Much like a microbrewery, a microtannery is more than simply a small tannery. Tanning in small batches allows us to focus on the details, on crafting higher quality and more environmentally friendly leather.
Our two small wooden tanning drums were reclaimed from a tannery in Somerset that closed in 2013. They now sit proudly in their new home, an old farm building in the Midlands that has been fitted out with all the equipment needed to tan goat leather on a small scale.
However when we first started we knew nothing about leather production, so we needed a teacher, someone to pass on the centuries of local tanning knowledge. We turned to Paul Evans, formerly of the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies in Northampton and one of Britain's leading leather experts. Paul has been instrumental in our plans from the start and worked with us to develop our sustainable tanning process. While at its core, vegetable tanning has remained unchanged for thousands of years, we aim to experiment, innovate and evolve our methods going forward.
Not only is ours the first microtannery of its kind in the UK, but we believe it is the first time goat leather has been tanned entirely in the UK. Maybe with a Moroccan-style tannery in their minds, one of the first things people always ask us is about the smell, but the truth is that tanning can be a clean, environmentally friendly process. By combining traditional vegetable tanning with modern leather technology, we are able to create beautiful, functional leather that does not compromise on sustainability.
The main benefit of vegetable tanning is that it results in characterful leather that will age beautifully, developing a unique patina over the years, but using natural bark extracts also makes our wastewater easier to treat. We enlisted the help of Richard Daniels, another local leather expert and one of the world's leading authorities on the treatment of tannery effluent. Richard designed an on-site treatment plant that leaves us with totally biodegradable waste products that can be composted or used to promote growth on the surrounding grassland.
The reality is that much of the leather industry is a multi-continental trade, with hides and skins traveling thousands of miles for tanning, finishing and finally to their end-use. By sourcing and producing in Britain we minimise our "leather miles" and so further reduce the footprint of our products. We believe that your leather goods should do the majority of their travelling with you, rather than before they get to you.
Our kid leather has an especially pronounced grain with a beautiful texture that differs subtly from skin to skin. While most industrially produced leather has its natural grain removed or replaced to ensure uniformity, we believe that natural inconsistencies should be celebrated. Each piece of our leather, and therefore each of our products, is unique.
We have built a close relationship with local family-run leather finishing company, Blenkinsop Leathers, who add the final touches to our leather before it is ready for use. We have simplified the finish as much as possible and tailored it to enhance the character of each skin, rather than mask it. The main focus is on colour, but we also add a delicate finishing wax for protection and subtle gloss.
Sign up to the Billy Drum mailing list and we’ll send you a discount code to receive 10% off your first order. Simply enter the code in the checkout.