Christmas is approaching and gifts research has pointed a crucial debate: is leather sustainable? Is faux-leather a better option?
Vegan leather made from fruits is so far winning the debate, conciliating vegan customers as well as anyone willing to reduce their carbon footprint impact and avoiding plastic. However, vegan dyed leather keeps an interesting position in this debate since it doesn't use hard chemicals and is known for his long-lasting compared with recycled or fruit-vegan leather.
Stella McCartney was actually pointing the impact of chemicals used to make leather goods lasting. It seems progress have been made on this point:
"Vegetable-Tanned Leather | The art of vegetable tanning leather is thousands of years old. According to a leather supplier, Tärnsjö Garveri vegetable tanning is far more sustainable than the chrome excel method. Vegetable-tanned leather produces less toxic waste and it can also biodegrade in a clean way. Suppliers, Deep Mello and Moore & Giles even dye their leather using rhubarb and olives respectively! While colour options are more limited when it comes to vegetable-tanned leather, it presents an excellent choice when going for more earthy tones." THE FASHION COMMON ROOM... , a guide to sustainable leather discovered thanks to Besma Whayeb, founder of Ethical Influencers
In "Stella McCartney takes on the leather trade" partnered with PETA, the daughter of Linda and Paul McCartney explains that the food and fashion industries are totally linked. "Because skin is the most economically important coproduct of the meat industry, buying leather directly contributes to factory farms and slaughterhouses —and all the cruelty involved. "
In a world where meat is still a big economy, transparency on animal well-being is still difficult to tract for small artisans. Conscious designers such as Lisa Lempp who wants to work with leather are pushing the food industry to be more transparent. It is our duty to support any local artisan that is willing for this change.
2020 have shown us that animal trade can bring us the biggest economical problems. By buying cheap from fast fashion, or unethical items, we are contributing to our own non-well-being. Lucy Siegle was already warning it “Fast fashion is not free. Someone somewhere is paying”. With the recent pandemic, there are each time more people paying the bill of wrong choices. There is no way one can say "I didn't know".
Hopefully, soon it will be possible to get a cruelty-free vegetable-tanned leather, where skins from non-tortured dead animals will be part of circularity and not exploitation.
"in order to add my little sand corn to the whole amount and maybe make the producers react and offer more sustainable choices. At the end the demand creates the production."
Mad.Leine - Where do you get your inspiration to design bags?
Lisa - The inspiration for my bags and accessories can come from almost any input which reaches my daily life. Although I love vintage clothing, hats and handbags which certainly give me many ideas for designs, sometimes it's the shape or texture of a door, building which shoots an idea, or a shadow, a photo or painting I see. But also the demands of clients at the store sometimes guide me to something new.
M - When did you start in the fashion industry? How did you start?
L - I actually started by wanting to make my own clothes and therefore I did some pattern making studies when living in Buenos Aires. While I was ¨practicing on my own body¨, I started working as an assistant for a handbag designer. I had never even thought about bags, but through this job I got passionate about it. I also fell in love with leather: the smell, the touch, the different finishings, the durability.
M - Where do you find your better audience for your designs?
L - I feel that I have many different audiences.
I usually have a lot of Asian clients coming in who like the colorful versions of my bags. Asian women prefer my feminine styles.
The Northern people appreciate the craftmanship a lot.
Many young people like my designs and then get them as a birthday or Christmas gift.
But for any public, the decision to buy a bag of mine is not a quick and unconscious decision. People usually come several times and really want to pick the right one which will be the special, long lasting one.
"I just can not support the so-called Vegan leather or similar, often made of plastic, because these are just empty words to me, used for a sustainable concept without foundation. That is why I work with vegan tanned leather which is environment friendly and doesn’t use chrome in the tanning procedure. "
M - Could you explain how you dye each piece of leather?
L - As leather dying is a complicated procedure, I do not dye the pieces myself. I buy dyed leather.
M - Where do you source your leather?
L - As an independent, small designer whose productions are very small, the decision where to buy the leather is reduced to the few providers which deliver small quantities.
M - Could you tell more about what matters to you when you source material?
L - Unfortunately, there are not that many options in this sector. For the small quantities I use, I have to limit my decisions on the stocks the providers have. Within this stock I try to do my best to use vegan tanned leather, also in order to add my little sand corn to the whole amount and maybe make the producers react and offer more sustainable choices. At the end the demand creates the production.
I am also constantly looking for other sustainable materials which can replace leather, but I haven't found any which after making prototypes seems good enough. The good point of leather is the durability. So I really think that slow fashion and conscious consumption is the right way to protect our environment.
That’s why I do my best to use the leather pieces to their maximum, making small leather goods from the left overs avoiding wastes of material.
Another reason why I do productions in limited edition is not to generate loss of material and resources, nor natural nor energetic.
At the same time, each piece is special and unique.
M - How do your suppliers consider animals well-being, then how do they treat animals when making leather?
L - As a leather provider does not work with the animals directly, but uses the leather from the food industry, they don´t really control the well-being of the animals.
But in the end I guess prices always rule… unfortunately.
M - Why did you choose to work with leather?
L - I choose leather because I really believe in the durability of the material matching with my timeless designs. I am convinced it is a very noble material which humans have used ¨since ever¨.
On the other hand I just can not support the so-called Vegan leather or similar, often made of plastic, because these are just empty words to me, used for a sustainable concept without foundation.
That is why I work with vegan tanned leather which is environment friendly and doesn’t use chrome in the tanning procedure.
I am sure that the point is to find more and more ways to recycle leather in a sustainable way. And this would be my personal request to providers...
M - What do you think all the leather industry could improve to be more transparent, reduce its carbon footprint?
L - In my opinion, the big problem resides in the production of quick, cheap fashion. This is no longer sustainable in our world, nor for the people working for ridiculous fees, nor for the carbon footprint, nor for the tones of trash produced by buying and throwing away.
We have to rethink from the very start. But I also am convinced that this can only change when the demand for the fast fashion items stops. Only then big companies will change. Actually, there are big companies that nowadays are offering more sustainable collections, so in the end I think that these a priori small sustainable activist movements are making a huge impact. But it’s a paradox: they still are big companies that often forget about carbon print, human resources practices, etc. The social cooperative responsibility is wider than just “sustainability”.
I would wish the leather industry in particular pushes the research for sustainable ways of tanning and dying leather, makes special efforts to recycle the used water and intends to economise energetic consumption in general.
Designing and producing to last.