Camels have long been a Bedouin’s best friend, providing food, clothing, transportation, shelter and protection, and becoming a symbol of reliability and resilience in the harsh Arabian climate. Former UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan wanted to take this one step further, building the Al Khaznah tannery almost eight years ago to transform local camel hides into finished leather. His vision only came into fruition two years ago, when the tannery began operating – it now supplies businesses across the UAE, including furniture design company Mira Designs in Dubai.
As well as creating butter-soft leather in all manner of colours and finishes, Al Khaznah’s products are biodegradable and produced using environmentally friendly and sustainable methods. And it’s not just local suppliers that are benefitting: the tannery’s unique techniques have ensured it is now on its way to supplying camel leather to some of Paris’s famous fashion houses.
For all these reasons and more, we paid a visit to Al Khaznah, where we learned about the unique leather and tanning processes from general manager Jean-Marie Gigante. With a background in chemical engineering, specialising in leather science, the Frenchman has worked in the leather industry for more than 30 years across Europe, Africa and Asia; before moving to the UAE, he was MD for the Hermès tannery in France. He’s also the man who revived Sheikh Zayed’s camel-leather vision and took it to a new level.
What was the motivation for producing biodegradable and eco-friendly leather?
The tanning industry has always been seen as polluting. Until 15 years ago, water from tanneries in Europe and the UK was being disposed of without treatment right into the ocean. Throughout my career I’ve always tried to improve environmental performance, either in the tanneries I’ve run or as a consultant in the leather industry. What we’ve achieved at Al Khaznah is the conclusion of all those years of work trying to minimise our impact on the environment.