Wickett & Craig has been making leather for a long time, at least if you consider 153 years to be a long time. The Curwensville, PA-based operation exclusively creates vegetable-tan leathers, a more natural, environmentally friendly product that ages and patinas with extreme beauty and uniqueness.

The products created with Wickett & Craig leather have traditionally ranged from saddles and holsters, to belts and wallets, to Filson bags of all kinds. But recently bootmakers have been recognizing the potential of their leather, including Pacific Northwest stalwart Nick’s Boots, and Tokyo’s Clinch. While I can’t name names at this point, you’ll also begin to see Wickett & Craig leathers on other, very prominent makers in the short term.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Matt Bressler, Wickett & Craig’s Vice President and Sales Manager— who’s spent his entire career at the tannery—to run through Wickett’s outlook and leathers, their process, some troubling issues he sees in the leather industry, and where the tannery is going from here.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Stitchdown: I always Iove to start with the history of an operation and the person I’m talking to—Wickett & Craig definitely has a long and interesting one.

Matt: My history and Wickett & Craig’s kind of go hand in hand. Wickett & Craig was in Toronto for 123 years. And then in 1989, the city of Toronto thought it was going to get the ’92 Olympics, so it actually expropriated a handful companies from the city limits. Wickett & Craig was one of them. Literally, Toronto said “we’re taking your property. You need to get out of Toronto.” And at that time, in my hometown of Curwensville, Pennsylvania was an abandoned cheese factory.

Curwensville was already a tannery town because of Howes Leather, a sole bend and shoulder tannery. They did a lot of footwear, they were one of the main sole manufacturers at that time, although they’re no longer in existence. But the labor rate was right, and there were 16 acres with an 180,000 square foot, relatively new shell of a building here.

At that time I was going to college, and worked in a hardware store. One of the contractors that was building the Wickett & Craig facility came in for supplies and offered me a job. And then the plant manager at Wickett Craig, a gentleman by the name Earl Bliss, approached me about a job at Wickett & Craig.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Stitchdown: What was the original work you were doing there?

Matt: Contracting work—we were doing the steel work and the painting and just about everything to build the tannery from the ground up inside the building here. It took a year to resurrect the steel work and the beams and the drums and the machines. Then in 1991 I got hired from the contracting crew onto the Wickett & Craig crew, and I’ve been there ever since.

We still do what we’ve been doing all along, be it your saddles and tacks and holsters or small leather goods and luxury items. I can still see the Howes site from my office window. But footwear was one of Howes’ main items. So it’s kind of coming full circle. We’re slowly working into that business, which is really neat for us.

Stitchdown: So what changed over those 150-plus years? And what didn’t?

Matt: Wickett & Craig used to be part of a corporation called Tanbridge, which owned three tanneries. Wickett & Craig was was the only veg-tanner. In 2004, the corporation went bankrupt. Unbeknownst to us, we were the only profitable division. And luckily the bank that was foreclosing on us allowed us to be sold to a company called Bank Bros out of Toronto, who was our main hide supplier.

We’ve been owned by them ever since, and it’s a really an ace up our sleeve because we’ve come to recognize what hides we like to make certain types of leather. The breeds that we really like are the Charolais, the Simmental, and the Limousine, because they’re red in color, or tan, or brown, or cream, even.

So when we make our leather, there are no colors that we cannot make that the hair follicle would have have an issue with. Meaning if we use black hair hides—and we do use some—when the hair is removed, the follicle itself can leave a shadowing. So the fact that we’re owned by our hide supplier ensures we get a constant supply, and that we get the hides that we really want to help make a superior piece of leather.


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Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Of course when people talk about vegetable tanning, they talk about pit tanning, where the extracts or tannins actually cure the hide. Historically, all those were down in the ground. The problem with that is in July or January in Pennsylvania or Toronto, you have major temperature changes, which causes the viscosity of things to change, and the tannins won’t penetrate the same.

So when we built the place here, we put the pits up off the ground. Those pits, or actually tanks now, are kept at roughly 90 degrees, 365 days a year. Let’s say we put a 15-ounce hide in the tanning vats. We know in 14 days the tannins will have penetrated so that we’re not over-tanning the leather, which won’t hurt it, but actually the extracts themselves are very expensive, and you definitely don’t want to under-tan it or you end up with rawhide. Making leather, it’s all about consistency. We cannot control the hides themselves, the scars, the scratches, the bug bites. But we can control our process.

Stitchdown: Got it.

Matt: We keep an eye on the fat contents, the dye penetrations, the break force, the elasticity, and the leather’s moisture content of our finished product. But we also keep a very close eye on all our raw materials coming in. When the hides come in, we take cuttings and we’re looking for brine saturation, which is the salt content. So after the animal is butchered, it goes through a raceway of what they call brine, which is a salt water, and the hide absorbs that, so that bacteria doesn’t work on it. And then of course they put surface salt on the hides before it gets to any tanner. So we keep an eye on that. And that’s just as important as keeping an eye on the leather after it’s actually finished and making sure the specs are the same.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Stitchdown: So you can control your process but obviously can’t always control those raw materials. How do you deal with that, if something comes in, and it’s just different than your ideal hide?

Matt: You can imagine a whole hide, those are roughly 50 square feet. I get this question a lot: what’s your return on this pallet of leather going to be? And there’s no answer to that until you see a finished product. It takes as much as eight weeks from the time we start a hide until we actually know what our investment yielded at the very end.

Even though we’re owned by a hide supplier and they do their best to select hides that are as defect-free as possible, these are still cattle. They live in in fields, they scratch on barbed wire, and bugs are biting them, and they get branded. A lot of people do understand leather, but we also get those designers from—and I’m not knocking L.A. or New York, but seems like it’s where those calls seem to come from—that want a flawless piece of leather, but they want full grain and they don’t want it to be corrected. They want to see all the beauty of leather, but they don’t want to see a scratch.

And that’s just not possible. In order to build a good relationship with any leatherworker, it’s important that they understand the process and what we’re starting with, and that the customer appreciates what they’re making for what it actually is.

Stitchdown: So obviously I’m excited to get specific on your leathers, but I’d love first you get into your push into working with more shoe and boot manufacturers like Clinch and recently Nick’s Boots. What’s that process been like?

Clinch Boots—Brass Tokyo—Hi-Liner

Matt: Leather is a shrinking art form, or business—I think it’s combination of both. Back at the turn of the 20th century it was a must, when everybody was riding horses. But it went from a from a necessity to a luxury item. Even though we are heavily invested in the equestrian trade, that’s only a portion of where we focus our business. And the shoe industry is something that when we go back to the 1800s, leather shoes were made out of veg-tan leather, because chrome-tanning didn’t even exist.

Then it went to chromium because of the stretch and the ease of tanning, the quicker process, and also the fact that it lasts better around the vamp. So it became the favorite of shoe manufacturers.
But I see certain clientele, especially high end boot and shoe manufacturers that want to get back to that tradition. They want it to age and to patina, and they want it to get better looking as as time goes on. And that’s where vegetable tan fits in. For us, with our pricing points and what we do, and we’re talking about an eight-week process, we’re not for everyone. Our leather demands a price because of the process, and it’s not for an $80 shoe.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

So it’s been a slow process of introducing ourselves to footwear manufacturers. And it’s slowly becoming a desired market. It’s not that we hadn’t always wanted to be there, but it had to be the right fit. And the customers that we’re dealing with now, it’s become a partnership. And at Wickett & Craig, we like to build relationships.

And so far, the people that we’ve been dealing with, Nick’s Boots in Spokane being one of them, they’ve been wonderful. When we talk about, ok, this is what we’re looking for, here’s a sample, and the back and forth to nit-pick and figure things out—that takes both parties to do. And it’s been fun. I’m really excited about it. The hard work of years of trying to get into this, it’s coming around, and we’re pretty happy about it.

Nick's Wickett & Craig Falcon Boot

Stitchdown: What would you say are the qualities of a great shoe or boot leather? And how might they be different from leathers for other purposes?

Matt: The majority of our leathers will work for footwear. It all depends on how they want to handle things. You can buy pre-dyed leathers, you can buy leathers with a lot of oils and waxes in them. You can buy natural carving and tooling type leathers, which hardly have any oils and waxes in them, that you want to finish yourself. So I’ve found that it’s best to get the samples in the hand of the craftspeople, and let them tell us what they’re looking for.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

After the tanning process within our facility, there is so much impregnation of oils and waxes and colors that that separate the carving and the skirting and the harness and the latigo and the English bridle leathers from each other. It just depends on the look and the feel and the process that they use.

Stitchdown: We talked about this in an earlier conversation, and it seemed like maybe things weren’t presented 100% the way you see them, so let’s follow up on it. But in an NPR piece last year, they presented the situation of leather prices going way down because of various demand factors, including the increased use of synthetics. But from my vantage point at least, it doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case in terms of high-end shoe leather. What gives there?

Matt: Well I think there’s been some misrepresentation in a couple different ways. A lot of what has happened over the years is it seems like high-end leather goods companies, a lot of them will make prototypes in the United States. Let’s say I send some leather to New York City. What generally happens? They make prototypes. They get approved by a board. But at that time, they put it up for a bid to manufacturers in China, or Vietnam, or India.

These manufacturers are generally used to using chrome, which a lot of times is corrected, where the grain has been sanded off. They reapply a finish, and then of course they call it full-grain leather. So it’s generally almost flawless—it almost looks like plastic in a lot of ways. When they cut those types of leathers, their yield is phenomenal.

But all of a sudden the designers who approved, say, a genuine piece of Wickett & Craig harness leather that is 100 percent full grain. There’s no finish on it whatsoever. It’s got all the patina and you can see every scar and scratch and fat wrinkle. And designers from New York City that really loved it now have to take this to a manufacturer who has bid on it.


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Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Vegetable-tanned full grain leather shows up at the doorstep of a manufacturing facility that’s used to chrome and they start cutting it. And all of a sudden their yields are 20 percent less than what they’re used to cutting. So it comes back on the tanner. And this is where a lot of things, in my opinion, have gone wrong in the tanning industry over the years. They put in a claim, they go back to the tanner and say, “our yield is 20 percent less than we do on anything else we buy. And we want you to give us 20 percent more leather.” So they’re asking for thousands of dollars worth of leather to be sent them, expedited, because they didn’t get the yield they want out of it.

The designer themselves, whoever is buying it, needs to stick up for the tannery and say, here’s what happened. This is 100% veg-tanned leather. We understand that you’re going to see some scars and scratches. Either, A, we want that in our product because this is a product that’s 100% full grain, or B, we expect a lower yield because you need to work around that kind of thing. Well, historically, they have not done that. And that is why the demise of the tannery, in my own opinion—this is what happens to tanners over the years, is they are hung out to dry. People don’t want to take the time to understand what they have, and why they have it.

That’s a bit of an issue! And I’ve battled it. So we either have a strong partnership with the designer, who sticks up for us. Or, that’s not a company that’s for us. And it’s not as much as a problem anymore because a lot of the tanners are gone. It’s been a funny thing to deal with. That’s the thing with the shoe industry. Those that understand leather, we talk about as “good leather guys,” whether they’re male for female. If they understand veg-tanned leather, and the craftsmanship, and what it takes to work around things, and work with things—then they’re definitely for us. Everybody wants to use leather, but nobody wants to deal with the issues of leather.

Stitchdown: I believe Wickett & Craig only tans jumbo heavy native steer hides. Why is that? And in what ways do they help to produce a quality product?

Matt: That’s correct. Heavy native steers are the highest and thickest breed that you can find on any hide market report. But we go one step above that, with what we call jumbo heavy native steers. The reason we like them is because you can always go thinner but you can never go thicker. When we’re talking footwear, most of time they want a five, six ounce or maybe a six or seven, depending on whether they’re lining the leather or not. But where this is really crucial is when you bring that to the tan yard, you want to have a good even weight at the end. So whether you’re talking about a 10 to 12 ounce bridle leather for making belts, or five to six ounce leather for making shoes, the main thing is consistency.

And if we have good heavy hides to begin with, then we’re always starting at the same place with every hide that we put through the facility. Now, don’t get me wrong. They still vary. There are hides that we pull out of the yard and say, OK, we need 12 to 14 ounces for making harness, or we need some 8 to 10 ounces for making pet products. Not every hide that we make will fit within that parameter. But when you buy jumbo heavy native steers, the majority will. Which makes our process a lot sleeker. And the we can deliver in a timely manner, because the raw material gives us what we want.

Stitchdown: Great. So let’s get into the actual veg-tanning process. What are the steps? How does Wickett & Craig do it?

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery 2

Matt: The first step is removing the hair. Back in the day, sometimes that was mechanically done. Ours is done more or less chemically. The first 24 hours the hides spend in what we call dehairing paddle. Those hides are subjected to a mixture of sodium hydrosulfide, lime and a few other chemicals that loosen the hide and dissolve the hair. The second step is we flesh it. The inside of the hide has got a lot of fatty material that needs to be removed. So we put it through a fleshing machine to remove that, as it’s a barrier that keeps our tannins from penetrating.

Then it gets cut down the backbone, and we have two sides. It goes into another set of drums. The next 24 hours is the de-lime, which rinses out the chemicals, takes the swelling out of the hide, and the thickness really changes. It’s only half of the thickness it is when when it comes out of the de-hairing drum.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery 3

Then it goes into the tan yard for two weeks. Everything’s hung on frames, backbones up, belly down, and the overhead crane will pick up the entire frame and set it down into the tanning vats. The substance at that point is almost like a sponge—even though the sponge is wet, it still soaks up more material. So it swells back up with tannin, which actually cures the hide. The mixture of tannins we use are Mimosa trees from South Africa, and Quebracho from Argentina.

Those trees are grown for the purpose of the tanning industry. The wood itself goes into the furniture industry, and the bark is ground and concentrated, and we get the tanning tannins in a powder form that looks a lot like a cocoa, and make our own mixture to put in the vats to cure the hide. When you hit the tan yard the tannins have kind of have a sweet coffee bean-type of aroma, or maybe kind of nut-like. It’s funny how the smell can actually define what you’re looking at.

Stitchdown: Got it. And what then?

Matt: They spend two weeks in the tan yard, and when you’re talking about a six-week process, that’s just the first two weeks of the operation. From there, the leathers themselves go into the tan store. The hides are selected and turned into different types of leather. The first thing we try to differentiate is the thickness of the hides, because if we have orders for 12 to 14 ounce, those would be headed into, say, equestrian trade products, whether it be reins or saddles.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

The next step is we’ve got to bump the weight. Let’s say we’re going to make a leather for Filson out in Seattle. They use a lot of the 8-9 ounce leather in the straps for their bags and their belts, out of our bridle leather. With a belt, the flesh side is just as important as the grain side because it’s actually seen. Once we select that leather it goes through what we call a splitting machine, so the hides themselves, even though we’re gonna make it eight to nine, this hide may vary from 10 ounces to 13 ounces at that point. There’s a pretty big fluctuation in thickness. So the first thing we do is put it through a spreading machine. A big band knife splitter, about size of a pickup truck.

We put the hide through there, and instead of having a nine to 13 ounce variation, it will bump that leather straight to, say 10 ounces. And the rest of the process is going to get it down to eight to nine, because it’s going to go through another dozen machines to pound out the weight. So an eight to nine ounce leather will be leveled at 11. Now, a lot of times in the pocket area, in the shoulder of the hide, there’ll be some substance left. At that point goes through a shaving machine which will just hit the spots that have some flesh on them.

And then it goes to the color drum areas where we add the base color. Everything that we make is drum dyed. Not a lot of them are what we call struck through—you’re going to see a tan center in our leathers. That’s where we get our base colors in every leather that we make. It’s a lot like dyeing an Easter egg—at Easter time, you use a little tablet of dye, but you also add vinegar for the acidity that helps drive the dye into the into the egg. Dyeing leather is a lot like that. We use an acid to set the dye that penetrates the grain and the flesh, and that’s what’s considered a drum-dyed leather.


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Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

The next step is the stuffing drums. Not all the leathers get what we call a hot stuff, which is where we impregnate the leather when it’s wet with oils, waxes, and tallows. If it’s a carving or skirting-type leather, which is meant to be molded, whether it be for holsters or saddles or for the crafters that like to do hand-tooling, then it bypasses this state, because that leather has got to be very dry before the crafter gets it in their hands.

But the harness leathers, the oiled latigos, the bridle leathers, these all get what we call a hot stuffing, which is a mixture of oils and waxes and tallows that we pump into a heated drum, and the leather is impregnated with them to give it some some elasticity, and it also allows it to set the stretch and the coloration.

So if you have a piece of harness leather, it gets drum-dyed in the color drum. And then once it goes to the stuffing drum, it gets some hard oils and waxes impregnated in it. The combination between the coloring and the waxes is what help us get the color where it needs to be. You can add a lot of oil and wax, but it’s going to get dark. There’s a happy medium to the process, and the formulas have got to be correct, or the end product doesn’t turn out properly.

Then we’ve got what we call the CM machine. At this point the leather is wet, it’s got some dye in it, and it’s also kind of like clay. If you cut a piece of this leather and were to ball it up and let it dry, it’s going to stay in that state. So we run it through the CM machine, which has a rounded cylinder that has blades on it that are rounded on the end. The cylinder itself is working at a slower pace than the bladed cylinder. And those blades will go over the leather hundreds of times a second to make the leather all nice and smooth.

Now it’s still wet, keep that in mind. So whatever that leather looks like when it comes out of that machine is how it’s going to dry. Which is the very next step, called toggling, where we use clips to stretch hides, pull them tight, and let them dry. It’s very important that the CM does a good job, so that the hide has a very attractive, smooth grain.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

We try to get through four toggling units about every 48 hours. Once the leather comes off and it’s completely dry, it depends on the type of leather where it goes next. Your carving and skirting-type leathers, they’ll be plated flat through a hydraulic press and then go right to the shipping department. That kind of leather just doesn’t take as much work, but of course when you look at pricing on skirting and carving leather compared to, say, the harness or the bridle leather, it is less expensive.

But let’s say it’s a bridle leather. Once it comes off the dryers, it gets plated flat and then it’s going to start one of four trips down our spray line. The first thing we do is we spray a paste on the backside, the flesh side. The paste is heat and pressure activated by the press to get a nice smooth flesh on the backside. Now, the grain still is not finished. The grain will be a duller color, like what you see in a cross section of Wickett & Craig leather, because it’s ready for a full finish.

Let’s say it’s a dark brown bridle. The flesh is already done. We have two technicians that have a master swatch and they will run it down the spray line as many times as they need to, to meet the master swatch. We can only put so many pounds of pressure through our spray guns to have it still dry at the end. Where the coloring process starts is really back at the color drum—it has to be a lighter color than the finished color. But we don’t want it to be too light, because then you have to spray the leather multiple times, which takes up time, labor, and material.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Then it’ll go back up again to where we put a lacquer on to seal the color in, and then back to the beginning of the spray line again and come down one more time, where we put on a wax. Our bridle leather has got a nice waxy feel to it, and that’s where we get that.

Then we set the luster. Our press has three different plates: a smooth plate, a satin plate, and also a haircell. Depending on the luster, whether it’s a custom ordered or stock leather, we determine at that point which of those plates to use to get the luster to match the master swatch. I know this is a lot of information, and I apologize.

Stitchdown: I asked!

Matt: Now, the harness leather is a different thing altogether—it does not go the finishing department at all. Once it’s dry, we press it flat, and use a glazing jack to bring the luster and the color to the top. The harness leather is a heavily stuffed leather, so it has a lot of oils and waxes in it to begin with. The glazing jack is a more or less a big varnisher. We run the leather underneath the glazing jack, where a glass cylinder runs back and forth across, and it brings all the oils and waxes to the top. That’s why it has a beautiful pull up, and you can see every fat wrinkle, and scar, and scratch. All the natural look of leather.

From that point, regardless of what type of leather it is, it goes to the shipping department to be sorted and checked for quality assurance, whether it’s matching the color, the thickness, or elongation. They bend it to make sure it doesn’t crack. We sort the leather for selection, meaning is it a number one, number two or number three? Industry standards are 70 percent yield or better is the number one grade, from 50 to 70 percent yield as a number two grade, from 30 to 50 percent would meet a number three.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

Now that is subjective to what a customer is making, if one is making key fobs that are two inches by two inches, obviously their yield’s gonna be much higher than someone is making floor tile leather, which need 18 by 18 inch panels. But that is subjective. We have sorters that have been here for well over 20 years and they sort the leather consistently for the amount of defects they see on a hide.

We also do custom splitting, especially for the footwear category. All the leathers that we keep here are eight to 10 ounce, ten to twelve ounce, 12 to 14 ounce. We keep them in stock in the thicker weights, and then we custom split per customer order. Anything that we make can be split as low as two to three ounces, or .8 to 1.2mm. Let’s say Nick’s calls up and says I need some medium brown bridle, we take it to the splitting department and custom level it to whichever thickness that Nick’s would want.

If a customer wants that refinished, meaning once we split it, you’re going to have a tie-dyed looking backside which is generally a natural look with a combination of some of the dyes that penetrate farther through. We have the option to finish and hand-spray the backside of any piece of leather that a customer wants to split, and then re-dye the backside in case it’s being seen for the inside of a wallet or briefcase.

Stitchdown: Thank you for taking me through that so in-depth. Seriously fascinating stuff. At the end of it all, what is about veg-tan leather makes it patina so wonderfully?

Matt: Well, a lack of pigment. And of course, depending on which of our leathers that you pick, some of them patina much quicker than others. We do that on purpose. The bridle other has a certain amount of patina that it that it gets over time, but it’s a much longer time than say our traditional harness leather. If you want something to patina very quickly, then you buy something like the natural skirting leather, which has no dyes on it whatsoever. And then every time you touch it with an oily hand, it’s going to mark.

And we can customize any of that stuff as well. We can do hybrids. We are not a type of facility that says, well, this is what we make. Take it or leave it. Probably 60, 70 percent of what we make is custom to that specific customer. We like to develop colors. We like to develop finishes and shines and thicknesses to make our customers’ products better. Let’s say Nick’s says we really like the medium brown, but we want a brown that you don’t necessarily make. We’ll sample that for them.

Stitchdown: So the harness, bridle and latigo seem to be your three main products, especially for footwear. I know you did a bit already but can you outline the differences between them?

Matt: Well the three of those leathers definitely have some oils and waxes in them. The bridle leather is the driest of the three, so it gets the least amount of hot-stuffing. And quite honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what everyone likes about each product. Everyone likes them for different reasons. When we first started going into the footwear industry, I was thinking the more oil and waxes, the better. So I was leaning towards some of the hybrids that we didn’t even discuss, which are hot stuffed and actually hot dipped in oils and waxes.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

But what I’ve slowly come to understand is that the oil and wax content needs to be to a certain point to where it can absorb some moisture, but also it can’t stretch too much either, as footwear needs some rigidity. So depending on the look you want, how fast you want it to patina, that affects the level of oils and waxes that you want in your leather. I have a few customers right now that are buying our natural tooling-type leather, whether it be tumbled or milled, or just with a softer hand, that want to do their own dyeing and finishing.

Stitchdown: What would you say is the best part of a hide for footwear?

Matt: I think that varies. When you talk about a side of leather you’re you’re essentially getting a portion of the butt, the belly, the backbone and the neck. And the fiber structure throughout those different areas is different. Your belly is going to have the most amount of stretch. The fiber structure is looser in that area. When you get up into the butt and the backbone, those fiber structures are tighter, so it’s going to have less stretch and a tighter grain.

And then when get to the neck, you end up with a little looser fiber structure similar to the belly, but not quite as a stretchy, and it also has some fat wrinkles in it. But you’re going to want something different, say, on your counter or your vamp, than probably you would have to have up on your quarter. So I think a side of leather, because of the different fiber structure within it, becomes beneficial. .

Stitchdown: Switching gears, the environmental concerns with the tanning industry and how they’re overcome are huge. How does Wickett & Craig combat them?

Matt: Well, the hides are a byproduct of the beef industry. So unless someone can talk the whole world into quitting eating beef, then these hides are either going to go to a landfill or tanner’s going to make something out of them. Second, we talk about our tannins. So the Mimosa and Quebracho are nontoxic.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

We also treat our own wastewater here. We use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water every single day. The water comes from the local water authority, but we have our own wastewater treatment plant on site. And of course the EPA and other environmental organizations keep a good eye on us, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The solids that come out of our wastewater, and a lot of that comes from the de-hairing process, are used on local farm fields as a fertilizer.

These are my neighbors. I drive right by these farms every day on my way to the tannery and the corn is way over anyone’s head the soybeans are green and lush. So when you talk about sustainability, we are definitely that as well.

Stitchdown: How many people work at Wickett & Craig? And how are you dealing with the pandemic?

Matt: We do vary given the time of the year, but we average around 85 to 90 people. With the pandemic on, we’re all wearing masks. But when we spread out that many people over 180,000 square feet, we’re not really that close together. It’s a two traffic light town in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. And it’s really nice because you get to know the people that you’re working with. We’re not numbers. We’re people.

The good thing about Wickett & Craig is the owners in Toronto, Bank Bros, don’t micromanage, are more than generous, and they also have profit sharing. They let us run the facility as if it’s our own. At the end of the year, if we do well, they pay us more. And I don’t know how much more an employee could ask for than that.

Wickett & Craig Leather Tannery

It’s a great environment. And we’re excited to get into the footwear industry. Nick’s, before they launched their line, they sent me a pair of the bridle leather boots. They’re sitting here right now because I want to make sure all the employees see it. We’re really proud of that finished product. And it’s important that we pass it on to all of our employees so they can get a better understanding of why they’re making leather and what it’s being used for.

Stitchdown: What do you see as the future for Wickett & Craig?

Matt: I think the future of any company has a lot to do with your past. We’re 153 years old and we have a story and we’re veg tan and we’re sustainable and I like to think that we put out some awesome customer service. There are only two veg-tanners left in the entire country.

We put out a great product and there’s a story to go with it. And we have a commitment to adjust to our customers’ needs, and listen, and help them customize their product. Whatever product you’re making, it’s handmade by whatever company, and it’s custom made out of Wickett & Craig leather, who is 153 years old. You can’t make that up.

Stitchdown: No you can’t. Big thanks for the time, Matt.

Matt: Of course! I’m sorry again that I got into so much detail.

Stitchdown: I’m serious, you really have to stop apologizing for that. Thanks again.


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