Vegetarian Leather

When you think of leather, vegetables don’t readily come to mind. Tanning, the process to turn animal skin into leather, commonly relies on chemicals to get the job done. The Richmond-based Rider Boot Shop family has left the chemicals behind and instead opted to use vegetable-tanned leather in the creation of the brand’s boots.

Vegetable tanning takes longer, sometimes more than three months. The process uses tree barks, fish oil and other plants to draw out water from the animal hide. This is how leather has been tanned since the dawn of civilization. Leathers that use this process “come off more rustic and hardy and the colors change over time,” says company founder Ron Rider.

There are a few limitations that come with the switch, says Rider. For starters, the brand will no longer carry “fantasy colors” such as pink, blue and red. The online shop and brick-and-mortar store at 18 W. Broad St. in Jackson Ward will carry a larger collection of earth tones. Another drawback for some, Rider says, is that it will be more difficult to predict how the leather will look on boots. That’s no major drawback for Rider.

“In the end, we want natural brown boots,” he says. “We’re going to do what we’ve always done, which is sell basic boots in a variety of colors and releases.”

The switch to vegetable tanning opens other opportunities for bringing leather goods making in house. The store has a new workshop in the back where Ron Rider will start making belts and bags.

“It’s easier to buy veg-tanned leather in sides,” Rider says.

Sides are exactly what they sound like: the side of a cow. By purchasing and having these large swatches of leather directly sent to the store, Rider Boot can save on transportation costs. Before, the chemically tanned sides were purchased in Italy, sent to the store, then sent to Texas for production and then sent back to the store.

In addition, the switch allows Rider to work with smaller businesses that specialize in vegetable tanning.

“That’s more like how we do business, which is low-key,” Rider says. “Tiny little things don’t mean anything by themselves, but together they do.”

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