In our last update, I reported that the tannery was having a hard time matching the soft and hard leather colors. They fixed the color problem, but when I received my samples, the leather failed to pass a crocking test.
"Crocking" is dye transfer from the leather to another surface (such as fingertips or your jeans). New leather always has some crocking, especially when it is treated with a liquid, like an oil. The only way to fully prevent it is to spray the leather heavily with a coating which makes it look like plastic, because that's basically what you are spraying it with. This would not only ruin the immediate look, but worse, it would ruin the future look by masking the patina, which is the whole point of using veg-tan leather to begin with.
The best comparison I can think of is to a wood floor. After years of use, an oil stained floor will have dents and scratches, but will look beautiful. A painted floor will look pretty bad were the paint is chipped and worn in traffic areas, in contrast to areas with intact paint. Your bag would be no different if painted and sprayed with a plastic coating. Our goal is to mitigate the effects of crocking without compromising the authentic look of the leather.
Painting is short-sighted, in my opinion; If we want to have a bag that ages like an antique bag, we have to make the leather the way it was made 100 years ago. Our leather is meant to age and patina, so the surface needs to be open and transparent, like the leather on a saddle. Our leather is dyed in a drum dying process, with little or no additional pigments sprayed on the surface afterwards. It would be much easier to match the hard and tumbled leather if they were painted after the fact.
After the samples failed to pass the wet crocking test, I visited the tannery to discuss not only the color issues, but my concerns with their missed deadlines. They originally projected it would take two weeks to get the leather right, and it ended up taking three months. Granted, there were some unknown variables to contend with, and it does take weeks to finish and dye the type of leather we use, but I still think they could have done it in half the time.
They committed to have everything fixed and ready for approval in two weeks, citing weather and equipment difficulties. I was pleased that, for once, they were on time and the confirmation samples were delivered to the factory as promised. I had the factory perform a crocking test and they said it passed. I went back to inspect the leather myself, and to meet with the tannery again, to place the order for the full production batch.
One might ask why I would tolerate a vendor that has so often missed their deadlines. The answer is simply that the hides they have access to are far superior to those of any other tannery I have every worked with or drawn samples from. Better hides make better leather. I have only seen theirs matched a few times, but for two to three times the cost, and only by tanneries that would require weeks of freight shipping to get to us - two factors which would add about $200 to the price of each bag, without affecting the quality for the better. Using a tannery that produces such high quality leather and is in the same town as our production facilities is pretty awesome - until they are late. But, to be perfectly honest, tanneries so rarely deliver on time that I honestly can't think of an instance where we have received a leather order on schedule, from any source. Three months late is extreme, but three weeks late is pretty common.
One thing the tannery did that reaffirms their commitment to us is purchase and install two pieces of expensive equipment, specifically for making our leather. I did not know this until they showed me the new equipment on my last visit, but they had been trucking our leather back and forth to a larger tannery for certain steps of the finishing process. The transit times and the schedule of the other tannery likely figured into their missed deadlines.
As a back-up, I engaged two other local tanneries (one of which is supposedly one of the largest veg-tan processors in the Western Hemisphere) and gave them the same deadline. Their samples have been disappointing - nowhere near as good as the leather from our main tannery. I will continue to work with them to improve their leather, and hopefully use them as a source in the future, but I do not believe they will have any affect on this production. They will likely need three to four months before they can be a viable alternative.
I am very concerned about all the time lost. To gain some ground back, I have engaged two additional factories to make the duffel. Both have built samples to verify the quality of their work. We expect this will cut production time in half, once the leather finishes tanning. It is a difficult product that we make and we rely on materials that take months just to prepare, but this project has been particularly frustrating. The good news is we are making progress. The leather should be ready by the end of April, so we should begin shipping web orders in early June. It's a significant delay for many of you, and I apologize for the inconvenience, but I hope you will agree with my decision to put quality ahead of the timeline.
Thanks for your support,