Giovanni Testi established family-run La Bretagna tannery at the age of 21, following seven years as a leather-making apprentice. He started small – with only two tanning drums – in the Tuscan village of Ponte a Egola. It was here, in an area of Italy where tanneries have been producing leather for hundreds of years, that Giovanni’s passion for his trade firmly took hold.
In the early days La Bretagna could only afford one employee, so Giovanni and his wife worked there seven days a week to keep production moving. Initially the tannery made sole-leather for women’s shoes, but after ten years Giovanni decided to create vegetable-tanned leather for bags and small goods.
Vegetable tanning is a natural method of transforming animal hides into leather dating back thousands of years. Tanneries create their own tanning recipes using different blends of powdered tannins mixed with water and natural oils. Hides are immersed in these mixtures in large rotating drums, and the result is soft, smooth, durable leather.
“The philosophy behind vegetable tanning mirrors that of great olive oil or wine – the highest quality ingredients blended together to a specific set of tastes with continuous human supervision.”
An artisan approach drives every aspect of La Bretagna’s business. Over the years, Giovanni has imparted his knowledge and expertise to his two sons, Paolo and Simone, who joined the family business after finishing their studies. The Testi family takes a vested interest in each client, collaborating closely with product designers and manufacturers to help create the finest leather goods on the market. La Bretagna develops around ten new articles a year, and the creation of new types of leather is the lifeblood of their business.
“When you purchase a product made of vegetable-tanned leather, you’re buying something that will live with you for the rest of your life.”
While the Testis’ expertise is at the core of La Bretagna’s continued success, fate also played a role. In the mid-80s an American designer arrived at the tannery by mistake. The designer saw a piece of hand-stained leather on the floor and was immediately sold, despite his original intent to work with another tannery. And so La Bretagna produced a million square feet of leather for that client – every year for 20 years.
Giovanni and his sons have stayed true to the initial vision for the tannery – a small, family-run business that creates the best possible products with a deep respect of its craft. The family is delightedly tight-knit, enjoying a “simple, good life” together in a picturesque village close to the tannery. La Bretagna is the kind of success story that feels truly deserved.
“Our tannery may be rather humble in size, but it’s celebrated the world over. This fills our family with tremendous joy.”
— Giovanni Testi