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Wolverine Leathers: Eco chrome-free Pigskin Nubuck for footwear applications
Richard Smith | 14 July 2017

Sylvain Busiere is the Vice President of Tannery Operations at Wolverine Leathers which is part of the Wolverine Worldwide Group. He brings with him 30 years experience to complement Wolverine’s unparalleled expertise in producing top quality pigskin nubuck leather with multiple properties and for multiple applications.

Sylvain Busiere - Vice President Operation Wolverine Leather

Based in Rockford, Michigan, the company invented pigskin nubuck and claims to be the original producers of this leather and nowadays features waterproof, washable, fire retardant, colourfast, no sew, GoreTex approved, chrome-free and saturated fashion colours to meet design specification. 

Repellent to water, oil and staining pigskin nubuck leather was actually invented by Wolverine engineers in 1956 using patented skinning machines; with technology and partnership with 3M, to bring the world the first performance pigskin nubuck leather.

Wolverine Leathers runs a supply chain encompasses tanneries in the USA, China, Thailand and Vietnam. It buys 120,000 pig hides per week from its main packer supplier in the US and these hides are transported to Asia where they are turned into wet blue and finished leather. This leather is then cut and prepared for show production and approximately 50% returns to the US after processing for making US footwear brands.

The pigskins are tanned ecologically, chrome-free, and using synthetic chemicals that are non polluting to the rivers or groundwater. The aim spoken about by Sylvain is to produce footwear that is durable as well as being sustainable and which has a low environmental impact.

Wolverine selection of nubuck pig skin leather

The technology exists to achieve this aim; culturally this can be accepted by the public but the problem was an economic one. However, after years of research Wolverine has succeeded in producing a square foot on pigskin leather which is chrome-free and suitable for making footwear for the same price as a square foot of traditional chrome tanned leather. All off-cuts and waste materials are either recycled or treated in effluent plants to ensure that the process is as ecological as possible and hence truly sustainable.

Sylvain’s objective is to produce chrome-free, environmentally friendly shoes that can be disposed of when worn out without leaving chrome deposits in the land. For example, synthetics and plastics will eventually biodegrade as will leather over time but in the case of chrome tanned leather, the chrome remains in the soil as a contaminant. This is what Sylvain and his project of chrome-free tanned pigskin wants to avoid. No chrome = no contamination.

Wokverine interview with Sylvain Busiere

“I will retire when I can eat my shoes” is what Sylvain has maintained as he strives to meet the goal of non-polluting footwear from hide through tanning and manufacturing to final disposal.

Of the 25 million square feet of pigskin nubuck produced per year by Wolverine Leathers, aboit 20% goes to manufacturing Wolverine Worldwide brands such as Merrell, Hush Puppy and CAT with much being sent to its main customer New Balance. Nike and adidas are also important customers for this production of eco-friendly pigskin nubuck.

The next step forward in product development for Wolverine will be the competitive field of shoe linings made from pigskin tanning.

Regarding APLF Sylvain remarked that “the fair is better this year”. Wolverine comes to Hong Kong to gain more exposure for its business and listen to its customers’ feedback about new products. They returned three years ago and are now communicating better and with more clarity to their customers.

Wolverine selection of nubuck pig skin leather