Horween leather is leather made by the Horween Leather Company, a tannery in Chicago. Horween is one of the most famous individual tanneries arguably in the world. They have a rich history...but what they're known for above all is their leather.

While Horween leather would certainly suffice as a working boot (plenty of work boots used Horween leather) it's much more common on heritage boots or fashion boots. Horween leathers are gorgeous, with a rich color and over time a beautiful patina.

So what's with this Horween leather, anyway?

What Is Horween Leather?

Horween leather is made by the Horween Leather Company of Chicago, one of the oldest continuously-operated tanneries in the United States and one of the few still left in operation. Even more impressive is that they operate in a dense urban environment in the modern day.

In years past, tanneries were often restricted to a "tannery row" in cities, as the smells and waste products weren't particularly pleasant.

Horween makes a lot of different leathers, but there are a few that have made them famous.

One of their best-known products is shell cordovan. Shell cordovan wasn't invented by Horween, but Horween is one of the largest manufacturers of it and is certainly one of the few tanneries in North America that produces it.

Shell cordovan is hide taken from the rear quarters of a horse. The hair is split from the top layer of skin, as well as the fleshy underside of the grain. The remaining hide is the hard outer layer of skin, which makes the shell.

The process was initially developed in Cordova, Spain, but has spread all over the world. Tanning and finishing shell cordovan takes months, but yields a supple leather with a glossy, dark finish. It makes wonderful dress shoes, gloves and other leather products.

Horween is also the official supplier of leather to Wilson, the sporting goods company.

The National Football League has been using footballs made with pebbled cow leather from Horween for decades. In fact, two former executives - Ralph and Arnold Horween - played for the Chicago Cardinals from 1922 to 1924. The team eventually left for St. Louis and then to Arizona, but the NFL has been using their leather ever since. The company also provides leather to Wilson for official NBA basketballs.

However, their signature product is what really made the company famous.

Horween Leather Invented Chromexcel

The real claim to fame for Horween is Chromexcel, a unique grain leather that's revered as one of the best boot leathers available.

Chromexcel is an aniline leather, in that the dye doesn't form a paint-like top coat. It's dual-tanned, starting with a vegetable tanning bath and finished in a chrome tanning bath. The leather is finished with the dye and is then hot-stuffed with oils and waxes.

The end result is a leather that is strong, but very supple and soft to the touch. It's the original pull-up leather, with the tell-tale creasing and patina that pull-up leathers develop.

The process for Chromexcel was developed by Horween. It was first used for military and other work boots, but what really got Chromexcel onto anyone's radar is that it was the original leather used by Dr. Marten's.

Doc Martens original boots were low-profile work boots, developed for factory workers, postmen and other urban working-class people that spent all day on their feet. However, they also made quite an appearance and developed a rich patina as they aged, which is why so many people are hard up about vintage Docs.

As those boots became more popular, more bootmakers added it to their product lineup. Today it's a staple of fashion boots and made-to-order heritage boots.

There is nothing quite like Chromexcel. It has a matte shine to it that's a little brighter than other pull-up leathers, though not quite the high shine of vegetable-tanned leather. As you wear Chromexcel boots and it ages, the wear pattern and patina develops and they get even better looking.

Who Uses Horween Leather?

Who uses Horween's leather is a who's who of boots and shoes as well as sporting equipment. Besides Wilson, they also supply leather to Spalding's and Rawlings for baseball gloves.

Footwear brands known to use either Horween shell cordovan, Chromexcel or other leathers include Allen Edmonds, Howard Alden, Doc Marten, Solovair, Timberland, Chippewa boots, Johnston and Murphy and many more.

And, of course, Nick's. Our heritage boots are all offered in Horween leathers either as standard or made-to-order.

The great thing about Horween leather is how comfortable it is when you first wear them. It's substantial but supple, so it's easy to break in. As it wears, they get even better as the leather ages and develops patina.

You can get a pair of boots to wear for a while...or you can invest in a pair of boots that will grow with you. Imagine how great they'll be 20 years from now.