Lizards are creepy. Their ability to adapt their skin color from brown to lime green is disconcerting. And when they inflate their tiny pink throats to gargantuan size, it looks pretty disgusting.
My grandmother had a lush garden where green lizards flourished. I knew those tiny little reptiles with their cold, unblinking eyes couldn’t hurt me—as opposed to the dreaded grenouilles (the Cajun name for tiny green tree frogs, which everyone knows can give you warts). Lizards could also fly from twig to twig. Once I overcame my fear of lizards, I used this knowledge to scare anyone gullible enough to obey my command, “Watch this!”
So the lizard is actually a fairly benign reptile. But reptiles, even when they are small and harmless leave us cold. Which brings us to alligators. Alligators are not usually small.
Alligators can hurt you. They’re very good at lying still, waiting, waiting, waiting and then snap!— you’re missing a dog, goat, arm or leg.
Biologists say that alligators are docile and will flee when provoked. Not much is said about how they’ll react if they’re hungry. Whatever their behavior, relatives of Alligator mississippiensis have been hanging around the planet for more than 200 million years. T. Rex, the ‘gator’s oversized cousin, went missing 65 million years ago.
Due to over-hunting and loss of habitat in the 1950s and 60s, the alligator as a species was endangered, but thanks to sound wildlife management techniques, the reptile has rebounded. This means that we’re almost up to our you-know-whats in alligators. To protect us, the hungry and ill-clad, we’re now allowed to hunt, farm, eat and yes, wear the alligator.
The idea of hunting something that fearsome, and then wearing its hide? Well, it’s as primal as the alligator itself. I admit that no one believes that I actually wrestled the alligator to make my boots, but still…
Most Louisiana residents know where to buy alligator meat, but the majority of us think alligator leather products may only be found at haute-couture outlets that carry Gucci, Prada and Hermes. A remedy is at hand.
This holiday season you can buy your own genuine Louisiana alligator leather belt, purse, wallet and other assorted items at the annual Reptile Tannery of Louisiana alligator leather goods sale. Imagine the fun of telling your lucky seasonal gift recipient just where that stunning belt came from.
What’s Reptile Tannery of Louisiana (RTL)? It’s an alligator hide tannery located at the old Frey Meats plant in Lafayette. It’s owned by Roggwiller, the pre-eminent international exotic leather dealer in the world. Roggwiller also has tanneries in France and Italy.
Rachel Guidry, RTL customer service supervisor, says the tannery buys Louisiana’s wild and domestic alligator skins all year. The tanning process that turns the skins into leather takes about three months, but the finished luxury leather products made from the skins may only be purchased on the four post-Thanksgiving Saturdays of the year.
“This is something we do for the locals and it’s their chance to get a piece of Louisiana,” Guidry said. “We’re a tannery. We don’t do retail because we’re not set up to do retail.”
The tannery located to Lafayette in 1994. It was a smart move for Roggwiller. Before the Lafayette tannery was established, the raw and very perishable skins had to be shipped on a long voyage overseas, a risky proposition. A Louisiana tannery made economic sense.
The annual luxury leather sale began in 1998, when RTL imported a thousand alligator belts for a California company.
“Before we could get he belts cleared and shipped, the California customer went bankrupt,” Guidry explained. “We decided to try and wholesale them here in the showroom. We ran a few ads in the local paper and the sale was a hit.”
Most of the items are small luxury accessories, but Guidry says this year they’ve brought in ladies handbags, a good supply of Italian unisex belts and ladies belts.
Chances are that the wallet, money clip, belt, checkbook or card case you buy will be Louisiana ‘gator, but if it isn’t, the leather will have formerly resided in the Florida or Georgia swamp.
What about the prices?
“The prices are a lot less than what you would pay in a store,” Guidry said. “People who know alligator leather prices say, ‘Whoa, I’m getting two belts for the price of one.’”
If you miss the sale, fear not. You can still buy Louisiana alligator hides throughout the year from RTL in any color or finish for your own custom project.
“Customers come in to get a hide for a guitar strap, cover a chair or the seat of a motorcycle,” Guidry said. “We sell hides to individuals. We cater to them.”
Think of the cachet of whipping out your classic finish alligator wallet when paying for your client’s lunch.
“Oh, that? It’s a Louisiana alligator wallet.”
Louisiana alligators? They’re not just for dinner. You can wear ‘em too.
JUST THE FACTS
Reptile Tannery of Louisiana
Rachel Guidry, Customer Service Supervisor
105 Dorset Avenue
Lafayette, La. 70501
Sale dates for consumer items: Nov. 7, 14, 21, Dec. 5 and 12, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. and Dec. 10, 9 a.m.-2p.m. only.
Sales for hides: year round
This article first appeared in Country Roads magazine and was reposted from Louisiana-based agricultural and cultural blog LANote.org, a NoleVie content partner.