Fes has been the centre of leather production for centuries. Its ancient tanneries still employ 1000 people whose work consists of turning hides into supple and imperishable leather to be used to produce high quality leather goods. This is all achieved manually, without the need for modern machinery, and the process has barely changed since medieval times.
The tanners only use 100% natural resources and no artificial products or chemicals.
In the first part of the process, hides are soaked in vats containing a mixture of quicklime, wheat bran, water and salt. This caustic mixture helps to break down the tough leather and loosen any excess fat and hair that remains on them. After two to three days, the hides are then soaked in another set of vats of natural products, including the bark from mimosas, oaks and tamaris. These act as softening agents and allow the hides to become malleable so they can absorb the dye. The tanner uses his bare feet to knead the hides for up to three hours to achieve the desired softness.
The hides are then placed in dyeing pits containing natural vegetable dyes, such as poppy flower (red), indigo (blue), henna (orange), cedar wood (brown), mint (green), and saffron (yellow). Other natural materials used for dyeing include pomegranate powder, which is rubbed on the hides to turn them yellow, and olive oil, which will make them shiny.
Once the leather is dyed it is taken out to dry under the sun on the rooftops surrounding the tanneries or the local hillsides. The finished leather is then sold to craftsmen to make their products.