How many hands have touched your HELM Boots by the time you put them on your feet? You probably knew that the boots themselves were handcrafted in Maine but what about the leather? Did you have any idea it is also created in a painstaking, skillful manner? Watch this video of the Horween Tannery in Chicago, Illinois (and courtesy of trunkclub.com) to get a fantastic intro to the creation of some of the gorgeous leathers we use in our boots.
Horween was started 108 years ago and still employs a fifth generation Horween. Once, it was one of 35+ tanneries in Chicago and is now the only one left. It is one of only less than a dozen left in the whole country. We consider ourselves very lucky to be able to source from this tannery. The leathers, especially the Chromexcel leather, are some of the most lux and supple leather you will ever touch and which are used in the Railroad and the Marion Olive.
In one week Horween will process about 4000 cowhides and 1000 horsehides (used to make shell cordovan) which creates about 120,000 square feet of leather. The tanning process itself takes many steps and is at least a four week-long process. The skins show up salted to prevent decomposition. The first step is removal of the hair with a chemical soak. Then the skins are pickled for 24 hours in order to drop the pH and allow complete penetration of the tanning chemicals. Once the skins are pickled they are then bated which removes fat and protein and softens the skins. Then the tanning occurs which is when, via different chemical processes, the skins become leather and achieve their strength and durability. Finally the leather will get shaved, dried, pressed , colored, waxed and polished depending on what end result is desired.
In an era when so many things are made quickly and cheaply in an automated process, it is so comforting to know that Horween is still doing it the old-fashioned way and that it makes a huge difference in the longevity of your HELM Boots.