Leather is one of man’s earliest and most important discoveries and it has always had a massive role in the history of civilisations. Going back to prehistoric times our great ancestors would use leather to protect themselves from the harsh conditions of life. They would hunt animals primarily for food and would recycle there skins for clothing and shelters. Larger skins would be used as coats whilst smaller skins would be made to fit loosely over feet to create shoes to protect their bare feet from rocks and other hazardous elements.
History tells us the main issue our ancestors encountered was the decaying of skins. They would rot away after a short period of time, making them useless. This meant the demand for new skins was constantly at a high; with limited knowledge they did not know how to preserve the skins. Over a number of centuries it was found that processes could be put in place to prolong the skins lifetime. One such technique was to stretch the skin and leave it out in the sun to dry, although this hardened the leather it did neutralise the premature rotting. Oily substances were then rubbed into the leather to soften the skins and make them more comfortable. Possibly the most important discovery was that of ‘tanning’. It was found that the bark from certain trees contained tannic acid; this could be used to convert raw skins.
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Apart from these methods, leather preservation rarely changed from the time of its discovery until the 18th and 19th century. At this time the spread of industrialisation created a new demand for different kind of leathers. It was no longer just being used as protection, it now had wider purposes. Leather belts were used for machinery and new tools were being invented. As the standard of living increased the demand for soft, supple leather with a fashionable appearance was on everyone’s list. Leather stores were opening worldwide with the goal of creating the most colourful and unique leather goods. The race was on to create shoes, clothes, bags and accessories.
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Technology of today has allowed for innovation within the leather industry. With a greater understanding of science and chemicals, sophisticated processes have been created in order to meet customers increasing demand. Since the time of our ancestors, leather always has been and always will be the material of choice and with an ever increasing population this demand is set to increase.
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