The use of leather, one of the most commonly known materials across the globe, can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Dating back over 7,000 years, leather refers to any fabric derived from the skins or hides of animals. Cowhide is the most prominent type of animal skin used to produce leather, accounting for nearly 65% of the overall leather production, however, leather can be derived from the hide of almost any animal, including crocodiles and stingrays.
Leather is a sturdy fabric, resistant to wrinkles, and can exhibit various looks and feels, depending on the type of animal hide used, the grade as well as the treatment.
The application scope of leather ranges from clothing & footwear, to home décor, to automotive upholstery, to furniture and even bookbinding.
However, leather, before it can be used for the development of these products, has to undergo a series of processing stages including beamhouse, tanning, re-tanning or fat-liquoring and finishing. These processes involve the use of certain chemical components used to treat the leather, known as leather chemicals.
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Overview of leather chemicals
Leather chemicals are a crucial component in the leather making industry and are essential for the processing of raw animal hides and skins to derive final finished products. Based on product type, the leather chemicals market is broadly categorized into various segments including tanning chemicals, beamhouse chemicals, finishing chemicals, and dyeing chemicals.
These leather treatment chemicals have several components acting as fundamental modifiers, which influence various attributes of the leather product including texture, smoothness, color and pattern, among others. Once processed with these chemicals, the final leather is used for the production of various items such as garments, furniture, apparel and footwear, etc.
Leather chemicals are also used to improve product quality, reduce water consumption and ensure effective process formulations.
One of the most prominent producers of leather treatment chemicals is Stahl, with several sustainable and innovative leather processing solutions for emerging and novel niche markets. The products span the entire leather processing spectrum from wet-end processing to leather finishing.
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Burgeoning need for sustainable leather processing methods to mitigate adverse impacts of chrome tanning
While the tanning process is an integral part of leather processing, it also poses several risks and health hazards to both the environment as well as workers. Chrome-tanning, which is the most common tanning methods, accounting for 80% of the leather produced, is economical, fast and efficient, however, the heavy-metal minerals it produces are injurious to both human as well as environmental health.
If used incorrectly, chrome as well as other substances including arsenic, lead and acids can infiltrate the local water supplies. This can cause several catastrophic consequences such as soil erosion, and water contamination, leading to health problems ranging from irritation of the mouth to more dire conditions like cancer and liver & kidney damage.
Leading market players analyzed in the research include Elementis, Clariant, Dupont, Eastman Chemical Company, Solvay, Evonik Industries, Arkema, and SABIC.
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