After the news that the oak bark tanned sole leather tannery J. Rendenbach were to close down, many people hoped for some sort of solution for the products to live on. Now it’s announced that the fellow German tannery Kilger has bought the recipe, took over equipment and tanning liquids and more, including the J.R. brand, and will already next year offer the new soles.


Early October it became public that the famous German tannery J. Rendenbach, making oak bark tanned leather soles, heels and shoe components, were to close down. You can read more in this article here. Many were surprised and worried, since they are one of the main suppliers of proper high quality oak bark sole leather, both for shoe factories, bespoke shoemakers and cobblers. Other options like Baker, Garat or Gerberei Martin (read more about them in this report) may have problem covering the whole demand that would open up.

Now Jim McFarland, the US agent for J.R. and who was the one who first announce the information that the tannery were to close down, went out in some social media groups yesterday and presented the latest news in this saga. The fellow German tannery Kilger have bought the recipe and rights to J.R. branding, and will produce the same type of oak bark tanned shoulders and bends. Kilger is located in Viechtach in east Germany, close to the Czech boarder, and also was an oak bark sole leather tannery back in the days. They moved over to veg tanned leathers for furnitures, car interior and other leather products, and has not produced traditional pit tanned sole leather for several decades. Now they will return, at least partly, to their roots.

Drums in the Kilger tannery.

Drums in the Kilger tannery.

In a live stream with Kirby Allison on Instagram, McFarland shared some more information. Hanns Rendenbach, the owner of J.R., apparently has worked together with Kilger for a while to see if they can produce sole leather in the same way as Rendenbach. When people from Kilger visited Hanns Rendenbach last week and showed some samples of thinner hides picked out from the pits, Hanns was pleased with the quality. When I talk to Michael Kilger of the Kilger tannery, he explains that in many ways it’s more than just taking over the recipe. They have bought some of their equipment, brought in the tanning liquids from Rendenbach to both get started quickly and have “the real deal” as base, took over the bark and other tanning agents, and the woman responsible for quality control and cutting at J.R. will move over to Kilger. Michael says that this thorough partnership with the J.R. tannery, which will include Hanns Rendenbach as consultant, will be important to get things right. The new products will be branded “J.R. by Kilger”.

Now, there are reasons to not cheer full on yet. History has thought us that it’s often not as simple to move production from one tannery to another and expect the same outcome, even if the same recipe etc. and even the same people are involved. One example is the German box calf leather tannery Freudenberg, who closed down a few decades ago but had recipes and some staff go to Poland and Weinheimer tannery, where the end products, albeit still good, was not really the same anymore. And that’s also the concerns raised when I talk to some people in the industry today on the news on Kilger, people who have visited both tanneries say that they are far apart in how things are done today, and that they expect it to be a challenge to reach the same level as original Rendenbach. Already next year Kilger will start offering the new J.R. by Kilger sole leather, so we will know soon. And should it differ now in the beginning, which is not unlikely even if the original tanning liquids is used now, or when the original tanning liquids become a bit more diluted with what they will add, hopefully people will have patience and let them work on developing things, and we can hope to have great sole leather reigning with a J.R. stamp still around for many more decades. It seems that the ambition sure is to manage this in the best way possible both from Rendenbach and Kilger’s side, which is encouraging.

Pressing leather in the Kilger tannery. Pictures: Kilger

Pressing leather in the Kilger tannery. Pictures: Kilger (top picture: Cobbler’s Plus)