Casablanca: The btana industry embraces eco-responsibility

To get a feel for the btana industry, we approached a tanner based in Casablanca. A connoisseur of the tanning process, from the reception of sheep skins to their sale on the market, he allowed us to put ourselves in his shoes for the duration of an enriching exchange. 

Transforming sheepskin into usable leather doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers. Tanning, as it should be called, begins with the use of tannins – substances of a vegetable, mineral or mixed nature. The aim is to transform putrescible skin into the rot-proof material we know as leather. 

This process, often carried out in humid basins to allow the hides to glide, involves first removing as much fat as possible from the hide. The hide is then generously sprinkled with sea salt to prevent putrefaction and hair loss, which must be removed in the best possible condition. The skin is then washed with soap and water to remove as much dirt as possible.

But in this age of eco-friendliness and eco-responsibility, it’s so possible to tan btana without resorting to chemical processes. “For a long time now, but especially in recent years, it has been possible to tan sheepskins using mimosa wood shavings, which give the finished leather a golden color after tanning and retanning. Nevertheless, the skin comes out slightly wrinkled. 

A hairless, washed, golden but wrinkled btana is not in itself a bad deal. Because, according to our source, it is possible to remedy this and obtain smooth, ironed skin, by combining eco-responsible technological means and a few grandmotherly tricks, mastered since the Neolithic era, such as crushed alum, tallow (a melted animal fat), etc. 

From a financial point of view, tanners’ recourse to eco-responsibility enables them to widen their profit margins by absorbing the rising costs of modern manufacturing. What’s more, “these skins are often very popular with our customers in the organic crafts sector, especially those in France and Spain”, he concludes. 

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