A while back I did a photo-essay about the making of a football after touring the workshop for "Alive and Kicking," a UK-based non-profit which makes and sells fair-trade, hand-stitched leather foot/soccer balls.
We had the opportunity to visit the workshop again but the 'tour' this time started not with the cutting of the leather into 32 pieces, but with a hide straight from the cow. Here are highlights from the ZamLeather tannery tour.
Zambia has "Zam" everything.....ZamShu, ZamBeef, ZamLoaf, Zam-Zam-ShaaaZAAAMMMM. So, naturally, ZamCows provide the tannery with ZamLeather and ZamLeather provides the basic materials for the Alive and Kicking socccer balls. They have a unique arrangement where the stitching workshop in on-site -- ZamBeef and ZamLeather provide the leather and the workspace. They also generously buy footballs which they in turn donate within Zambia. Time for a group hug.
The process starts with the hide straight from the slaughterhouse. (Disclaimer: There may be some serious gaps in my information, I was more concerned with the photos than the details of the process!) The hides first get cleaned -- they are put into these gigantic tumblers with water, lime and salts. Now I know that White Hydrated Lime is used for: sugar refining, water treatment, road construction, sterilization, metallurgical processes, coal processing, sewage treatment, bleach manufacture, whitewashing and....leather tanning.
When the hides have tumbled around with the salts for 72 hours or so, they come out blue! At this stage they are rough and thick and pretty stiff.
The hides get put through the wringer....literally. They are pressed one by one through two giant rollers and taken directly to a scanner table which digitally calculates their size.
80% (roughly) are immediately rolled up, marked and packed for export to the US, South Africa, India, etc.
The remaining 20% stay on-site (and in Zambia) for further processing. The first/next step is splitting the leather into two. Into the splitter it goes:
The top pieces are numbered with chalk (#8 below) and stacked 200 hides-high. These are uniform thickness and higher quality. The bottom pieces are the leftover and they are used as well for processes that don't demand/require the best leather.
I liked the look of these hanging hooks
Below, excess leather at the edges are hand-trimmed to make processing easier.
Below, the dying and processing shed.
The pieces from which the footballs are made are actually 4 layers: a synthetic coating, the leather, a latex layer (for bounce) and a cloth layer. The layers are run through machines like this one -- a combination press and iron. Below, they are demonstrating how the two pieces (synthetic coating and leather) are fused. Once again, in it goes:
The process is repeated with the materials for each layer (depending on it's final use it may not get all the layers). ZamShu, the standard-issue school uniform shoe (below) and the boots made for the military, for example.
From here is goes on to Alive and Kicking.
Each stack of 32 pieces are stitched together to make one football.