Footwear companies that tout themselves as using “fine Italian craftsmanship” are a dime a dozen, but few kicks walk the walk like Zanacco’s do. Made by master cobblers in Vigevano the old-fashioned way, each sumptuous men’s shoe is stamped with the motto “Truly Made in Italy” as a badge of honor (and quality). Zanacco produces its elegant loafers, slip-ons, and lace-ups using vegetable-tanned leather, water-based glues, biodegradable oils, coco-fiber insoles, nickel-free metals, and wooden—yes, wooden!—nails.

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Despite its current popularity as an alternative to toxic chrome- or formaldehyde- tanning, vegetable-tanned leather is by no means new. The process, which Zanacco calls an artisan tradition, came first, handed down “from father to son” for more than 200 years.

Because vegetable-tanned leather is processed using natural tannins, it’s much easier (and safer) to recycle.

We knew that vegetable-tanning involved, well, vegetables, but Zanacco narrowed it down to two specific plants: the chestnut and the Argentinean quebracho. The method is far from speedy—close to 40 days lapse before the raw hides metamorphoses into supple leather—but the payoff is worth it.

Because vegetable-tanned leather is processed using natural tannins instead of harsh chemicals, it’s much easier (not to mention safer) to recycle at the end of its life. Plus, many of the substances used during the tanning process are recaptured and reused. The salt used to preserve and maintain the raw hides, for instance, is often reused as street deicer in winter.

One caveat: Regardless of how it’s tanned, leather is still made from animals. Not all tanneries are particular about the origin of their hides, but Zanacco says it uses only skins that are byproducts of other industries, such as food. In other words, the company does not use animals that are slaughtered for their skins, although your mileage—and moral compass—may vary.

+ Zanacco