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Horween employee stacking leather

From Tannery to Mailbox: the Journey of the Bespoke Leather Collar

At Modern Icon, we source the best of the best materials for our K9 products. To craft a superior product that keeps pace with your K9’s entire career, every piece of material is important. We’re especially proud of our work with Horween Leather for our bespoke leather collars. 

Horween Leather Company was established in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. “For over 100 years and five generations, our goal has been to make the world’s best leather” (Horween). At Modern Icon, we use Horween Leather in our heavy-duty, leather tactical dog collars. The materials we use to make these collars make an impressive journey from rawhide to arriving in your mailbox as a leather tactical collar.

Horween receives rawhide and removes hair

Once the professionals at Horween Leather receive the rawhide, they inspect and trim it for quality. Then, the hide is moved to processing. Rawhides arrive with the hair still on them, so they are added to cement mixers with lime solution. The solution is called “lime slur,” and this lime slur acts like Nair, a hair-removing product, by burning off the remaining hair on the hides. 

The skins are turned and tanned

Once this is complete, the skins are loaded onto a shelf and turned for 24 hours. After which, the skins are placed into tanning vessels. These big wooden drums each hold approximately 20,000 pounds of product!

At this point in the process, 48 hours have passed, and the skins have become a product called “wet blue.” Wet blue is a hide that is chrome-tanned.

To the tanning pits!

Next, the skins are laid into Horween’s 8-foot tanning pits filled with vegetable tanning liqueur — a combination of tree extracts Horween has made at the tannery since 1905. 

Wet blue leather being sorted

Experts sort every single skin — deciding what type of leather it will become

Once the leather is tanned, it needs to be sorted. This is a crucial step in the process, and the person who sorts the leather has one of the most important jobs at the tannery. It’s at this point that this person decides what type of leather each piece will become. They review every single skin — examining the feel, character, and quality.

The leathers begin to come to life

Wet blue is then split to the weight specifications of the customer. Then, it’s sorted and put back into a coloring drum. At this point, all of the hides appear the same. Their character hasn’t been defined because the base recipe is all the same; however, this is where that begins to change. The character, color, and performance of the leather come to life through the process of adding various dyes and oils to the re-tannage step.

Employee pouring oil into a barrel

Oils and waxes are reintroduced to the hide

Since tanning removes the natural oils of the hide, it needs to be deeply nourished and conditioned with unrefined fats and oils so it doesn’t break down over time. This process is called “hot stuffing,” and it’s a crucial step in the process of making high-quality, rich-feeling leather. If oils and waxes weren’t reintroduced to the hide, you’d find the end product would disintegrate in 8-12 months. Hot-stuffed leathers typically exhibit pull-up, good water resistance, and excellent durability.

The leather is dried using one of four methods

At this point, the leather has character and some color but needs to be dried. Horween has four different drying types, and each method gives a different character to the leather.

  • Hanging / Air Drying
  • Pasting
  • Toggling
  • Vacuum Dry
Two men hand finishing leather

Horween’s professionals finish the leather

To finish, Horween either hand stains or sprays the dry leather. When hand finishing, each piece is hand-swabbed 3-5 times to build its color. The goal is to show off the natural beauty of that individual piece of leather. After each coat, the stains are air-dried for 30 minutes in a drying tunnel. After, Horween finishes the leather with one clear-coat spray.

Alternatively, when spray finishing, the leather is loaded into a spray machine, where a bank of electronic eyes measures the shape of the skin and sprays it. Leathers that make footballs and basketballs all go through this machine at one point.

… And it’s off!

Once the leather is buffed, it is sorted, measured, and stamped with the tannery name, square footage, and date. Then, it’s carefully shipped off to faithful customers like us!

Once Modern Icon receives the leather at our facility in South Carolina, we cut the leather to our specifications without wasting the hide. Our experts assemble our bespoke leather collars with Horween’s Chestnut Essex, Cocoa Essex, and Black Latigo leather. 

From Horween Leather’s tannery to your mailbox, our rigid leather collars are 100% American-made.

Admire the finished product:

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