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Press Releases   •   Aug 31, 2016 13:18 GMT

Design, fashion, people (blush) – I’ll openly admit that I think some of the most attractive things come from Sweden. But cowhides? Before my trip to Elmo, about an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, I had no idea what contributed to the beauty of leather. Jimmy Ahlgren, sales and marketing director of Elmo, was happy to play tannery tour guide and provide the answers.

A number of logical factors are responsible for the high reputation of Scandinavian cowhides. Compared with those in another roaring leather market, South America, Northern European cattle are raised in a cooler climate where there are fewer pesky parasites. And during the coldest months, animals are kept indoors rather than exposed to the elements. Moreover, the use of barbed wire for fencing is avoided, to save the beasts from snagging their skins.

It also helps when you have a company full of people who are engrossed in what they do. ‘You could liken the process to making wine,’ says Ahlgren. ‘We’re trying to control nature, and those in the industry here are very passionate about it. The same recipe can yield completely different results. We turn rawhide into leather in 30 days – no less. If you want a vintage wine, you can’t speed up the cycle.’

‘But talking about leather is boring,’ continues Ahlgren. ‘You have to feel it.’ I do, and it does feel pretty darn good. ‘That’s why a past marketing campaign featured the slogan "feel the difference". Once you touch it, you’ll want to have it.’ Elmo produces all kinds of leather – including ranges that comply with strict regulations for the automotive industry – but what we’re handling is pure aniline leather: hide of the highest quality that’s reserved for the furniture market. ‘Aniline leathers aren’t coated like the others,’ he says. ‘I don’t know of any other brand that’s making true aniline leathers.’

According to Ahlgren, you can’t fake this kind of quality. The transparency of the product extends to the brand’s environmental endeavours, which become – ahem – clear when we start to discuss Elmo’s processes. The company’s goal is to be the cleanest tannery in the world or, more specifically, to have a minimum impact on the environment.

‘After the release of An Inconvenient Truth, it seemed like the whole world became green overnight,’ says Ahlgren. ‘It’s so difficult to know what to believe and to trace what companies are doing. They can say what they want, and often no one will even look into it. Some organizations offer environmental certificates, but they usually take only the product into account, not the process. The leather itself might be "clean", but the company’s methods might wreak havoc on the environment.’

As we move through each stage of the tanning process, Ahlgren explains Elmo’s initiatives, which ensure the company is on the right track towards reaching its goal. Hair stripped from the rawhide is used by farmers as an environmentally friendly fertilizer, the split (what’s left behind once the top grain of the rawhide has been removed) is distributed to the leather and PU leather industries or …

… to food factories to be turned into gelatine, and shavings and trimmings are sold to local energy companies. All the rest – refuse such as paper, metal and plastic – is recycled; waste that isn’t recycled has been reduced by 98 per cent since 1994. Elmo uses only water-based solutions for its finishes, thus lowering emissions of volatile organic compounds into the air; today, Elmo reaches just one-tenth of the allowed limit. ‘It’s impossible to have zero waste,’ says Ahlgren, ‘and you can’t market yourself that way if you print on paper or even use the toilet. It’s about what you do with the waste."

A misconception on which Ahlgren hopes to shed some light is the use of chrome in the factory. ‘Chrome has a bad reputation because of its past. Companies used to use Chrome 6, the cancer-causing substance that Erin Brockovich was on about. You can’t even get Chrome 6 any more; we use Chrome 3, and it’s not toxic when handled correctly.’ While there are some pros for its continued use – it makes the tanning process more stable, which creates better characteristics in the leather and increases its durability – ultimately Elmo hopes to be chrome-free. ‘It’s hard to shake those bad connotations,’ he tells me, ‘and chrome is an exhaustible resource. Eventually it’ll run out anyway.’

After covering the factory floor, we jump into Ahlgren’s car – Elmo supplied the leather for its interior – and head 1 km down the road to Elmo’s waste-water facility. The water from the tannery takes the same short journey we just did (though its path is slightly longer) and undergoes a rigorous cleaning process before joining the flow of the adjacent river.

Before 2004, Elmo used a local community facility to do the task, but in a bid to save money and gain full control over the process, the company invested €5 million in its own plant. ‘And now our facility is better than theirs,’ says Ahlgren with a smile. ‘The purified water will soon be drinkable. We hope to serve it at one of our trade-fair stands in the near future.’

Water that’s as transparent as Elmo endeavours to be: a venture of which the company is undoubtedly proud. And Ahlgren challenges his competitors to rise to the occasion. ‘To those leather companies who claim to be green: I don’t want to see your leather; I want to see your waste water.’ _

Since the founding of Elmo in 1931, the company has grown to become a leading manufacturer of exclusive leather to the furniture and automotive industries. We develop, produce, market and sell Elmo in about 40 markets worldwide, with over 95 % of our sales occurring outside Sweden.

Visit our website.

Not only does Elmo produce beautiful leather; its processed waste water is actually cleaner than the river from which it comes.

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About Elmo Sweden AB

Elmo Sweden AB

According to many, leather is the most versatile of all natural materials available. Since the founding of Elmo in 1931, the company has grown to become a leading manufacturer of exclusive leather to the furniture and automotive industries. We develop, produce, market and sell Elmo in about 40 markets worldwide, with over 95 % of our sales occurring outside Sweden.
Elmo's head office is located in Svenljunga, Sweden, with production, product development and sales.
Sales offices also located in New Jersey, USA and in Hong Kong.
Visit our website.


  • Elmo Sweden AB
  • Falkenbergsvägen 2
  • 512 50 Svenljunga
  • Sverige