from the Alpine regions of southern Germany and Switzerland. These so-called red-coloured cows and bulls mature slowly in good climatic conditions and develop a strong and healthy skin. And, therefore, each raw hide deserves to be individually assessed, a process that consists of many precise sorting stages. All the selection steps are necessary so that the customer is provided with an extraordinary quality leather which completely fulfils their wishes and requirements. Time to mature Tanning in pits is time consuming: the manual process requires many careful steps to transform raw hides into leather with its own distinctive qualities. Leather that is vegetable tanned takes time to develop because only then does it reveal the qualities that are hidden within the skin: its unmistakable sound, its unique feel, its specific fragrance: in short, its individual character. Both Breuninger and Hammann have been giving leather this time to mature since the middle of the 19th century. Since then, these two companies have specialised in the particular procedure of using plant extracts to tan fine leather in pits. The tanning process takes four-to-six weeks and guarantees the quality of the leather as well as the durability of the finished leather products. 'Our care guarantees maximum customer satisfaction', explains junior manager Christoph Breuninger who, along with his cousin Volker Breuninger, are fifth generation family members to be involved in the running of the company. In fact, the Breuninger family's links to the leather industry extend back even before the company's creation in 1843. Family recipes handed down Pure plant extracts from chestnut, oak, mimosa and quebracho slowly penetrate the hides in carefully controlled baths. Faliquoring is then carried out, as usual, in drums. One of the company's secrets is the drying. The leather is set out by hand on thousands of plates which are inserted into self-constructed ovens and gently dried until the leather reaches a pre-determined moisture content. This process is constantly supervised and is proof again that leather tanned with vegetables takes time to mature. Modern technology The two companies work alongside one another to develop and test new technologies in the realms of colour, fatliquoring and tanning. The companies are mostly involved in researching new developments for the automotive industry, an industry which requires the highest levels of durability combined with naturalness and individuality. Decades of experience combined with high-quality workmanship are major elements of the group's success. Breuninger-Hammann produce leather for luxury goods, shoe manufacturing and saddle making for customers around the world who are looking to differentiate themselves with unique products manufactured from unique materials. Breuninger-Hammann are market leaders in the production of 'natural trim leather' which is exported to France, the US and Italy. Alongside this, the group also supply the orthopaedic industry with special leathers that are completely harmless and fulfil all the necessary health and allergy requirements. Alongside the advantages in terms of its distinctive structure and feel, another important aspect of vegetable tanned leather is its capacity to age 'properly'. As the leather ages, its appearance alters for the better. Vegetable tanned leather has an outstanding capacity to absorb moisture from the atmosphere, store it and allow the leather to return to its normal state once the moisture has disappeared. It is, therefore, perfect for shoes and upholstery of every sort. Other influences are light that lends the natural leather a warm, gold-coloured brown tone. As a result, using leathergoods or sitting on furniture made from vegetable tanned leather provides the owner a unique and distinctive personal effect. The fragrance of this special material would dispel any lasting doubts anyone might have about the uniqueness of this product. Vegetable tanned leather smells like leather used to smell, like it should smell. Along with the fragrance, a vegetable tanned leather bag or upholstered furniture hides the secrets of a product that is manufactured from traditional recipes, tanned slowly and lovingly, and combines carefully selected ingredients. Keeping to tradition Whenever there is the need for vegetable tanned leather, Breuninger-Hammann will provide. An extensive sales network covers Europe, north America and the Far East so that the group are able to reach customers in the most important regions of the world. In the following years, the group will strengthen further by concentrating on what they do best. And if demand for their speciality leather continues to rise from other industries or sectors, Breuninger-Hammann are open to the possibility of branching out into new areas of leather production.