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ACLE 2019 Onsite Interview: Silvateam – Vegetable tanning: Back to the future
Véronique Saunier | 04 November 2019

With a commercial network spreading over 60 countries around the world and a total turnover of over 140 million euros, the Italian company Silvateam is the world leader in the production, extraction and commercialisation of vegetable extracts, tannins and their derivatives.  Today, it is benefitting greatly from the renewed interest in vegetable leather tanning, which had fallen in obsolescence but is now back into favour as it is deemed less harmful and less polluting than chrome tanning. This is a trend cheerfully endorsed by Antonio Battaglia, the company’s Leather Division Director and descendant of the founder.

 

 

The origins of the Silvateam Group date back 165 years, when in 1854 Carlo Giuseppe Battaglia built his first factory based at Corsaglia di Frabosa, in the province of Cuneo, Piedmont region, for the extraction of tannins from chestnut wood. It was originally established to answer the demand of “weighing” (to restore or increase the weight) of silk produced by factories in Lyon, France.

Today, Silvateam offers solutions for all applications in the leather industry, including garments, furnishings, leather goods, automotive upholstery, leather soles and shoe uppers. The leather industry represents 60 per cent of the company’s business.

Apart from producing natural tannins from chestnut, it also produces tannins from quebracho, tara, gambier and myrobalan, synthetic tannins with a low environmental impact, as well as oils and fat liquors, tanning auxiliaries and selective resins.

A third of these products are sold in liquid form which, although more expensive than powder, is easier and safer to use by tanners.

Silvateam has always been committed to human safety and environmental conservation, according to Battaglia. From the beginning, the company has been concerned about environmental conservation especially the correct use of natural resources on which it relies. “We assure that all our vegetable tannings come from renewable plantations certified by local authorities,” says Battaglia. It was also one of the earlier companies to calculate and openly publish its carbon footprint.

In terms of Social Corporate responsibility, using vegetable tannins also means promoting the economy and employment in mountainous and rural areas. In Argentina for example, where Silvateam has been established in the province of Chaco since the beginning of the 1900’s its presence in the region has contributed to promoting the social and economic well-being of employees. “Silvateam is committed to the improvement of the local communities where it operates,” affirms Battaglia.

 

 

A service to humanity

“Not only to local communities but to humanity!” he adds. Indeed, as natural, antioxidant and effective anti-bacterial agents, tannins are an ideal solution for smelly feet. This annoying and embarrassing “taboo” caused by bacterial activity inside shoes affects a great number of the human population. A research study conducted in 2012 by the IPFH (Institute for Preventive Foot Health) revealed that 16% of Americans over the age of 21 have experienced smelly feet. This translates to approximately 36 million people in the US alone. In Italy, from 2016  to 2017 real life trials conducted by Silvateam in collaboration with Milan and Bologna universities with students to measure the bacterial level of vegetable-tanned shoes have proved that thanks to their moisture absorbing properties, tannins are able to soak up the sweat and prevent the release of unpleasant odors. On the contrary, non-breathable synthetic materials can lead to an exponential increase in the bacterial population, exacerbating the problem. “Shoes with vegetable tanned leather interiors improve enormously the comfort of feet and are perfect for their wellbeing,” assures Battaglia.

Such external collaborations with academic and scientific organisations are common for Silvateam which dedicates two per cent of its turnover to Research & Development. As a result, the company sells its products in 110 countries including in China, the company’s second largest market after Italy. “Our growing presence in China is reflected in the size of our booth at ACLE,” concludes Battaglia.

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