Fashion brands are finally waking up to the need for sustainable leather.
Leather is one of the oldest, most durable, and beautiful materials in the fashion world. Unlike most materials, it appeals to more than one sense - the hands, nose, and eyes - and fills a vital role in countless products.
Sadly, it’s also the cause of lots of pollution.
As designers of leather handbags, we need to talk about the sustainability of leather.
Before the 21st Century, consumer culture was slower. It kept pace with the speed of life. Today, technology has accelerated the rate at which new products appear and has made it easier to both market and obtain them. Consequently, hot new items and fashion trends come and go faster than ever. That means more materials pulled into the production line, more chemicals, and more waste.
Some big brands that produce this 'fast fashion,' use all kinds of low quality materials, cheaply produced, that are made to last no longer than a season. Low cost materials very quickly become pollutants. In the leather industry, meanwhile, more cattle are being raised for their hides, producing more chemical runoff and more products that quickly head to landfills.
In fact, according to Gizmodo, "The current worldwide market for leather is booming: The 23 billion square feet produced annually is worth more than $77 billion (US), according to recent estimates published in the Journal. Leather footwear is far and away the largest outlet for the stuff, valued at at $47 billion—over 60 percent of the world total trade in the 2009/10 period—while the next largest outlet, leather goods and products (including gloves) were worth about $12.3 billion and constituted 15.9 percent of the total world trade. Leather clothing, auto upholstery, home furnishings, and miscellaneous other uses rounded out the remaining outlets with between 8 and 14 percent shares."
Clearly, the leather industry needs to be aware of their environmental impact and look for ways to become more sustainable.
Purchasing fewer items of higher quality that last longer is a step consumers can take to lessen their own environmental impact. This approach, known as "slow fashion," is gaining ground and opening a path for companies that want to make sustainability their main value proposition.
Measures adopted by these 'eco-companies' are aimed at ensuring their leather comes from producers that treat cattle humanely, minimize chemical use and waste, conserve water, adopt environmental innovations, and work to raise customers' awareness about conscious consumption.
The broader leather industry has even begun to take notice and, according to Vogue Magazine, "is working to create a transparent supply chain so that best practices are rewarded by customers. Efforts are also underway to market leather as a lasting, eco-friendly material."
In Italy, a country known for producing the best leather in the world, some suppliers have managed to reduce pollution by 80 percent. One example is Nature L leather goods. Produced by Nuvolari Conceria, Nature-L is 75 percent biodegradable and is produced with less waste and pollution than traditional leather, yet doesn't compromise on quality.
While big brands have a responsibility to reduce their environmental impact, small brands typically have the flexibility to change suppliers and implement new processes quickly. Consequently, it's these smaller, independent fashion companies that often spearhead changes the wider industry eventually adopts. Buying leather goods, like handbags for women, from these small companies is a great way to help advance 'slow fashion' practices.
At Nantív, we think the best route to sustainability is to use high quality materials that last a long time. We work only with the very softest leather from top-rated Italian tanneries that adhere to environmentally sustainable practices. And, although we follow the latest trends, we design our bags with a classic, timeless appeal so they'll look great for decades, not just a season or two.
Our planet has enough to worry about already without millions of extra pounds of discarded leather.
Let's take it slow.
Love and Flow,