Is leather chic and ethical?
Besides animal cruelty and sufferings, the leather production generates high environmental and social costs.
The process of leather tanning, usually based on chromium, is one of the ten biggest sources of pollution. Tanneries (especially those of low quality leather, such as in India and Pakistan), pour their wastewater into the wild, intoxicating the surrounding populations and environment for decades. For example; the tannery in the Uttar region of India releases more than 10,000 tons of chromium annually into the Ganges and in Italy, in the Chiampo Valley, more than 30 solvents coming from local tanneries intoxicate the air every day.
Another danger associated with the use of chrome is that when the latter is mixed with other substances, it may be transformed into “chromium VI”. Chromium VI, extremely allergenic and carcinogenic, will stay on the leather and become dangerous for workers, residents close to tanneries and for the consumers. But even premium leather is not immune to this problem and luxury leather products can also be subject to this toxicity risk.
A Bangladeshi lawyer and activist warn consumers on the subject: “You must know that your search for cheap leather causes the death of many people here in Bangladesh and that it also causes an ecological disaster.”
Indeed, workers are subject to a form of exploitation (paid on average 35 Euros per month and without a contract) 7/7 days and more than 12 hours per day under a 120° F heat. They often work shirtless and handling chemicals without protections. All this exposes them to severe skin diseases, lung problems and cancers.
In addition, as toxic waste is dumped daily into rivers (often the only source of drinkable water for millions of people), they are so polluted that fishers have no fish to catch. Tanning and water pollution are not the only sources of ecological and social problems: leather leftovers are burnt and the leftovers are used to feed fishes for aquaculture and poultry, which indirectly poison the population.
Sustainable and ethical solutions
However, today, more and more new 100% vegetal or natural materials imitate leather perfectly and are gradually replacing the imitated leather called “Skai”, which has the disadvantage of being derived from petroleum. Some consumers even point the better holding of the material over time and highlight the advantages of these alternative leathers which require less care (cleaning, sun and water protection).
Leather and lining made of 100% recycled plastic bottles of MATT & NAT
The resemblance is striking, the confusion is inevitable and the quality even better: leather made out of plastic bottles is undeniably more charming that animal leather, and far less cruel. Inspired by MAT(T)erials and NATure, the Montrealy brand MATT & NAT explores the synergies between the two. Because their values include both social responsibility and excellence, integrity and authenticity, the textures chosen for the products respect the environment and offer a very good quality.
The brand offers a wide range of bags, accessories and shoes for men and women, made exclusively from vegetal material and more notably from leather obtained from the recycling and non-toxic treatment of plastic bottles. MATT & NAT recycles an average of 3 million plastic bottles each year and is working on the development of new ways to obtain sustainable leather. Recently, collections feature models made from recycled bike tires.
Ananas power for Piñatex
No, you’re not dreaming! Pineapple leather is the most promising plant leather! In fact, it is very maneuverable and it is therefore possible to obtain different textures like crocodile prints. It is environmentally friendly because it requires as raw material the leaves of the fruit (not used after being harvested), so in other words: agricultural waste. Moreover, the process takes its inspiration in ancestral and traditional methods that are older than the tanning of animal leather. In short, pineapple leather neither use soil, nor water, nor pesticides or fertilizers. Its manufacture comes from recycling of recovered materials which is upgraded and “upcycled”.
But how do you turn a pineapple into a piece of leather good?
Companies like Anans Anam work in partnership with farmers (in this case from the Philippines) in order to collect the leaves of the harvested pineapples (which would otherwise be thrown away) in order to extract the fibers. The fibers are then sent to a textile factory which will process them and transform them into non-woven fabrics. This material will be sold to brands (fashion or textile), available in four colors: charcoal, cream, brown and metallic gold. The brand will use them to produce any type of products: handbags, shoes,…
Stella McCartney’s Timeless it-bag
The brand Is known in the industry for being the first ever ethical and sustainable fashion house and this is entirely thanks to its creator who places her convictions at the heart of her work. Its values are based on the respect of the environment and the animals and for these reasons, the brand has for more than 15 years succeeded in creating cruelty-free and eco-friendly collections (no leather and no fur).
However, this choice requires a lot of efforts on research: the accessories are the most profitable segments in the luxury market and leather is a reference for all consumers and high-end alternatives are still hard to find.
Stella McCartney concentrates on original designs and put forward and market innovative materials such as vegetable leather enhanced by vegetal oils such as the Eco Alter Nappa, which offers a texture almost identical to animal leather.
“Yes, at the beginning of my career, people made fun of me because of that. I always believed that leather and fur were easiness of our industry. It’s no news and it’s not ethical. And it has never attracted me.” Explains the creator to the Le Monde magazine.
For her, consumer awareness is essential but above all requires the commitment of influential creators in the world of fashion.
The Falabella bag is launched in 2010. It is a huge success, it becomes a must-have bag and then a best-seller and finally makes its way to the elite category of timeless basics alongside Lady Dior and Hermes’ Birkin. This bag is made of vegetal leather and its lining is made from recycled plastic bottles, is part of an ecological approach. Let’s not forget that Stella McCartney’s devotion does not stop with the non-use of animal leather but also applies to her entire collection, supply chain and production management.
For her ready-to-wear product range, she uses organic cotton, durable viscose or bamboo fiber manufactured in wind powered factory, created shoes made out of recycled wood and with biodegradable soles, offers a capsule collection that honors sustainable hemp , a line of ethical lingerie, durable sun glasses…
Countless other leather alternatives exist and leather made out of grapes, tea, seaweeds are starting to enter the market… and they have the exact same attributes than animal leather! Giving us more reasons to think twice before being our next piece of leather good!