Style

How sustainable is leather?

How sustainable is leather?

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A growing contingent of brands are working to change the negative narrative that surrounds this durable classic.

A growing contingent of brands are working to change the negative narrative that surrounds this durable classic.

How sustainable is leather?
Who What Wear recently declared leather “the weirdest trend for summer”. Traditionally reserved for products like satchels, shoes, shelter, sofas and for shielding the body from the cold, the protective hide is no longer season-specific when it comes to style trends. Or confined to the popular biker jacket. Now it’s being fashioned into items like wrap dresses and shirts – and included in must-have lists that are driving demand even higher.

In Vogue

Because leather is back in fashion, Vogue Business said: “A growing contingent of brands and retailers — and the leather industry itself — is working to change the negative narrative that surrounds this durable classic.”

Even though leather is technically a by-product of or co-product from another industry and comes from animals bred for their meat – meaning it doesn’t need any extra land and resources to make it – the tanning process used to treat it can have a huge impact on the environment and our health. They’re asking the hard questions to improve environmental standards – like using responsibly-sourced animal hide and better tanning practices.

What does that look like? It means using natural dyes, choosing recycled leather, only using long-lasting leather, choosing hides that come from cared-for animals and producing on demand to reduce wastage and restricting toxic chemicals.

Farm to fashion

According to this article from Bustle, turning skin into leather involves “massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based.

What’s even more alarming is that the chemicals used to prevent the material from decomposing (like chromium, anthracene, and arsenic), have been linked to increases in health risks. Studies performed by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that rates of leukemia among residents near a leather factory in Kentucky “was five times higher than the U.S. average”.

Like denim, tanneries belong to industrial sectors that use the highest levels of water. It’s said that it takes around 4,490 gallons to make 2.2 lbs of leather – the equivalent of filling your bath 60 times.

There have been numerous exposés on how toxic leather can be for its workers and the populations that live around the factories and tanneries that turn it into a sellable material. A Pulitzer Center report revealed that Kanpur, with over 300 tanneries in the city, has become India’s leading leather exporter – and one of its biggest polluters. The water used is being dumped into sources of their drinking water, the factory chimneys expel thick smoke and an overflow of untreated effluent “passes through many communities on its way to the Ganges river”.

A conscious cleanup of the industry is already in the works, especially as socially-conscious millennials (also known as Generation Green), are willing to pay more for sustainable products and are putting pressure on brands to be more transparent.

What are the alternatives?

1. Buy secondhand or recycled leather products.

2. Even though there is not much info on whether vegan leather is friendlier to the environment, it helps reduce demand for animal hides that aren’t sourced or treated ethically.

3. Choose labels and brands that are transparent about their manufacturing process and the impact on workers and the environment.

4. Maybe in the longer term, if we ate less meat, it would slow down demand, shrink the number of animals that are bred for it and in turn reduce the hides available for sale.

Where to shop ethical leather goods?

1. ABLE:  While living in Ethiopia, founder Barrett Ward witnessed firsthand how extreme poverty forced women to make difficult and often dangerous decisions for money. He has since been on a mission to employ and empower women as a solution to end poverty, which led to the creation of ABLE. What started with scarves has since expanded to clothing, shoes, jewelry, and even leather goods. Today, all the brand’s leather products are ethically produced by women in Ethiopia.

2. Nisolo: This Nashville based brand provides sustainable employment to individuals living in Peru and Mexico through the ethical production of leather goods. Aside from their factories, the company also partners with small, independents artisans to help them grow their businesses.

3.Parker Clay: Another company with a mission to employ women living in developing countries. This Santa Barbara based brand offers ethical leather goods for both men and women.

4. Raven + Lily: The 100% women-led company is committed to ensuring “fair wages and a safe, respectful work environment for our artisan partners and their teams”. The brand is also eco-conscious, and uses recyclable, compostable biodegradable or zero-waste packaging, and offsets their carbon footprints by purchasing carbon credits.

5. Veldskoen: Popular with Dragon’s Den Mark Cuban and actor/activist Ashton Kutcher, the shoe brand says they source “full grain reversible suede, which is a sustainably and ethically harvested by-product from the local meat industry”.

6. Angela Roi: This designer’s motto is “Good for all creatures”. Angela Roi offers luxurious vegan leather bags handmade by artisans earning “fair wages in clean, comfortable factories”.

7. Brothers Vellies: A brand that is “committed to honoring the people who make our products and the places where they are made”. This company uses vegetable-tanned leather, soiling from recycled tires, hand carved woods, floral dyed feathers and other by-product materials to create high quality leather goods that are both ethical and sustainable.

8. SAYE: The company, which plants two trees for each pair of SAYE sneakers that are sold, uses recycled and organic materials. Twyg says their sneakers are made from leather collected from offcuts destined for the landfill. Plus, they are packed in recycled boxes and paper.

9. VEJA: Describe their product as “environmentally friendly sneakers, made with raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture, without chemicals or polluting processes”.

10. Thalia Strates: The company believes in transparency when it comes to manufacturing and materials used. They “believe in fair wages set by the artisans themselves, materials that are ethically sourced and building long-lasting relationships with local entities and customers alike”. The skins they use are “a by-product of the meat industry, where every part of the animal is used – horns, hooves, fur, feathers, meat etc”. They add that they don’t use skins from animals which are farmed just for their hide.

Who What Wear recently declared leather “the weirdest trend for summer”. Traditionally reserved for products like satchels, shoes, shelter, sofas and for shielding the body from the cold, the protective hide is no longer season-specific when it comes to style trends. Or confined to the popular biker jacket. Now it’s being fashioned into items like wrap dresses and shirts – and included in must-have lists that are driving demand even higher.

In Vogue

Because leather is back in fashion, Vogue Business said: “A growing contingent of brands and retailers — and the leather industry itself — is working to change the negative narrative that surrounds this durable classic.”

Even though leather is technically a by-product of or co-product from another industry and comes from animals bred for their meat – meaning it doesn’t need any extra land and resources to make it – the tanning process used to treat it can have a huge impact on the environment and our health. They’re asking the hard questions to improve environmental standards – like using responsibly-sourced animal hide and better tanning practices.

What does that look like? It means using natural dyes, choosing recycled leather, only using long-lasting leather, choosing hides that come from cared-for animals and producing on demand to reduce wastage and restricting toxic chemicals.

Farm to fashion

According to this article from Bustle, turning skin into leather involves “massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based.

What’s even more alarming is that the chemicals used to prevent the material from decomposing (like chromium, anthracene, and arsenic), have been linked to increases in health risks. Studies performed by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that rates of leukemia among residents near a leather factory in Kentucky “was five times higher than the U.S. average”.

Like denim, tanneries belong to industrial sectors that use the highest levels of water. It’s said that it takes around 4,490 gallons to make 2.2 lbs of leather – the equivalent of filling your bath 60 times.

There have been numerous exposés on how toxic leather can be for its workers and the populations that live around the factories and tanneries that turn it into a sellable material. A Pulitzer Center report revealed that Kanpur, with over 300 tanneries in the city, has become India’s leading leather exporter – and one of its biggest polluters. The water used is being dumped into sources of their drinking water, the factory chimneys expel thick smoke and an overflow of untreated effluent “passes through many communities on its way to the Ganges river”.

A conscious cleanup of the industry is already in the works, especially as socially-conscious millennials (also known as Generation Green), are willing to pay more for sustainable products and are putting pressure on brands to be more transparent.

What are the alternatives?

1. Buy secondhand or recycled leather products.

2. Even though there is not much info on whether vegan leather is friendlier to the environment, it helps reduce demand for animal hides that aren’t sourced or treated ethically.

3. Choose labels and brands that are transparent about their manufacturing process and the impact on workers and the environment.

4. Maybe in the longer term, if we ate less meat, it would slow down demand, shrink the number of animals that are bred for it and in turn reduce the hides available for sale.

Where to shop ethical leather goods?

1. ABLE:  While living in Ethiopia, founder Barrett Ward witnessed firsthand how extreme poverty forced women to make difficult and often dangerous decisions for money. He has since been on a mission to employ and empower women as a solution to end poverty, which led to the creation of ABLE. What started with scarves has since expanded to clothing, shoes, jewelry, and even leather goods. Today, all the brand’s leather products are ethically produced by women in Ethiopia.

2. Nisolo: This Nashville based brand provides sustainable employment to individuals living in Peru and Mexico through the ethical production of leather goods. Aside from their factories, the company also partners with small, independents artisans to help them grow their businesses.

3.Parker Clay: Another company with a mission to employ women living in developing countries. This Santa Barbara based brand offers ethical leather goods for both men and women.

4. Raven + Lily: The 100% women-led company is committed to ensuring “fair wages and a safe, respectful work environment for our artisan partners and their teams”. The brand is also eco-conscious, and uses recyclable, compostable biodegradable or zero-waste packaging, and offsets their carbon footprints by purchasing carbon credits.

5. Veldskoen: Popular with Dragon’s Den Mark Cuban and actor/activist Ashton Kutcher, the shoe brand says they source “full grain reversible suede, which is a sustainably and ethically harvested by-product from the local meat industry”.

6. Angela Roi: This designer’s motto is “Good for all creatures”. Angela Roi offers luxurious vegan leather bags handmade by artisans earning “fair wages in clean, comfortable factories”.

7. Brothers Vellies: A brand that is “committed to honoring the people who make our products and the places where they are made”. This company uses vegetable-tanned leather, soiling from recycled tires, hand carved woods, floral dyed feathers and other by-product materials to create high quality leather goods that are both ethical and sustainable.

8. SAYE: The company, which plants two trees for each pair of SAYE sneakers that are sold, uses recycled and organic materials. Twyg says their sneakers are made from leather collected from offcuts destined for the landfill. Plus, they are packed in recycled boxes and paper.

9. VEJA: Describe their product as “environmentally friendly sneakers, made with raw materials sourced from organic farming and ecological agriculture, without chemicals or polluting processes”.

10. Thalia Strates: The company believes in transparency when it comes to manufacturing and materials used. They “believe in fair wages set by the artisans themselves, materials that are ethically sourced and building long-lasting relationships with local entities and customers alike”. The skins they use are “a by-product of the meat industry, where every part of the animal is used – horns, hooves, fur, feathers, meat etc”. They add that they don’t use skins from animals which are farmed just for their hide.

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