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These Leather Sneakers Were Tanned Using Leftover Olive Leaves

Fungi. Milk. Coffee grounds. Nat-2 founder Sebastian Thies is certainly no stranger to unusual footwear materials.

Now the German shoemaker is at it again, this time with “olive leather,” a form of leather tanned using olive leaves left over from the harvest.

The material, known commercially as Olivenleder, is part of a new line of shoes by Thies 1856, a company founded by Thies’s forebears six generations ago.

Olivenleder itself, however, is the brainchild of Wet-Green, a Germany-based firm whose patented wet-green OBE technique offers an “environmentally safe and healthy alternative” to conventional chrome and other chemical tanning processes, according to the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, which awarded the company with a Gold-level certification in March.

“Wet-green tanning avoids any risk of toxic hexavalent chromium formation in the final leather product, and also tannery workers won’t be handling toxic tanning chemicals,” the organization wrote on its website.

The active ingredients in OBE are the same ones present in extra virgin olive oil, meaning it’s neither hazardous nor corrosive, Cradle to Cradle noted. Free from metals and any chemically synthetic reactive tanning agents, OBE is also formulated to eliminate or reduce the use of acids, salts, syntans and dyes.

At the same time, the process eliminates waste without placing additional strain on the ecosystem, Thies said. 

“The olive leaves used for wet-green are a by-product for olive growers and in many locations are actually burned,” he explained in a Facebook post. “No tree is felled, no plant sacrificed and no fields cultivated which would otherwise be used to produce food.”

Thies 1856’s shoes are available as a rubber-soled unisex adult sneaker for 160 euros ($181) and a baby shoe for 70 euros ($79).