The history of Italian leather goods, origins and development


Made in Italy is synonymous with safety and quality all over the world and leather goods is one of the sectors where it excels most. Leather bags, suitcases, gloves and accessories are synonymous with tradition and exclusivity of our manufacturing industry.

Italy is leader not only in the production of leather, but also in the production of final products of high value.

How the leather goods sector was born

Since prehistoric times man has used the skins of animals hunted to cover, but given the biological nature of the medium it tended to decompose and rot in a short time. First with the drying and then with real chemical processes born from the repetition and experimentation, the tanning process was born that has developed until today with the introduction of safer and more sophisticated methods.

The first steps towards the development of a chemical-physical process that improved the quality, durability and resistance of the skin happened almost by chance, noting how drying and smoking lengthened the life of the skin immediately after removing it from the animal. 

As a result of this it remained hard and dry, they thought to add animal and vegetable fats to soften it and make it moldable.

The search for more and more effective methods to combat its putrefaction led to the development of the first real method of vegetable tanning, which consisted in immersing the leather in large tanks full of water, bark, leaves, berries. The earliest written sources of these tanning methods date back to the thirteenth century BC and, although there were developments in the techniques used, artisans and skins continued to use very similar methods until the late nineteenth century, working in small workshops with a mostly artisanal process

The birth of chrome tanning, whose patent dates back to 1910, was an important watershed, bringing production to an industrial level. The use of trivalent chromium allows the same process to be carried out for any type of leather, effectively automating all processes.

Currently all the treatment of the leather is carried out inside of great companies that can bear the costs for the realization of the complex passages that compose it, but keeping the prices as low as possible.

In Italy the tanneries are distributed in industrial districts, between which stand out the District of the Leather of Santa Croce sull’Arno, the District of the skin in Veneto, the Campania District and Lombardy. The tanning industry exports 73% of its production abroad and, qualitatively speaking, is valued as the most valid in the world.

Leather goods in Italy

Over the years, Italy has always maintained its status as the best producer of leather products. Whether it is the raw material or the finished product, the tanning and manufacturing tradition of our country has no equal in this sector.

Initially, leather garments and accessories were used as the only source of protection against the cold, but over time, given the durable and comfortable nature, leather was also used in the military for the construction of armor.

Around the twelfth century the production became such as to allow the realization of fine clothing, which sparked a great demand from the highest social classes. The new trade routes led to the spread of knowledge between different cultures and the tanning gradually became more effective and diversified. In 1200 in Florence was established the Guild of Cuoiai and Galinai, which in addition to bringing together all the artisans involved in the processing of leather, forced them to submit to regimes such as to ensure an excellent production quality.

From an element dedicated only to the highest social strata, already in the sixteenth century it became a material of common use for the realization of accessories. In a short time comfort and practicality then gave way to luxury and elegance, combining common use with the search for aesthetic beauty.

The term leather goods was born in 1835 following the realization of the first portfolio and from here the industry began its real expansion. Florence, the largest Italian district, as well as the entire area crossed by the Arno, had the opportunity to develop up to the current levels thanks to the presence of river waters. Finally, in the twentieth century, what is now the leather manufacturing sector was reached, with the development of the latest technologies and the creation of the various districts that characterize Italian industrial production.

The presence of these large production centres, combined with the expertise of craftsmen and designers, has made leather goods one of the most appreciated and recognized sectors in the world. Its millennia of history and development have led to the treatment of waste arising from farming to become a true art form that gives work to 1200 companies and represents about 22% of the world’s tanning production.

The artisans who work every day with the leather, to realize the final products from the highest quality, are among the main responsible for the great success that the Italian manufacture has all over the world. The skilful workmanship and the great attention to detail employed by our professionals is a source of pride and recognition of a tradition always in search of excellence.


How exactly does the skin tanning process develop?


The tanning industry is one of the most appreciated Made in Italy excellences all over the world. Tanning is the processing that exploits the skin, usually of animals raised for food such as cattle, sheep, pigs, making it softer, pleasant to the touch and resistant. At present, tanning is a process carried out by medium and large companies, which can ensure a final product of quality at an affordable cost, thanks also to technological developments that have automated part of the processing.

The entire process is necessary not only for aesthetic purposes, but also to ensure that the skin, given its organic nature, does not undergo decomposition and can maintain its characteristics for a long time.

How the tanning of the leather takes place

Not all processes take place in the same way and the production line to be used is chosen based on what is the desired end product. In general, the entire tanning is divisible into three large phases, each of which is composed of various intermediate processes.

The three main phases are: Riviera processing, Tanning, Finishing.

Separating the skin of the animal, it is kept avoiding rotting and then sent to the tannery where the Rinverdimento takes place: with this method is replenished the natural moisture of the skin, lost during the storage and shipping period.

Calcinaio (name derived from the use of lime hydroxide) is the process that prepares the leather for the absorption of tanning agents and the Depilation provides for the removal of hair, both occur chemically and are followed (in the case of very thick skins) form the rift, which divides the skin into multiple layers through a mechanical action. 

The Scarnitura then takes care of removing the residues of excess fat and the subcutaneous tissues left after the skin of the animal, this process ends the Riviera Processing.

The Descaling removes the lime that has remained attached to the fibers of the skin and, thanks to the acids used in the process, lowers the pH, thus counteracting the increase deriving from the lime hydroxide. Maceration completes the work, relaxing the fibers so as to prepare them for the absorption of tanning substances. Piclaggio uses acids that further reduce pH to 4 and block decomposition.

Finally, the actual tanning can be done using trivalent chromium or vegetable substances (a sector in which the Tuscan Tanning Pole is among the most appreciated) and aims to make the leather more resistant, flexible, waterproof and breathable.

The leather is then pressed to remove excess water and is reconnected again to give the desired degree of softness, often to it are added dyes to dye the leather. The way in which tanning and retanning take place are among the main factors that determine the final quality. Thanks to the addition of oils and fats, we then proceed to Fattening, which serves to preserve the softness of the leather for a long time and makes it more hydrophobic and resistant.

Given the high water content, the leather must then be dried and, a revolt removed excess moisture, it will appear dry and rigid. To avoid this it is passed inside rollers by the wavy surface that “massage” and stretch the fibers, softening them: this process, called Palissonatura, is particularly suitable for leather that will be used for accessories, gloves, belts, whose processing also requires a certain degree of flexibility.Finally, the skin is ground with abrasive rollers to remove any residue from the inside and get effects like Nabuk. This step also allows you to remove some imperfections, filling the flower and then deburring the surface.

The last steps are those of the Finishing, which consists of a painting that can take place by spraying with airbrushes, by spreading a layer of paint or dabbing the skin, often by hand, with a sponge soaked in paint. Different types of finishing result in different aesthetic results. Finally, a step under the rollers can create special effects such as leopard print or python, applying an adhesive paper to the leather surface.

Finally, trimming (cutting) and surface and thickness measurement complete the entire tanning process.

A valuable result

This series of complicated chemical reactions and mechanical processes is able to give nobility to products that, in fact, are often nothing more than slaughtering waste. The methods used today are the result of centuries of technological development that has meant an incredible increase in the quality of the final product, which allows the creation of pieces of craftsmanship of spectacular quality. Leather manufacturing is a historical sector of Made in Italy and a source of pride all over the world, cities like Florence are its undisputed homeland. Although long and complicated, sometimes bloody, leather tanning has now reached very high production levels and allows you to use those that would otherwise be wasted resources, giving raw leather a future made luxury and exclusivity.


What is the leather district, what does it mean?


The Tuscan leather goods

Leather goods and Tuscany are linked by years of experience and skills matured and handed down from hand to hand. Leather craftsmanship has had a slow and widespread expansion throughout the region. 

But the Tuscan art of leather processing has very ancient origins. Let’s go together to discover how the Florentine leather goods was born and why it developed in this area calls the leather district

From the Middle Ages to the present day

In the Middle Ages you could smell leather all along the bank of the river Arno, from Florence to Pisa. 

Leather tanning operations have been known in Tuscany since the time of the Etruscans, but the real thrust to this sector will take place at the time of the Middle Ages, thanks mainly to the influences of the Republic of Pisa, (then one of the four maritime republics). 

The art of leather processing found its greatest expansion in Pisa, in 1200. Why? Because Pisa was at that time an extremely rich city of raw materials, especially because of the skills of Pisan merchants who thanks to the port were constantly in contact with Spain, Sicily and Sardinia.

From Pisa to Florence. After the conquest of Pisa around 1400 by the Florentine Grand Duchy, the rich Florentine families understood that leather was a sector that could make much. For this reason the Florentine nobles decided to invest in the Pisan leather industries, moving them physically from the maritime republic to Florence.

The leather in Florence

The production, tanning and processing of leather in Florence took place mainly in a specific area of the city, that is in the small alleys that joined Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Santa Croce. It is no coincidence that in that area there are streets with curious names such as Via dei conciatori, or Via della Concia, in memory of the shops linked to the processing of leather that were there during the Middle Ages. 

Little by little, a rather large area developed within which there were artisans specialized in the processing of leather. This area included Santa Croce, Fucecchio and Ponte a Egola. This area with time becomes particularly important as it is located near the river Arno, which means, quality of water used for processing and production of the raw material, and simplicity in the transport of materials. 

The leather industry has been one of the few sectors able to remain standing following the serious crisis that occurred in 1600. 

The leather today

Nowadays leather continues to be a very fruitful field for Tuscany. Both for the high quality of the materials used, and for the high manufacturing skills of Tuscan craftsmen able to create real works of art with their expert hands. 

The district of Tuscan leather affects 28% of the total processing of Italian leather.

Come and discover all our accessories, made with quality leather, characterized by centuries of experience and history of craftsmanship. 


History and development of the waist bag, an always fashionable accessory.


Loved, hated, surpassed and then resurrected. The waist bag is one of those accessories that makes people talk about itself as it clearly divides its audience. There is, in fact, who finds it indispensable and decidedly cool and who, on the contrary, hates it considering it uncomfortable and aesthetically not pleasant. This bag with a curious name, however, has a history of all respect and its origin is to be traced in the early era when our ancestors, before leaving for hunting, asked their ladies to apply pockets to their belts. The goal was certainly not to be fashionable but simply to be able to carry with greater simplicity all the tools, such as knives, sticks or blades, which could be needed to hunt animals.

The origins of the waist bag

But where does the name waist bag come from? The waist bag, par excellence, is the kangaroo sac, a real container that in nature serves the marsupials to insert and carry with them their offspring.

In short, the kangaroo pouch could be defined, without any difficulty, as the first form of bag that existed in the world and the only one that exists in nature. Taking a step forward, we note that the waist bag was also present among Native Americans who used buffalo leather versions and preferred it to the traditional pockets sewn on clothes.

Even, observing what the art offers us, a waist bag is algo present in a painting of 1416 by the brothers Limbourg where it is taken a noble in the act of hiding, in his own waist bag, how furtively stolen during a banquet luculliano, in a medieval court festival. 

But that’s not all. This bag with a particular shape soon arrives in Scotland where it will be used as an elegant accessory until you reach the formal and official clothing of the Scottish clans. The latter, however, preferred, given the rigid temperatures, wear the pouches in a version embellished with thick fur.

In 1991, in Italy, near the Venoste Alps, there was the discovery, by two Austrian tourists, of a mummy accompanied by a waist bag, called then the man of the Similaun, dating back to 3300 a.c.

For us inhabitants of the “Bel Paese” marsupio was and marsupio is but over the years many others have been the names given to the famous bag: in America it was called “Fanny pack” while in England it was the “bum bag”.

The first uses of the waist bag

Like all accessories, its function, initially, was purely practical and ignored any minimal fashion accent.

In the 80s, in fact, it was used by the working class as a stock exchange for work tools. At first the waist bag was placed under the back but, after repeated episodes of thefts, it was decided to start wearing it on the front. It was, therefore, an instrument of work, which was mainly used by those who worked in the factory. 

The first person who broke this habit, deciding to use the waist bag as a simple accessory, was the famous Bruce Springsteen. That moment represents a great debut for the pouch that from the dusty factories came to be exhibited all over the world, during the crowded international concerts of the American star. 

These are the same years in which, moreover, the pouch is consecrated as an exceptional accessory of the world’s rappers. In the 90’s, however, the waist bag was noticed by the athletes who began to use it during their marathons or, even more simply, runs to the park. There are many images of boys and girls of those years who, during their sports performances, show off more and more colorful pouches.

Of the same historical period, in fact, are also the photographs that appeared on all the magazines and that had as protagonists names like Bill Clinton and Lady Diana in the company, of course, of their waist bags. After those years, however, it seemed that the “marsupial” period had fallen. The silence, in fact, fell on the waist bag for about twenty years before his unexpected return to the work of the largest fashion houses such as Chanel, Saint Laurent, Prada and Balenciaga.

The waist bag today

Today the waist bag is back in the limelight, although in small size and often worn on the chest or, if it is not long, leaning on the shoulder as taught by the fashion icons Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and ASAP Rocky but also the sisters Hadid and Kardashian. I mean, it’s official, the ’90s fanny pack is back to shine on catwalks all over the world.

The famous bag was proposed in red paint, matt leather but also black nylon with comfortable and numerous pockets without neglecting the classic sporty version in bright and bright colors until you get a more aggressive reinterpretation with flat studs and metal chains.

In short, accomplices of big brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, different types of waist bags have started to invade the catwalks of numerous fashion shows, immediately enjoying great success. Not only nostalgic but also very young have immediately married the combinations proposed by fashion, bringing the pouch to be one of the indisputable top fashion trends. Whether it is an extremely casual, elegant or sporty look, the fanny pack seems to always be able to find the right place, even and, above all, when you decide to play with colors or, simply, to break with a light note on an evergreen like the total black. La conferma che le mode sono come i grandi amori, possono fare dei giri immensi ma poi ritornano. Sempre.


Techniques and advantages of vegetable tanning.

Vegetable tanning is a leather manufacturing process based on the use of natural tannins, state-of-the-art machinery and, above all, a slow preservation time.

Tradition and Innovation

Vegetable tanning is an artisanal leather production system, handed down from generation to generation by combining colouring recipes with technological innovation. 

The transformation of raw hides into processed leather ready for production is a process that is carried out using wooden drums in order to give a durable and environmentally friendly material with a high quality appearance. 

For more information on the subject of tanning and its history, click here

Method and tools

Among the various types of tanning methods, vegetable tanning is the most classic and traditional one for giving the leather special characteristics such as comfort, look and versatility.

The raw materials used can be found in the form of plant extracts, fruit, wood and powders to make items that are easy to recycle thanks to the sustainable ethos behind them. 

Vegetable-tanned leather gives the accessory a unique, warm colouring that resurfaces with use and changes over time for the better. 

What are tannins?

Tannins are agents used in the tanning process, obtained in nature from flowers and tree bark. They can be found, as already mentioned, in liquid and powder form to give a touch of uniqueness to the product.

The mechanism that binds the material to the leather is totally different from chrome tanning, because in vegetable tanning the main collagen follows a hydrogen mechanism.

Processing can be subdivided into two production processes, one wet and the other dry: the first processing includes water phases, while the second includes drying and finishing phases.

The water-processing process is a work handed down by tradition when the leather was found in the river to moisten it and prepare it for polishing, depilation, liming and decalcination, fleshing and pickling. 

After that, the tanning process begins with a certain period of time inside the drum to grease it with any dyes, then dry the leather and finish it. 

Once dried, the leather only needs a few final finishing touches to soften and stretch, then it can be immediately used to make finished products.

Florence Leather Market uses the best tanning mechanisms to guarantee the product an artisanal, healthy, living and ecological appearance.