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Shinki Tannery—The Best Leather for Horsehide Jackets

October 08, 2018

Shinki Tannery—The Best Leather for Horsehide Jackets

Note: this entry was originally published in 2011. It was written by David Himel about his early trips to the Shinki Tannery in Himeji, Japan, from which Himel Bros continues to source some of the finest horsehide leather in the world. This article remains relevant for anyone wishing to learn about our process of creating fine bespoke leather jackets in Toronto, Canada. 

 

The journey of Himel Brothers Leather has been about learning to make the most amazing accurate jackets possible. I have travelled the world looking for the best zippers, leather and parts that exist. I spent years hunting the internet and carefully examining all the amazing Japanese and North American brands looking at the pluses and the minuses of each one. I counted stitches, disassembled jackets and contacted every living person I could track down that had worked in the leather jacket industry.

 

horsehides curing for one year

Horsehides curing for a full year.

 

I was very surprised to find that many of the people who had worked for many of the great brands were still alive and well, and that many of them were still working in the schmata business. In my hunt for the perfect leather I spoke with many people who had built some of the earliest leather jackets in North America. I asked them where they got their leather from, which tanneries, and what kinds of leather. Many of them regaled me with great stories and some of them even gave me specifications right down to formulations for the tannages of the leather. I spoke with the head tanner of Dominion Tanners now retired in Edmonton. Wolfgang was the head chemist for one of the biggest tanneries in the world. Each one was a small step or a clue to unlock the puzzle of leather. After reading several books published before 1900 on the art of tanning my email rang with a friendly hello from a stranger.  John Chapman of Goodwear Leather emailed me out of the blue and introduced himself. Hundreds of hours on the phone later John and I became good friends. Without people helping me I would have never found my way to Japan.

Horsehide pits—agitation tanks for pit tanning.

Nancy and I marveled at our journey to the tanneries of Southern Japan. Onto a bullet train we watched in awe as city after city flew past. Names we had only seen on the news were right there flying by at hundreds of kilometres an hour and when we arrived at our destination. The openness and generosity of Japanese culture astounded us. The owner of the tannery picked us up at the train station with and took us on a tour of his town. He was as proud of his city as he was of his business!

horsehides and cordovan drying

Hides drying on the ceiling!

Horsehide tanning is an age-old business as horses produce the finest shoe and garment leather in the world. Horsehide is renowned for its strength and weight, waterproofness and wearability. There are very few cordovan tanneries left in the world and Japan has some of the finest. These horse skins are the pride of Europe, imported to Japan specifically for the tannery. The tanneries of Japan select the finest best grown and treated horses of Europe where stringent regulations and animal treatment produce well cared for animals. At the end of the lives they are slaughtered for the food industry and the hides are exported.  When they come in the “green” horsehides are in the salted and preserved stage. To make cordovan you must first use a cool notched bench to cut the bean shaped butt off from the fronts of the hide. The butt has the best properties for shoes and the fronts are used for garments. The hides are washed, dehaired and cleaned of fat. After that cleansing, each hide goes for a long long bath… months long with agitators soaking in a liquor of bark and water imported from Australia. This mimosa tannage produces an incredible product After soaking in the bath skins are carefully sorted, dried and stored for months allowing them to cure and shrink. This curing is part of what makes a superior hide. This shrinks the fibres and compresses the skin. Of course, losing 30 percent of that skin by shrinkage is partly what makes the leather a premium product…that and it takes months to make a single hide. After hides are tanned, stored and shrunk, they are finished. Finishing involves milling, or tumbling the hides to soften them up, bring out the grain, dying, bating (adding oil or other solutions back into the skin) skiving and sanding, and finally putting finish on the leather. I buy the best leathers in the world from the last few tanneries that have been open and family run since the war. This father and son operation is run with the same care and commitment that goes into the production of every Himel Brothers Leather jacket. 

Lining, pickling, dehairing, and dyeing drums. 





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How to Order

 

How to order a custom jacket:

This is a brief explanation of how to order a custom Himel Bros. leather jacket.  Many jacket buyers will have previous experience with tailoring or may own other custom pieces, and as a result have a very clear picture of their style and size. The following fitting primer is written for the first time buyer.

Selecting your style: 

Think about your fashion style.  If you ask your friends, they’ll probably be aware of your look and style.  Are you classic, a sportsman, a rockstar, a motorcyclist or maybe a hero?  Each Himel Bros. jacket has an iconic look ranging from staid to outrageous.  When selecting a jacket it’s important to take careful consideration of what works best with body type and your personal style.  The Heron, for example, has a looser fit and suits the widest range of body types, whereas the motorcycle styles are slimmer, and best suited to an athletic body type.  Typically, most people can be grouped into three main body types: the average build, the muscular build, and the husky build.  Our jackets are built for an average build, so it is important that if you are muscular or husky that you include that in a note.  We of course ask for photos in a tight t-shirt front and side to assess your posture and build. 

Selecting your size: 

Once you have been through our instagram and social media and have settled on your desired style, the next step is finding your correct size.  There are two important factors to consider in this process: your body size and jacket size.  Your chest measurement corresponds to our stock size.  For most people this is all you will need.  If your chest measurement under your armpits is 40 inches you will wear a size 40 jacket.  We have a video that shows you how to do it yourself, or you can see your local tailor (the first timer will likely need to do this).  It is important to assess your arm and waist measures as well.  Consider if you are average or if you have monkey arms or a big belly as any unusual proportions will have to be addressed through the ordering process.  Below we offer a diagram you can have filled in by a local tailor or a friend with a measuring tape.  For a first timer with an average build, our stock sizes are usually sufficient, so when in doubt stick with that. 

If you are concerned about fit and still not confident as to your correct size, you also have the option to ship us a properly fitting jacket and we’ll build-up your jacket from that.  Ideally the jacket you send us will be of a similar style to the one you’re ordering (leather jackets obviously are best for this purpose).  Before you ship us your jacket, make sure to take pictures of youself wearing it so we can assess fit: at minimum we require a side shot and a front shot. Then arrange at your cost to ship the jacket to Himel Bros.  Please note this on the order in the notes section.  Your jacket will be shipped back with your new bespoke Himel Bros. jacket.

For the more particular or tailored order, you can send us very specific measurements.  For example some gentlemen have thicker wrists or lift weights and require a different flatter shoulder slope or wider cuff.  If off the rack jackets pop up on the shoulders it is usually due to a muscular posture and you should let us know.  So in our video you can use measurements from a similar jacket in style to the one you are ordering.  Of course we would appreciate pictures of you in that jacket front and side if you are using measurements from an actual jacket.  Review the illustrations throughout this website that detail where to measure to provide us with accurate measurement for your custom jacket.  It is not required to give us all the measurements, just the ones you want changed.  Any specific custom measures or features you wish on your jacket we will need them in advance and in a note when you order. 

Picking your leather:

We provide lots of information about our leather types, colours, finishes and characteristics.  The order page gives you all the available options.  For anything else you will have to email us in advance of ordering.  Our instagram feed shows lots of examples of our custom jacket orders. 

Picking thread colour, liners and special features: 

We offer images and descriptions of all our liners, threads, buttons and zips.  Generally each style comes with its stock options on buttons and zips, however you can chose your liner and thread.  If you like to showcase our superior sewing techniques contrast thread is the best option.  If you like a flashy liner or prefer something more more staid we have options for you.  Extra pockets or other options are possible it is best to email us in advance.  You can even choose between brass or nickel silver hardware.