Before the fall of communism, SlovTan was a state-owned combine with 3,500 workers. After the transition to a market economy in the newly created Slovakia, it was one of three tanneries in the picturesque city of Liptovský Mikuláš in central Slovakia. By 2008, however, SlovTan was the only one left. It has had to streamline its activities significantly to avoid going the same way as its local rivals, with employee numbers dropping to just 200 in 2005.
Today, the company has 430 employees and is in a much stronger financial position. “We recently increased production capacity by 50% and are confident about the future,” says Managing Director Harry Nakunst. “We have positioned ourselves in the top tier of contract tanneries and set ourselves apart from our competitors through a mixture of high quality and environmental responsibility.”
Historically, animal skin tanning has not enjoyed a very favourable environmental reputation. The process of preserving the skins and making them supple involved the use of toxic chemicals and vast quantities of water. In the past, hides were tanned with a mixture of animal dung and human urine, and tanneries were banished to the outskirts of towns because of the smell.
Today, SlovTan prides itself on its use of modern tanning methods based on the latest technological standards. SlovTan uses mainly polymers, vegetable extracts and metal salts. “We operate well within EU regulations regarding wastewater and are certified to Gold status by the Leather Working Group,” says Mr. Nakunst. “This is a vital certification that allows us to supply major customers such as Adidas which insist on the highest levels of environmental responsibility in their supply chains.”
In addition to supplying leather for adidas football boots, SlovTan is also heavily involved in the automotive sector. “We are an important link in the automotive supply chain providing semifinished leather for car seats which will be fitted in luxury vehicles such as Porsche, Daimler, Audi and VW,” says Mr. Nakunst. “Our customers source the animal hides, and we process them to leather in accordance with their requirements.”
Around 100 t of animal skins are processed each day. SlovTan offers a range of finished and semi-finished products. “We use a variety of processes, each of which brings different benefits,” says Mr. Nakunst. “Chrometanned hides are known as wet blue while other forms of tanning using different chemicals are known as wet white. With both kinds of tanning methods, finished and semifinished articles with unique characteristics are produced.”
SlovTan also produces wet green and crust leather as well as finished leathers for the furniture, automotive and aircraft industries. In addition, the company produces leather for luxury briefcases on behalf of luxury goods brands such as Louis Vuitton.
Another speciality is the production of kangaroo leather for high-end football boots. “We are well known in the industry and often benefit from positive customer recommendations,” says Mr. Nakunst. “We have customers throughout Europe and are regular exhibitors at key industry exhibitions such as Linea Pelle and TanningTec in Milan. We are keen to look further afield for new customers and hope to expand our activities in North America.”
Having recently invested in increasing production capacity, SlovTan is onfident that its growth targets will be met and the investment of recent years will pay off. “In common with many companies in our sector, it is not always easy to find suitably qualified employees,” admits Mr. Nakunst. “Our goal is therefore steady and gradual growth that is as sustainable as our tanning processes.”