RE-THINKING THE LEATHER INDUSTRY
THE NEED FOR MORE ETHICAL AND SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES Leather remains, nowadays, one of the most controversial industries — some brands have banned it from their collections, others are looking for alternative solutions.
The leather industry has been a central player in the global commerce market for thousands of years, having huge economic importance on an international scale. In the last decade, however, the industry has been experiencing important changes mainly due to ethical and social sustainability reasons. Italy is the leading European country for leather production, with 65% of European production and 23% of world production (UNIC 2020 report), with about 1180 companies operating in the tanning sector. In recent years, companies have made considerable progress concerning the sustainability of processing, although the issue is still delicate. With the majority of the leather produced being used in footwear, furniture, clothing, accessories, along with automotive and saddlery, these industries have started to re-think their strategy shifting towards more sustainable and ethical leather alternatives. When it comes to sustainability matters, it is easy to incur controversies. With regards to this industry, as a fact, the leather goods are a by-product of slaughter, meaning that the leather is a leftover of the animals’ meat. Therefore, if the leather were not tanned, it would most likely be disposed of. However, in this intricated chain, it is still true that consuming meat at this rate has become unsustainable: livestock farms have a powerful impact on the environment, in terms of land consumption, CO2 emissions, and animal suffering. Global Banking and Finance Review has estimated that by 2027, the global synthetic leather market is expected to reach USD 83 Billion with a CAGR of 4.6%.
Vegetable tanning The technique of vegetable tanning dates back to before 79 AD and is still used in the production of ecological leather (eco-leather). Here, the leather is tanned with natural tannins and once its life cycle is over, the vegetable-tanned leather garment can be easily disposed of, thanks to its chemical-biological characteristics. Sustainable plant-based leather, which mimics the properties of leather without animal cruelty or environmental devastation, is the future. These natural vegan leathers are usually made from apples, cork, corn, grapes, mushrooms, paper, pineapple, soy, and tea. Alternative materials can also be made from plasticized fabrics (i.e. PVC or polyurethane) but, although they are referred to as “vegan”, they are not necessarily the most sustainable choice.
Eco startups in apparel Here is a list of the most innovative startups that are making changes towards more sustainable practices:
• Algiknit — produces textile fibers extruded from kelp, a variety of seaweed. The final knitwear is biodegradable and can be dyed with natural pigments. • BioGlitz –the world’s first biodegradable glitter made from eucalyptus trees. • Frumat — uses apples to create a leather-like material. • Good on You –a mobile app that provides ethical ratings for about 1,000 fashion brands rated on their impact on people, the planet, and animals. • Mango Materials — produces biodegradable bio-polyester that can be used as a sustainable alternative to the present polyester utilized in the fashion industry. • Orange Fiber — manufactures natural fabrics from citrus by-products. • PAPTIC — manufactures bio-based alternative packaging materials that are made from sustainably sourced wood fibers. • PlanetCare — has developed a microfiber filter to be integrated into washing machines, that can capture microplastics before they are released in wastewater.
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