Litehide™ is a patented process of preserving the hides in the pickel state that seems to fully respond to the new sustainability challenges of the tanning industry. Its main strength is the complete elimination of salt which, as known, represents a major environmental problem for both soil and water.
“By eliminating salt, the Litehide process reduces wastewater, water and energy consumption, thus lowering the environmental footprint of the tannery. Furthermore, shipping costs are significantly reduced because the hides processed this way can be dehydrated, without having the slightest impact on the final quality of the product”, explains Alexandra Pelka, responsible for the European market of Leatherteq, a Hong Kong company that holds the licensing rights of the Litehide process. It is hard to quantify the reduction of the environmental impact along the supply chain because the values are subject to many variables, but an average data exists and concerns the average water saving, estimated by an Indian tannery at about 4.4 litres per square foot leather produced. A truly important result that significantly improves the sustainability profile of the product.
The Canadian Peter Holicza, unfortunately now deceased, was the creator of this innovative hide conservation system. He developed and patented the Litehide technology together with his Chinese entrepreneur friend Desmond Ko, who is still at the helm of the Leatherteq company.
How does the process work? “After the liming phase – explains Pelka – fresh hides are subjected to the Litehide process, a manufacturing method carried out with harmless and completely biodegradable products that ensures perfect conservation. At this point the hides can be dried, dehydrated and stored even for years without problems. Weighing about a quarter compared to normal dry salted hides, they can be shipped at significantly lower costs. Once they arrive at the processing plant, they are rehydrated and can be tanned in any way: chrome, vegetable, metal-free … there are no limits whatsoever”.
It is worth clarifying that Leatherteq neither sells hides nor tanned leathers: “We sell the license for the use of the Litehide technology and collaborate with hides traders, tanneries, fashion brands and other partners along the entire supply chain to implement the system efficiently, integrating it with existing technologies that do not require substantial changes”, explains the European manager.
Among the main chemical partners of Leatherteq is the Italian Tecnochimica of Castelfranco di Sotto (Pisa) which has also tested the Litehide system in combination with its eco-sustainable products, obtaining an even more sustainable tanning process.
To date, the American brand Fossil, one of the top 5 in the world for the quantities of leather used, is Litehide’s main customer, which for years has been committed to a very stringent sustainability path along the entire supply chain. The leathergoods-tanning group Ziss Enterprises of Chennai, India, which began testing Litehide in 2016 is among its suppliers and is now a major user, as well as a major Korean tannery which works with an international fashion group.
Litehide’s conquest of Europe began quietly a few years ago but is now accelerating: “We collaborate with some European tanneries and have started a dialogue with a luxury conglomerate”, reveals Alexandra Pelka. At the moment the process is only used for cattlehides but advanced sheepskins tests are in progress.
Litehide also means source transparency. Being a licensed system, hides are traceable starting from the slaughtering house. “Ensuring the traceability of materials is an increasingly important issue in the fashion system and Litehide helps tanneries to retrieve information on the source of raw materials that are increasingly requested by brands today”, comments Pelka who, among other things, is part of the group of experts working at the UNECE European traceability project for textiles and leather.
Why it is a good thing to eliminate salt
There are different ways of preserving hides but the under salt process is undoubtedly the most widespread. However, it is estimated that the salt used for raw hide preservation is about 40% of its weight. North American hides that weigh about 23kg each require about 10kg of salt to make the journey from the slaughterhouse to the tannery. The water needed by the tannery to eliminate this salt is on average five times the weight of the leather, so about 115 litres in the case described above. Numbers that clearly illustrate how eliminating the use of salt can represent a great step forward on the sustainability path of the tanning industry.