All tanneries have good ecological intentions but at Sepiciler Caybasi Deri, Ms Gulsum Oyman is a full-time environmental engineer. Oyman is a key figure in the 200 or so work force and, working with Dr Yalcin Dikmelik, has perfected a process that extracts fat and protein from tannery waste. The recovered protein is used as a fertiliser and the fat is industrial grade so can be recycled for detergents and other cleansers.

The extraction system uses fleshing lime and processes 1.5 tons of raw hides per hour. Thirty tons of protein and fat are recovered daily. ‘Bovine skins yield about 6% fat and caprines considerably more’, Oymen said. Calcium and magnesium are also taken out of the wastewater and, by run-off time, it is close to ‘pure’ again.

In 1995, Sepiciler experimented with reed bed technology. However, the process was time-consuming and attracted mosquitoes. The backyard sludge detracted from the company’s 200,000 sq m of well-cropped lawns and herbaceous borders.

This tannery has a continuous twelve-month working cycle and processes bovine and caprine skins for shoe leathers and linings, mainly from raw. All leathers are drum dyed. Production has remained steady at 18 tons per day of raw material: 3,000-4,000 goat skins (daily) and 100 tons per month of finished sole leather.

Sepiciler have sales agents in key markets but supply finished leathers under their own name at their Italian wholesale outlet. Half of production is exported. At present, they have little presence in China but Mustafa Sepici told Leather International they would like to find a reliable Chinese agent or partner and expand laterally in eastern Asia. Europe is described as a ‘difficult’ market at present, even with 100 regular customers there. Sepiciler are local market leaders in footwear leathers and in research expenditure.

Sepiciler are Satra members but the touchstone for this third-generation family business is the attainment of ISO 9001 which integrates management techniques. The future will be better shaped by skilful management and production methods than from any real changes to the actual leather.

Like many tanners, they want to minimise chemical use. Almost all finishing chemicals are water-based and, last year, Sepiciler invested in a new application laboratory for cleaner technology and for testing superior performance, non-woven materials such as Gortex.

This year, $2 million is earmarked for upgrading the machine park. Sepiciler anticipate a 35% reduction in energy costs after converting to Russian natural gas. The firm is working towards ISO 14000 and indicators point to a stock market listing in 2006/07.

About 90% of raw hides are sourced on their doorstep in Türkiye’s Aegean region. This was one of the first firms to identify the upward trend in Türkiye’s cattle numbers, reversing three decades of declining animal numbers.

Annual turnover is about $33 million. Like similar elite tanners, the characteristics of a well-run business ring true: a family-based business model focused on highest quality; continuous spending on R&D; expanding their customer base; rigorous financial management; and a healthy rising curve in earnings and turnover.

Sepiciler were incorporated three generations ago in the 1930s as a humble producer of leather hat band retainers.