Reindeer leather is a truly unique product.
Firstly, it is of a unique origin. The Nordic reindeer is a semi-domesticated species of deer. (It is not to be mixed up with the American wild reindeer, caribou.) The Nordic reindeer population is only about 800 thousand individuals, and annual slaughter is less than 200 thousand animals.
Secondly, it has unique physical properties. Reindeer leather, or skin, is thin and smooth yet very strong. This is because the reindeer lives in a very cold environment and needs a very special hide to survive. But also because the reindeer primarily lives from feed that it chooses itself, unlike most other kept animals.
Thirdly, it is a unique produce. The hides are a result from the traditional reindeer husbandry carried out by the Sami, the native people of Sweden, Finland and Norway. Sami reindeer husbandry is a unique symbiosis between man and animal. Animals are free to lead their natural lives in their natural environment. Man has made the animal husbandry its life’s calling and sees the animals throughout their entire life. In life, reindeer provide milk that is made to cheese. In life as well as in death – they grow new ones every year – they provide antlers whose horn is the very essence of Sami culture and craft. In death, they provide meat and hide.
The reindeer leather industry is a small one. The entire annual production is less than 150 thousand hides – which is equivalent to the annual production of a single medium-sized industrial tannery. The majority of these hides are actually turned into furs that have a primarily decorative purpose. (The reindeer has long hair which is very difficult to preserve, and it will fall off within only a few years. But don’t judge the hide by its hair, the leather made from is both strong and durable.) A very small part of the production is tanned into leather, and the global industry does not seem to have discovered what fantastic leather is made from reindeer. In spite of this, there are quite a few tanneries specialized in reindeer tanning, all of them small.