A Different Kind of Tanning

Over break I took a trip to Morocco with some friends, where we decided to visit Marrakech and Fes. Upon telling people that we were planning to visit Fes, many commented on how we had to go to see the tanneries, for which Fes is famous.  On our first day of exploring we decided to take a guided tour through the tanneries. As a leather consumer, I was very interested to see what these were all about and learn about the process of transforming the leather from its natural form and dying it.

We knew when we were approaching the area because of the smell. It was pretty terrible, however, there was someone positioned at the entrance handing out mint leaves to help mask the stench. I immediately took one and stuck it practically up my nose. Then, after climbing 4 flights of stairs, we were lead out to a balcony where we had a view of the tanneries. What I saw was fascinating. Before me was an organic view of how leather is created. Directly in front of us were the basins where the leather was doused in water and dye, transforming the skins from their natural form to something more wearable. The guide explained to us that no chemicals were used during this process and that all of the treatments preformed on the skins and dyes used were natural and organic. For example, the acid from pigeon poop (lovely, I know) is used to treat the skins and helps to set them before the dying process. Once the skins are dried and ready to be colored, natural plant based dyes are used: turmeric for yellow, poppy for red, and indigo for blue. Straight ahead our guide pointed to a wall with a running waterfall. He explained that this was the “washing machine” that the skins were placed in during the treatment process. This natural “washing machine” went along with the ambiance of the entire tannery. The “basins” used for washing, treating, and dying the skins were man made holes, each uneven in height. The drying process was directly below us and consisted of laying the skins over hay and letting them dry under natural sunlight. I felt really good about the whole process and liked seeing that it truly was organic and as natural as leather making can be

View of the tanneries in Fes

View of the tanneries in Fes

Second view showing where the skins are cleaned and dyed before drying.

Second view showing where the skins are cleaned and dyed before drying.

The skins drying after being dyed.

The skins drying after being dyed.

Next we were lead into the shop where we had the opportunity to purchase some of the leather goods. There were a ton of leather jackets each grouped by color. I noticed that the jackets were actually not the same color, but that each differed slightly in shade. Our guide explained that this was because of the natural process in which these skins were dyed, accounting for the slight differentiation in color between each piece. He also went onto show us how the leather items were waterproof and that the color would not rub off onto our hands or bodies because of the natural and organic process that was used when making them. It really demonstrated that what they were selling was quality and safe at the same time. I felt a sense of relief, as the chemicals used for dying fabrics have been a long time concern of mine. After visiting the tanneries I felt stronger than ever about the importance of buying organically, even with clothing, and the need to support environmentally friendly establishments such as this tannery we visited in Fes.


By: Alessandra Trifero

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