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The Leather Industry & Sustainability
It is hard to miss that we are mentioning our leather at any given opportunity; it is because the leather we are using is more environmentally friendly, which is really important to us. In fact, it is what we are all about – do what we can to make things a little bit better all the time. We continuously try to improve the ways we work and as we grow to become more and more sustainable. And we chose to start with the leather.
You may ask yourself what makes it more environmentally friendly than other leather, so we would like to tell you more about the leather industry and the leather that we have chosen to work with.
Leather is one of man’s oldest and most useful discoveries, and it is a wonderful material.
Although, the leather industry today is known to be extremely toxic, due to the modern and standardized chrome dying technique invented in the 19th century. It is a highly damaging process, both to the environment and to us.
That does not mean that leather industry could not be sustainable; Leather goods, per see, are sturdy products, and even with persistent use, they could last over a hundred years. There are also sustainable dying methods that can be applied to reduce the impact on the environment.
So what makes it extremely toxic and why are brands still using it?
As Mesh Chhibber (co-founder of Peau de Chagrin) wrote in his article for Business of Fashion “Well over three-quarters of the tanneries represented at any trade fair use the process of chrome tanning to turn animal hides into the leather that is used by high street, contemporary and luxury brands alike. Chrome tanning, a nineteenth-century invention, is an efficient, quick and inexpensive method that has obvious appeal to brands.”
Although chrome tanning may be cheap for brands it comes at a price for the environment. Just like all heavy metals, Chrome is very toxic and the effluents highly damaging. The chromium salts used are harmful for both humanity and to the environment. Chromium VI, for instance, is a common waste product from the industry that has been found in the food industries water supplies in both developed and developing countries.
What is the more sustainable option then?
There is a more sustainable way to produce leather, it is called vegetable tanning and uses tanning acids from oak bark. It is a more time-consuming process and is more expensive, but it is far less damaging to the environment. There are a few tanneries around the world that work with vegetable tanning, such as Tärnsjö in Sweden, Tempesti in Italy and Carvalhos in Portugal. It is not only the fashion industry that works with vegetable tanned leather; the furniture and the car industries are clients as well. At Stig Percy, we have chosen to work with Carvalho’s Oak tanned leather range and with Tempesti in Tuscany.
Carvalhos define their Oak tanned leather through two ecological guidelines: the production process and the product itself. The production process reduces the environmental impact to a minimum. It reduces water consumption and chemical charge in the effluent and its recycling, as well as the re-use of solid wastes as fertilizers, using natural dying of the leather at room temperatures and the reduction of volatile compounds emissions.
To achieve the fully ecological product, it starts with fresh hides of Iberian origin that are then conserved by cold storage, without any other preserving agents. Then followed by a chrome and metal free tannage (wet-white), along with the use of metal-free dyestuffs and water-based finishes.
Tempesti is Tuscany based tannery working solely with vegetable tanning for the past 70 years. All of their products match the specifications of the CONSORZIO VERA PELLE ITALIANA CONCIATA AL VEGETALE – or Consortium for Real Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather, of which it is a founding member.
They ensure that their vegetable-tanned leather productive cycle is strictly monitored to ensure a low impact on the environment:
- No animal is killed for its skin. On the contrary, the raw hides used by their tanneries are the discarded by-products of the food industry producing meat for human consumption.
- Being tanned with natural tannins, a vegetable-tanned leather object can be easily disposed of at the end of its life, thanks to its chemical-biological characteristics.
- Their tanneries have made huge investments in depuration systems and waste recycling that make them work in full respect of man and the environment.
- Many of the substances used during the tanning process are recovered, recycled and reused in different fields. Hair removed from raw hides is transformed into agricultural fertilizer; sludge produced by the depuration plants is reused in the construction field to make bricks.
- Vegetable-tanned leather, recognizable from its trademark, does not contain any toxic substance such as azo-dyes, nickel, PCP or chrome VI
How should I take care of my shoes then?
Furthermore, due to the more gentle processes, the average length of life of vegetable tanned leather is considerably higher than that of chrome-tanned leather. It also is still a living material, not killed by the chrome used, and has a lot of personality. Another reason to why we value our leather and we would suggest you take care of your vegetable tanned shoes and treat them with non-toxic shoe care.
We have written a ‘how to’ guide to teach you a quick and simple way to keep your shoes in good condition, with suggestions on non-toxic shoe care products, it does not have to be that complicated!
Check out our shoes!