What is your favorite AK product and why?
My favorite product are the St.Tropez Sandals. I wear them all summer long and Alex is the only person I know that makes them and I think it's genius. Even Manolo doesn't make them as well. They are the most comfortable summer item I own.
How did American Tanning begin?
American Tanning and Leather Company started in 1981 because my dad bought about 10,000 alligators that he could not sell. He thought that he was going to be able to export them to France or to Japan or Italy, but the laws were such that you couldn't export the skins. Because alligators aren't like wine and don't get better with age when they are raw, we had to make them into leather and so...the company was born.
American Tanning did have a parent company, Plott Hat and Fur Company which start in 1923. But, the fashion for fur changed with animal rights and so forth and the fashion for alligator started coming in so it was a natural transition for us.
Tell us about American Tanning and what you all offer.
We are an exotic leather tannery specializing in alligator skins. We are a fourth generation family business selling skins to fashion designers, luxury goods manufactures, small mom and pop operations, custom shoe makers, custom boot makers and custom jacket makers, doing business all over the world.
What is the process of creating a finished alligator skin - from marsh to maker?
The process of tanning a skin starts off first with being able to buy the raw skin because it is not an easy thing to find people to sell skins to you. They're in very high demand and there's a lot of competition to buy alligator skins so you have to know the right people so that you can get the best skins possible, so that's the first step.
The second step for us is bringing the skin itself back to the tannery in Georgia from Louisiana where we buy. Then, we make a grading and measuring of the skins to sort them and start processing them. The scales of the alligator are removed during processing and then they are introduced into the tanning drum where we use a chemical to tan them in order to turn them into leather. After that, the skins are shaved to a uniform thickness and then they're dried.
After the skins are dried they are a white color (this is called "crust," when they are ready to be dyed, and we have about 15,000 skins in crust at any given point) and a perfect base to make any dye that we need to make. These skins are stored so then when Alexandra Knight, for example, calls and orders two pink skins for a bag, the skins are hand selected from crust, putting the patterns on each one to check and make sure the skins are going to work for that bag. We have a lot of attention to detail for those types of things and we want to make sure that the skins are going to work for the bag.
After that, the skins are then dyed in big dye drums using water and dyes, taking about 2-3 days. The skins are shaved again and then dried. The skin's color might need to be tweaked or adjusted to get it the perfect shade or level of vibrancy that it needs to be, then the skins are polished, graded and measured again, packed and shipped out.
What is the difference between "tanning" the skin and "dyeing" the skin?
The difference is that tanning a skin takes a raw piece of skin and turns it into leather.
Dyeing the skin takes leather and makes it a color.
Can you tell us how a glaze alligator get it's shine?
Glaze alligator is made by polishing the skins with a stone. The skins are completely dry but are polished with pressure which creates heat and friction which polishes the skin. If the skins are not properly tanned and the oils are not correct in the skins then it is impossible to get them to shine so it is imperative that every process is absolutely correct or the skins will not polish to a gloss.
How many alligator skins to you process a year?
What designers do you make and sell skins to other than us?
Prada, Ralph Lauren, Oscar de la Renta, Armani and Lucchese Boots.
What are your number one selling classic colors over the years?
For men: Black and Brown.
For women: Purple, Tans, Red and Grey.
What are the top fashion colors for Fall 2015?
I think the top colors for Fall 2015 are Marsala (a wine color), Olive Green or a Forest Green that has some tones of yellow in it, Cobalt Blue, Navy Blue and a Saffron-y Yellow.
Many people ask us the difference between Nancy Gonzales skins and our skins, can you help clarify?
Nancy Gonzales bags are made from caiman, which is a less expensive skin and the reason they are less expensive is because there are a lot more of them in the market. It is a less desirable skin, it is limited in sizes and they have bones in them which make the skins very difficult to work with from a manufacturing stand point.
Alexandra Knight uses genuine American alligator on her bags. Alligator skins are really the top shelf leather that a designer can use and Alex uses not only the top shelf leather but also the biggest skin available in the market which are very rare.
Why is alligator so expensive?
Alligator skins and alligator skin products are expensive because over fifty pairs of hands have touched that skin by the time it has been made into a product. Most of the operations that we do in the tannery are actually by hand because there are not machines that have been made that are specialized for alligator skins, so everything from sewing the skins inside out by needle and thread during process to hand adjusting every skin in a lot so that they all match and are all uniformed when they are dyed together...it takes a lot of time.
We have a lot of skilled people working for us and don't cut any corners, we order the best chemicals that we can order and have the best machines that we can have and always strive to give the clients the best.
If I shoot my our alligator can I send the skin to you for tanning and how does that work?
If you shoot your own gator, American Tanning and Leather Company will actually tan it for you and we offer the same tanning services for those we call the "contract tanning clients" as we do for our designers. We will tan a skin for them for a fee (we can't make the skin any better, it is what it is) but we can make it into a beautiful piece of leather into a color that they like. We offer 42 colors in two different finishes and it takes about a year to do it with an average price of $400 per skin to tan it.
Who is American Tanning and Leather and why do we love them?
>American Tanning and Leather is the premier manufacturer of tanned, dyed and finished alligator and exotic leathers for garments and fashion accessories, and is where 90% off our alligator skins are purchased that end up being your beloved AK handbags, clutches, sandals and accessories.
I was first introduced to American Tanning years ago when I went on an alligator hunt and they were the ones who did my contract tanning for my first handbag. After speaking with the Plott's and expressing my desire to begin my own handbag line, they kindly invited me to Griffin, Georgia for a tour and instantly became like family to me. Mr. Plott, is a tough businessman sporting a to die for sense of humor and abundant amount of support. Christy, his daughter, is like a sister to me and is always sharing inspirations and going above and beyond to help support my business.
Knowing that we are in the best of hands with American Tanning and Leather is priceless.