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The Tanning Ditrict of Santa Croce sull’Arno

Tuscany boasts an ancient tanning tradition, the activity originated in the 1200s and only in the seventeenth century it was distributed in other residential areas along the Arno.

The river was navigable to the center of Florence thanks to special sailing boats and towing solutions able to counter the current. Other countries such as Santa Croce sull’Arno were instead crossed by ditches, which were covered in the nineteenth century. At the time it was simply an important market, where tanned skins were sold; the productive activity began in 1852.

The rise in production is remapped to the transit of troops of Napoleon, who shared with the inhabitants of the area the experience of the French tanning, such as soaked in half wooden barrels with the addition of the bark of trees. So the tanning became a real seasonal activity. In the following years the tanning industry intensified thanks to the development of trade routes, the need for leather and leather materials in relation to the Third War of Independence, the presence of economic labor and the transfer of industrial facilities from the centers of Pisa and Florence towards the suburbs. Thanks to the trades of “barrocciai” (transport workers) and “scorzatori” (debarking workers) the inhabitants acquired the knowledge of the tanning techniques and reached the useful capital to undertake the construction of the plants and the start of the production process.

In the early twentieth century with the advent of industrialization, there was a further development due to the invention of the combustion engine and the passage from the zest to the liquid tannin; in 1916 the tanning companies located in Tuscany had as many as 47 units.

The fascist period caused a slowdown in industrial growth due to the lack of raw materials and tannic substances, for which it was forced to return to the method of barking. However the increase in production of traditional cowhide and sole hide created a market that did not touch foreign competition, this allowed the tanning industry’s survival. Further damage occurred following the collapse of Wall Street, due to the significant devaluation of tanned leather and sole hide, already in difficulty for the dissemination of rubber soles. The final blow is due to the Second World War, when the Germans destroyed and looted the tanneries.

After World War II until the early ’50s, the foundations were laid for a development model that within twenty years will lead to an economic system based on industry tanning; it is from here that the economic boom will begin.

The district of Santa Croce sull’Arno, located in Central Tuscany, covers a radius of 10 kilometers and has about 100,000 inhabitants, of which about 10,000 are employed in the tanning sector, divided into 900 medium-small businesses. It includes municipalities located between the province of Pisa and Florence such as: Santa Croce sull’Arno, San Miniato, Santa Maria a Monte, Fucecchio, Castelfranco di sotto and Montopoli.

It is one of the most important companies in the field of leather processing in Italy and internationally. 98% of the national production of sole leather is born here, as well as 35% of the national leather production, and 30% of the national production of machines destined for the tannery.

The production system identifies itself in a heterogeneous structure of small and medium enterprises that coexist with specialized third party activities in a single phase of tanning or in the production of a single part of the shoe. Over the years have been integrated activities of a different nature directly or indirectly connected to the district, these new companies have generated a further slice of employment and deal with chemicals, machinery for the tannery, transport, manufacture of clothing, leather goods and footwear.

This organization has contributed to the development of a productive elasticity that has allowed to face with high variability and urgency, the strong acceleration of the market and fashion. It is precisely on the production side that we find the most significant results on strengths such as superior technological standards, elasticity, quality, variety offered, personalization and fashion content. Currently in the district it is possible to work every type of leather, a factor that has allowed to satisfy the “fashion” content of an extremely varied demand with fast delivery times. Today it is the district itself that anticipates trends by combining long experience, technological progress and creativity. From the last ten years there has been a gradual increase in production, despite unfavorable economic periods, which have not in any case affected the employment sector.

For some decades, a path has been undertaken to protect the environment with positive results. Centralized purification plants have been built, internationally recognized; and environmental policies increase operations on the reduction and alternative sludge disposal, on processing by-products, on solid industrial waste and on the reduction of CO2 emissions.