A century-old legend from Chicago-Horween Leather
by klein Jack on Dec 27, 2022
Horween Leather Co. was founded in Chicago in 1905 by Isidore Horween. The company originally made leather strops for straight razors (which at the time, every man needed hanging in his bathroom) and leather for engines (the leather was used for gaskets and seals). Isidore developed Chromexcel, a leather used in WWII for Airborne Boots, and it’s still one of their top-selling leathers today.
For five generations Horween has provided leather to boot and shoemakers, athletic companies, luggage makers, and clothing brands. Today there are only about five tanneries in the U.S. who process hides from start to finish, and Horween is one of them.
Horween has seen one hell of an uptick in notoriety in the last twelve years since Nick Horween (fifth generation) took on the role of vice president. Nick hasn’t changed the leather tanning methods of Horween, and that’s a good thing. What he has done is increase the visibility and transparency of the company while also making their processes more environmentally efficient.
if you’re looking for something more rugged, leather that’s thick and scuffs in a way that adds character, you want American leather. And that means you want leather from Horween.
If you’ve shopped online recently for a new pair of boots, a wallet, a leather watch strap, you’ve probably seen Horween’s name in product descriptions. Why would a company selling leather goods tell you who their leather distributor is? Because when you say “We use Horween leather” it means “We use the best.”
Genuine Shell Cordovan
If you come across a pair of shoes made from Horween’s Genuine Shell Cordovan, you may experience some sticker shock. It’s not uncommon for shell cordovan shoes to sell for up to $800 per pair. But when you consider the fact that Horween shell cordovan leather takes six months to make and that it’s the most durable leather available, the price makes sense. Shell cordovan comes from the hindquarters of horses, with each horse producing only a small “shell” of leather in contrast to the large amount in a cowhide. It’s thick. It’s strong. It holds a ridiculous shine. And since the shell comes from under the top layer of hide, it will never crease.
Vegetable tanning uses oils that come from natural sources, usually tree bark extracts (Horween still makes their own tanning oils by the way). Vegetable-tanned leather is often used for bags as it tends to be thick and will hold its shape well.
Chrome tanning uses chromium (it’s an element), and results in a thinner more pliable leather with greater water resistance than vegetable tanning. Chrome tanning is faster than vegetable tanning, but that doesn’t have any effect on the quality of the tanning. Often found in footwear, gloves and furniture.
This specialized leather is treated with our own proprietary tannage and extracts, giving it the high performance characteristics demanded by professionals and amateurs alike. The unique “Tanned in Tack” provides excellent grip in all conditions, and can be revived by simply brushing the ball.
Official Football leather is a very important leather to us. This leather was developed and produced by Arnold Horween Sr. after playing football professionally and head coaching the Harvard football team. We’ve produced football leather continuously for more than 70 years.
We’re proud to produce the finest football, basketball, and ball glove leathers. We extend to this line the tradition of excellence and quality that all of our products are founded upon. We have had the opportunity to work with top sporting goods manufacturers to develop these leathers. Our philosophy that the best leather is part of the best product translates very well into a market where skilled athletes view their equipment as precision tools. We’ve been diligent and thorough in producing these special leathers where no detail has been overlooked.
GENUINE SHELL CORDOVAN
Genuine Shell Cordovan is the art of tanning at its finest. More than just a color, it is a very specific leather, from a particular part of a horsehide. The irregular oval shaped shells are tanned, stuffed, shaved, and then polished – a process taking at least six months. Each shell is slowly steeped in gentle vegetable liquors. The shells are genuine hot stuffed then slicked onto glass frames to dry. Each shell is hand curried and shaved by highly skilled artisans to expose the shell. Dyes are hand rubbed on for a deep aniline finish. Finally, the shells are hand glazed to achieve the rich, glossy look and feel prized by fine craftsmen.
Horween leather has become synonymous with American craftsmanship
Horween has been in the same building for over one hundred years, and most of their machinery is original to the company, built of wood, steel, and iron. Why? Because since their founding, Horween has believed there’s a right way to tan leather, and the right way isn’t always the fastest way. Horween doesn’t focus on how to expand the company; instead, they focus on how to consistently improve their products and their processes. Skip Horween III, the current president, has said, “Our greatest enemy is the phrase, ‘It’s good enough.’” Horween still insists on completing the bulk of their tanning steps by hand and only works on a made-to-order basis. Mass production is not their game, and as a result, Horween leather has become synonymous with American craftsmanship.