Leather tanning in Italy has a rich socio-cultural history that dates back to the Etruscan civilisation in the 8th century BC. The Etruscans were the first people to explore and harness the technique of vegetable tanning, the basic principles of which remain the same today. Key to this early progression were expert shoemakers, who produced durable sandals for everyday use.
Leather production grew in social importance under the Romans, as the material was used in everything from transportation, to clothing and warfare. During this period, the art of vegetable tanning also became a regulated industry, and complex leatherworks started to spring up across the Roman Empire. Excavations of the ruins of Pompeii, a city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79AD, revealed a once-thriving tannery.
In 1282, the Arte dei Cuoiai (Leather Workers Guild) was born. It was one of many professional guilds in Florence (others were present in developed cities like London), secular institutions that protected trade secrets and enforced strict quality standards. This ensured the city’s leather industry remained highly competitive on the international stage. To this day, dotted along the banks of the river Arno from Florence to Pisa, esteemed leather artisans continue to operate.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a selection of now leading fashion houses began their commercial lives as leather goods stores, including Prada (1913), Gucci (1921) and Ferragamo (1927). Demand for their products in the ensuing decades allowed the Italian leather industry to grow in stature and profitability.
In contemporary times, The Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium has played a vital role in safeguarding the tradition of vegetable tanning in Tuscany. The twenty tanneries within the organisation share a philosophy that values time-honoured expertise, craftsmanship and environmental responsibility. The tanneries continue to produce some of the best leather in the world.