July 11, 2007
Transformation: Raw Alligator to Oscar de la Renta Designer Bag
So you want to know what you are getting for your hard earned cash?? Published in The Atlanta Journal a couple days ago, it’s the transformation process at the popular Griffin tannery of raw alligator skin before it’s shipped off to dress up a designer handbag.
1. Raw, salt-cured skins arrive at the Griffin tannery on a refrigerated truck.
2. Skins are measured by length and width then graded. Grade 1 skins are the highest in value, Grade 5 the lowest. Defects are noted, and the skins are separated into similar size groups for processing.
3. Graded skins are placed in a tank filled with water and chemicals. Then they undergo another process to remove the scaly epidermal layer, followed by a “pickling bath” to adjust the pH level. These steps take seven to 10 days.
4. The skins go into a large stainless steel drum filled with a mineral tanning substance called “chrome.” Over a three- to four-day period, they are converted into leather that has a blue-gray color, known in the tanning industry as “wet blue.” To ensure softness and durability, skins remain wet blue for two to four weeks.
5. After the skins are removed from the tanning drum, they are “shaved” to a uniform thickness — specific to each skin’s size — by a machinist operating a high-speed rotating blade. Each skin is checked after this step to ensure the company’s quality standards.
6. Skins undergo a retanning process. Over a period of three days, natural markings are removed, and vital oils and tanning extracts are added to further enhance the final product. Once the skins are removed from the tanning drum, they are hung to dry. It takes one to three months for the skins to become “crusted” stock. Then they are regraded, measured and moved to the stockroom until a designer or manufacturer buys the skins.
7. Stored skin is dyed and finished according to the customer’s size, grade and color preferences. Skins return to the tanning drum in a mix of dyes and oils. After they’ve been dyed, skins get reshaved to a final thickness. While the skins are still wet, workers stretch and tack them into shape on wooden tables.
8. Once dry, the skin surface is hand-sprayed with a finishing chemical. The type of chemical determines if the skin will have a satin finish or a patent sheen, which most designers prefer for their alligator and crocodile bags. Skins are “glazed” or polished to a high shine with an agate stone. It’s a process that can take 30 minutes to one hour, depending on the skin’s size.
9. Skins are transported into a large humidity- and temperature-controlled cabinet for about 30 minutes. The heat gives them a “bombee” or plumped effect.
10. Finally, skins are moved to a stockroom, where they are graded and measured one more time before they are shipped to clients or stored.
In the case above… the raw alligator skin went to Oscar de la Renta, where it dressed up one of their fall handbags – which carried a retail of $15,500.