The tannery Ennakhla lies in Bab Debbagh in the old Medina of Marrakech. It is an interesting experience witnessing the process of tanning the leather using pre-industrial techniques. This process has barely changed since the medieval age. But prepare your brain for some strong smells. Tourists are usually given fresh mint to make the visit more tolerable for their senses. Workers in Ennakhla tannery process leather from cow, sheep, goat, and camel. The whole process is naturally done by hand giving birth to some of the finest leather goods in the world. Below are the steps required for tanning the leather:
1) Soaking the hides in a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water and salt. This is done to soften the leather, remove excess of fat and to remove the remaining hair on the hides. The hides are soaked in this mixture for two to three days.
2) The tanners remove the hair remaining in the hide by hand, a process called scudding (see picture below)
3) In order to further soften the leather, the hides are then soaked in diluted acidic pigeon excrement. Yes you’ve read it right, Pigeon excrement!
4) Now the hides are ready to be tanned in natural colour. They are soaked in pits containing natural dyes acquired from natural sources such as plants or trees. For instance the red colour is from the poppy flower, the green from mint, blue from indigo, the brown is acquired from cedar trees, henna gives the orange colour and Saffron gives the yellow colour.
5) The final step is to dry the hides under the sun (see picture below)
6) Once the hides are coloured, our artisans in Marrakech use it to handcraft KOUTCHI bags, shoes, baskets, belts, and ottomans.
Acknowledgement: I wish to thank my brother and KOUTCHI co-founder Kamal Zouikr for taking the videos and pictures during his visit to Ennakhla tannery. I also would like to thank my talented Australian graphic designer Claire Cresswell. The poppy flower is taken by @jentheodore and the mint picture by @fazza_045. The featured image has been photographed by my sister in law Ip Ho Sze during her visit to Morocco.