The main raw material that is used to produce Rawlings Baseball gloves is the cowhide, which is in turn “tanned” to produce leather (Berlow 2007). Cowhides are the natural, untarnished hair and skin from cattle and are byproducts of the food industry as cows are raised and then slaughtered for meat (Berlow 2007). The cowhides that are used to make Rawlings Gloves come form various meat packers across the Midwest and French-Speaking Canada, most notably form Tyson Foods and IBP (Silva 2011). These companies salt their newly processed meat in order to prevent dehydration, and then send their fresh hides to Horween Leather Company in Chicago, Illinois, which is the main tannery that does business with Rawlings (Wailin 2014).
In order to “tan” the cowhides to produce the leather, the hides are sent to tanneries that specialize in this process. Tanning is the process of treating the hides with various chemicals, oils, grains, and other materials that give leather its desired durability and flexibility (Berlow 2007). If leather hides were not tanned, it would become dry and fall apart rather quickly. This process is achieved by changing the protein structure of the hide with these various chemicals. Tanning received its name from the compound tannin, which has traditionally been used to treat the cowhides (Tannins). Horween is a unique tannery in that it actually produces its only solutions and dyes rather than acquiring them from another chemical manufacturer (Wailin 2014).
The process of acquiring the raw materials to make Rawlings Baseball Gloves offers an interesting view on the relationship between the leather producers and the cattle industry. In recent years, the demand for leather has increased worldwide, which has caused the price of the raw cowhides to rise as well (Burgdorfer 2007). The Horween Leather Company is forced to compete with international leather companies, especially in China and South Korea, looking to cash in on this growing demand (Burgdorfer 2007). This benefits the cattle industry, as there has also been a drop in domestic beef export in recent years, making leather a more valuable cow product (Burgdorfer 2007). This is interesting as one usually thinks of cows being raised and slaughtered for food, rather than leather for various objects, such as baseball gloves. The rise in leather demand also lends an interesting view on the growing economy of the world. Some economists believe that this increase in demand is due the rise of a worldwide middle class that can now afford to purchase leather goods, as many people could not before (Burgdorfer 2007). The evolution of the world’s economy can be seen in many aspects, and it’s fascinating to see how its development even affects the gloves that baseball players wear everyday.
(“Baseball Gloves,” 2015) (“About Horween,” 2015)
By Andrew Pund