Interview with Åke Lindström

Åke Lindström

Once every ten years

In addition to highly specialized production equipment, mastering the craft of vegetable tanning requires craftspeople with a certain sensitivity. Åke Lindström, as head of production at Tärnsjö Garveri, understands this better than anyone.

You are the Guru of leather at Tärnsjö Garveri. That means you can also be called one of the best and most experienced tanners in the world. How long have you worked here?

37 years. As is required in any craft, I started at the bottom and worked my way up through every step of the process before becoming a master tanner. I wasn´t allowed to move on until I was considered qualified or skilled enough. Times have changed though; today I am the person who decides when somebody is considered skilled enough.

Would you say that Tärnsjö Garveri is a business of production or do you practice a craft?

We practice a craft. Even though our primary business is to produce leathers it all comes down to mastering the craft of tanning.

Is it possible for anyone to master the craft of tanning leather or are there any specific characteristics required?

Most people can learn a trade. If you are born a craftsman you have it in your DNA. But there are some required characteristics; desire to learn and patience are cornerstones for any craftsman.

What is needed to make premium vegetable tanned leather?

High quality raw material is the foundation. Then of course you need to have a tanning process where you manage to control and maintain levels of pH balances and temperatures. But first and foremost, you need a certain sensitivity developed through experience.

What separates vegetable tanned leather from Chrome excel leather?

The simple difference of the materials, of course. Vegetable tanning means that you use bark extracts from nature and the other uses metal. If you want to be kind to Mother Nature and are searching for leather that age beautifully, vegetable tanning is your only choice. It produces a beautiful and honest material that breathes due to not being covered in paint to hide natural bruises.

In your opinion as a master tanner, how often is the end product perfect?

Mostly if you ask a layman. But if you ask me, only once every ten years. Perfect leather is created through a certain sensitivity which is developed over years of tanning. We always produce premium leathers, but sometimes everything from the raw material, the tanning process and the finish is executed absolutely perfectly. When that happens, you produce something that cannot be explained or defined!

What is the most unique thing about Tärnsjö Garveri?

The knowledge of our craftsmen, a special brotherhood between them and our flexibility that makes almost anything possible for us and our customers.

What separates leather from Tärnsjö Garveri from other brands offering vegetable tanned leathers?

The feel of the leather! We use a finishing process of water based fluids instead of metal based. Across the globe, our leather is a reference for how really good leather should feel and look!

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for Tärnsjö Garveri in the market, both as a supplier of premium leathers and as a business in general?

The biggest challenge is to be able to justify our price. At least from a general perspective, we compete with tanners who have low production costs due to low wages. We have to offer leather that is better in terms of quality but at the same time affordable. This means that our challenge is to produce and charge customers for leather that low wage companies can´t compete with, since they lack about 140 years of experience developing that certain sensitivity.

How do you define quality?

Quality offers emotion and is honestly presented. When it comes to leather you should be able to see that the hide comes from an animal that lived a good life. Quality does not mean that there are no tears. Instead it makes you feel, upon regarding and touching, that a craft has been performed perfectly. Care is put in to the product!

How much longer do you think you will work at Tärnsjö Garveri?

If our state gets to decide, I will retire in 2020. In reality I don´t know. Tärnsjö Garveri is a part of me and I don’t think I can rest until I have found my protegé who can ensure that my legacy will continue.

Do you have a protegé?

Maybe not someone ideal, but I have my eyes on a few individuals with the right characteristics. This makes me confident I will find her/him soon.

Can you share a special experience from your time at Tärnsjö Garveri?

Happy times from travelling together with Torbjörn, one of the owners, to companies such as LVMH and Hermes. One of the most cherished is also related to working with those companies at the time when we starting delivering leather to LVMH. Just after being approved, our supplier of grease which makes our leathers smooth told us they were not going to make our “Tärnsjögrease” any more. This lead to sleepless nights and a lot of testing trying to find a replacement that could live up to our standards and the aesthetic we had developed over time. After eleven tries with different grease and one finally approved, our machines started scarring our hides without an obvious explanation. That problem also took us several weeks to sort out. However, this is what really makes me proud as a craftsman. When executing you always take two steps forward and one step back. That is why patience and curiosity are so important and I think that is what defines my craft: I welcome difficulties in favor of convenience. If it is difficult I know I will learn and develop my craft even further!