The Art of Leather Tanning at the Marrakesh Tanneries

In Marrakesh, the traditional process for tanning leather is such a unique and interesting interesting sight, to behold men treading and rinsing skins in mysterious liquids and dyes and then stretching the hides using traditional techniques.

Step 1 – Iferd

During the traditional process of tanning leather in Marrakesh, the skins are soaked to soften in a fermented solution known as iferd. The hide is left to fermet for 3 to 6 days, then they are squeezed out and left to dry. This initial step of the tanning process is, according to the belief held by the tanners, where the skin “eats, drinks and sleeps before being reborn from the water”.

Step 2 – Lime and Argan-kernel pits

After fermenting in the iferd, the skins are squeezed out and put to dry before the skins go into a pit of lime and argan-kernel ash. This is a good example of how Moroccan society functions as an economical, environmentally friendly society, making sure very little goes to waste and reusing byproducts of other industries. This lime and argan-kernel process lasts some 2 to 4 weeks.

Step 3 – Qasriya

After being washed, the skins spend 24 hours in a round pit known as a a qasriya, in order to make the leather thinner and stretchier. According to legend, it is at this qasriya stage, that the leather is said to receive naks, a spirit.

Step 4 – The Tanning process begins

Then begins the actual tanning process. The leather is scraped with pottery shards and beaten with alum, oil and water in preparation to receive the dye. Traditional tanners only ever use plants to dye their leather – that is, roots, bark, seeds and fruits. The solution depends on the type of hide used – cow, camel, goat, sheep –  and the colour the leather will be dyed. For example, the infamous yellow babouche is traditionally made using pomegranates!! The dye is applied by hand, as it has always been, before the skin is left to dry out in the hot Moroccan sun.

Step 5 – A Smooth Finish

Finally, the leather is stretched numerous times between two ropes to make them smoother and more flexible. This traditional process is difficult work and is only carried out by the younger, more able-bodied men. This treading stage allows the leather to be manageable to craft various products including bags and satchels, poofs, babouche slippers and more.

Leather Babouche Slippers

Moroccan leather slippers are traditionally called ‘Babouche’ and have been handmade through centuries by expert babouche makers in their artisan leather workshops in Marrakech. They typically come in a range of bright colours, due to the use natural colours such as pomegranate and indigo, locally available in nature.

It’s ultra-soft design is said to reflect the fact that its wearers (often monarchs and 17th century french courtiers) cared excessively about their lifestyle and their appearance. They led a luxurious life, looked after by gophers and drivers, which ensured their footwear remained in excellent condition whilst they indulged in such optimum comfort. The particular softness of the babouche stems from the process by which it is made: it is cleaned and dried repeatedly until it meets the prime level of softness. Despite what we might think of as a bizarre appearance that is surely outdated, the babouche featured recently in Vogue, named as the decade’s must have shoe. Artisan babouche slippers are still made nowadays in markets across Morocco, and remain a cultural icon.

Bright Colours of the Babouche

We stock both men’s and women’s slippers, please see our range here . Below is our sizing chart. (please note, the sizing which appears on the sole of the slipper will correspond to local sizings and is not related to EU sizing.

Women’s Slipper Sizing Chart
Men’s Slipper Sizing Chart
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