One of the difficult things with shoemaking is finding good sources for leather while not feeling like you’re getting ripped off by third party sellers. This is especially bad in the United States, there aren’t really any big leather distributors that are accessible online, and the smaller outfits charge a pretty high premium. If you want something specific, you better be ready to pay shipping from Europe. Dealing with tanneries directly is rarely an option too. Places like Horween will sell you skins through their shop (Tannery Row), only if they happen to have some in stock. If not, they have prohibitively large minimum order quantities. I don’t remember Horween’s specifically, but Charles F Stead in the UK requires 50 sq. M. for a special order, although I have had success buying individual skins that they happened to have in stock through them.
I first heard of Conceria Maryam through Instagram when they did their Viberg collabs, and like many of us shoe nerds I was impressed. When looking for the ideal leather for a side zip boot for a commission, I reached out to them to see what options they had. The first thing that stood out to me was their customer service. I have dealt with several Italian companies now, while trying to get lasts made, reaching out to other suppliers, and searching for manufacturers for a ready to wear concept. They’re notoriously unresponsive via email, and not always willing to give you the time of day. Aurora at Maryam is the exception, always prompt, informative, and an overall a pleasure to work with. They will make individual skins to order too, which is very unusual in my experience, and even willing to work on small details like tweaking colors or color matching without an up charge. They do charge a 20% extra if you don’t hit their minimum order qty, but even with that its still a very reasonable price considering you can order exactly what you want.
I’m currently visiting Florence, so I figured a short trip to Santa Croce Sul Arno to see the tannery in person would be a good idea. Santa Croce Sul Arno is a small and historically a tannery town on the route between Pisa and Florence. You can buy a ticket for $5, and it’s about a 40 minute train ride away. As soon as you get out of the train, you can sense the smell on the air. It’s not overpowering like when you’re up close to where they process rawhides, but it always seems to be lingering in this town. We went to the nearest Tabacchi to see if they could help us call a cab, no luck, but they told us the train station would have some taxi advertisements. They had one, and when Christine (who speaks Italian) got a hold of him, turns out he was in Florence for the day. We ended up taking a bus to Maryam which wasn’t too difficult to get to but we had to go through half the town worth of stops. Incidentally, on the way we saw a lot of big names in Italian leather, like Tempesti and La Bretagna.
Aurora met us at the tannery, showed us their showroom and gave us a tour.
The street Maryam is located on, their compound consists of several buildings here.
A picture of their showroom. Yellow skins are horsehide (the sides) and horse breech (the butt). Green are kangaroo and deer skins, and brown are calf.
The white skins are their metal free tannage. They use synthetic tannins and the leather will break down without leaving any residue after being buried for a certain amount of time (can’t recall exactly how long). This is their sustainable option.
Complete skins ready to be shipped out.
The machine behind Christine is used to calculate the exact square footage of skins.
Some of the drums they use for the finishing process. This is where you can drum dye leather, or stuff it with waxes and oils. Quite a small operation compared to the tannery I visited in Mexico, WYNY.
A bag of tree bark, I don’t remember which exact type this is, but these are the tannins used for vegetable tanned leather.
More stuff! Not sure what is on all the shelves, but the two drums behind are what they use for the chrome tanned leathers.
The dyeing and finishing room, with leather hanging to dry. I wasn’t able to get a good picture but they have a cool machine that applies surface dyes (aniline finish) here.
And a few more drums, these are used to tumble to leather for certain finishes like Nappa, to give it a soft hand.
Some leather that has just been tanned and is still wet, but hasn’t gone through any of the other processes.
Maryam is a fairly small operation, with about 10 people working here in total. They partner with another tannery in town that processes all of the raw hides and puts them through the lime to make “blue skins,” where they are de-haired and ready to be tanned. This is the stage they receive them in, and they have three different tanning processes in house, vegetable (Vachetta), chrome, and metal free (Albino) tanning. Their main products are shell cordovan, horse breech (the booty), horsehide (the non booty part), calf, Kangaroo, and deer. They used to do yak leather as well, but stopped that a few years ago. Their horse hides are sourced mainly from Poland, where they are a byproduct of the food industry. Their finishes are a bit complicated to understand and I haven’t found any comprehensive list yet, but Aurora helped me with my notes so I’ll share it here.
Nabuk — Or, Nubuck, soft, sanded on the side of the leather for a matte look. Available on horsehide and horse breech. The picture above is TPR nubuck finish.
Appaloosa — base of the skin is washed and polished, with a shiny glazed finish. Available on horsehide and kangaroo skins.
Nappa — Soft feel, this is tumbled in a drum with hot air to give to make the leather more pliable. Matte finish. Finish available in horsehide Nappa Vachetta, horsehide Nappa Albino (metal free tan). For Kangaroo available in veg tan and Albino.
Rovesciato — Soft roughout (similar to suede). Available in Kangaroo and deer, both veg tan and Albino.
Reverse —Waxed roughout, although you can use the skin side of this as well, though sometimes that part has a bit more scarring.
Vacchetta — Base veg tan, barrel dyed without particular finishing. Smooth, matte appearance, soft hand. Available in horsehide, kangaroo, deer, horse breech, calf.
TPR — Waxed/oiled for shiny glazed finish with pull up. Available in horsehide, horse breech.
Rovescio sego — Roughout again, but a different feel to the reverse because this finish uses oils and talc. Available in horse breech.
Wash — Very irregular and rugged look, usually thicker because the leather swells and shrinks a bit after the wash. Available in horsehide, kangaroo, deer, horse breech, calf. Both in metal free and veg tan.
AV.CAVALLO ART: 2CV — article made on whole horse leather (in the middle there is the part of the mane). Minimum order 20 sqm. Natural shrinkage occurs in the barrel for a really interesting texture, no particular finishing.
I don’t have much info on this one, suffice to say it is some sort of tumbled and shrunken deer hide. Very nice grain and soft feel to it. This is a chrome tanned hide.
And here is an example of some of the colors in horse breech Reverse. Left to right: Petrolio, 1058, Salvia, Fango, 1071, Oliva. The Salvia looks very gray in this picture, its definitely more of a sage green in certain lighting.