Last week, Rick, Sara and I visited the Horween Leather Co. in Chicago, Illinois. Nick Horween directed our tour of the tannery, one of the oldest in the US. Horween produces highest quality leathers that are used for Alden shoes, NFL footballs, Russell and Quoddy moccasins, Altadena Works packs, Makr leather wallets and more.
The Horween factory consists of five floors and we were intent on seeing everything. Nick warned us that our eyes might glaze over. He might also have cautioned us about intense odors, high heat, puddles underfoot, sharp hooks overhead and proximity to machinery, ancient and modern. The many-stepped tanning process takes six months, so we weren’t able to follow one hide from raw to finish state. We watched as cow and horse hides were stripped of hair, shaved of flesh, dyed, cut out, wrung, squeegeed, stacked, left to rest, hung up, impregnated with wax, split, dried, stamped, measured, and polished (not in that order).
Fortunately for readers wishing to better visualize the complexities of the tanning process, friend and photographer Rick Gersbach provided documentary evidence of our tour. A full set of Rick’s Horween photographs can be viewed via his flickr site here.
At the end of the tour, Nick, our charming and well informed host, showed us some belts, shoes and wallets made from Horween leathers. While I’ve always admired shell cordovan leather from afar, I’m now fundraising for a Highland brand belt and a custom pair of Alden Style 500 boots in whiskey or cigar shell cordovan. But for now, I’ll console myself with the chromexcel hide I purchased from Horween for future projects.