Tärnsjö are one of the few pure vegetable tanners left in Europe. The company produce both upholstery and equestrian leather but also specialise in the manufacture of harnesses and other finished products.

As the automotive industry increasingly moves away from chrome-tanned leather, Tärnsjö have become more involved in supplying vegetable tanned leather for fitting out cars and lorries with their traditional mimosa and other veg tanned leathers.

At the moment, automotive producers are the biggest consumers of chrome-free leather. Underlining this, at a recent scientific meeting in Würzburg in south Germany, a representative from Audi AG (Dr B Angemeier) declared: ‘Leather represents exclusivity in all (Audi) car models. 51% of cars are fitted out with leather. There will be no return to chrome-leather – chrome-free leather has no heavy metal contamination as determined by the EU recycling concept and has higher dimensional stability.’

Traditional leathers

Törbjörn Lundin from Tärnsjö believes that the car manufacturers often prefer traditional leathers rather than more contemporary productions. Under the motto ‘Tärnsjö leather is living leather’, the company have been producing vegetable tanned leather since 1873, using recipes that are thousands of years old.

Tärnsjö did experiment with basic chrome sulfates for a time, but reverted to vegetable tanning in 1989 when the government banned them from using chrome.

The fact that vegetable tanning takes longer is unimportant for Tärnsjö. It is the results that count. Tärnsjö produce 35-40,000 hides a year, 2-3,000 of which are elk hides.

Elk leather for Volvo

Tärnsjö were first involved in producing leather for the automotive industry in 1983 when the tannery supplied vegetable tanned elk leather for their first car, the Volvo 760 Turbo Red. The car was supposed to be on display at the Paris fair that year alongside a large stuffed elk, but unforeseen circumstances meant that the car did not arrive at the exhibition.

From 1984-1985, Tärnsjö were involved in the production of leather car seat covers, again from vegetable tanned elk. Then in 1991, Tärnsjö became involved in the production of the Volvo Environment Concept Car (ECC). The car was marketed as environmentally friendly and produced 100% from recycled parts.

At the same time, Tärnsjö also provided the leather for a Saab car whose interior was designed by one of Sweden’s famous painters, Pirre Olovsson.

Mercedes-Benz Vision

In January 2000, Daimler-Chrysler presented the Mercedes-Benz Vision SLA concept car at the Detroit Auto Show in the US. The two-seater roadster, just over 12ft long and fitted with a 1.9 litre engine, was fitted with Tärnsjö leather, even on the floor. The drum stuffed leather for the car was produced from an old traditional recipe and was 2.0-3.5mm thick.

A year later, in 2001, Ford Lincoln presented their new Mark 9 show car in New York, USA, incorporating 4.5mm russet leather from Tärnsjö, a leather that is normally used for horse harnesses.

Last year, Tärnsjö also produced the leather for the cabin of a large crane which is currently standing in Piteå harbour in the north of Sweden. Piteå is in the Gulf of Bothnia, facing across the water to Finland. The crane is being used to lift timber and wood chips which are being imported from the Baltic states on merchant ships.

And Tärnsjö’s latest project is once again supplying the leather for the interior of Volvo’s latest concept car. The Volvo Adventure Concept Car 2 (ACC2) was unveiled on the first day of this year’s Geneva Motor Show held in Switzerland in early March 2002.

The car is described as an ‘exciting and exclusive mix of cold surfaces, warm materials and smart functionality’. It is a high performance, sports activity vehicle which Volvo say offers ‘a fast and comfortable ride to the winter wilderness.’

Saddlery school

Harness manufacture is still one of Tärnsjö’s specialities. There are still many people in Sweden who base their livelihood on working horses and there is also a strong interest in horse riding and carriage driving.

Incorporated into part of the Tärnsjö tannery and buildings is the company’s saddlery school. The school is non-profit making and caters for up to 22 students at one time. The school has also been involved in the production of upholstery leather, both for cars and for lorries.

In 1998, the school won first prize in a competition held at a lorry exhibition in the south of Sweden for professional vehicle upholsterers. Around 43 different designs were entered into the competition and the Tärnsjö students won first place for their design of the Scania lorry.

A year later, the Tärnsjö students were also awarded third prize in the same competition with a new design for another Scania lorry.