Leather is back in fashion, but lately nothing looks as trendy as sustainability. For this reason, a growing number of brands and retailers is working to change the unfavourable narrative that surrounds this timeless material as the market demands “greener”, more sustainable products.
Transparency as a tool for Brand Identity
The leather industry is called to embrace major transformations in order to make its supply chain effectively transparent. Customers are willing to reward best practices with loyalty and endorsement, and leather related companies should act accordingly: striving to achieve transparency and sustainability is enough to earn points, and corporate policies should definitely keep this in mind.
Green leather: behind the scenes
A disturbing amount of the cruelty-free materials which are currently being offered as viable alternatives to real leather are actually made of plastic, specifically polyurethane, PVC or polyester – which means that they are non-biodegradable and made of fossil fuels.
Given this scenario, marketing leather as a sustainable choice means to convey a powerful value proposition.
Considering that real leather is an extremely tough material, eco-friendliness stands in its durability: while its fake counterparts quickly reveal their brittleness, real leather products can be used for years, even decades.
However, in order to clean up leather’s impact we have to improve chemical safety, comply with the existing standards about hazardous substances, and adopt tighter safety protocols that keep chemicals from polluting the environment.
More and more consumers fully intend to do a deep dive into the environmental impact of what they are buying, and they want to be reassured that their money is not going to be used against their moral standards.
If customers are asking for responsibly sourced leather, in order to survive (and even thrive) the industry has to make sure that all the players involved in the supply chain are working actively to minimize their environmental impact.
The EU’s REACH guidelines have already banned chrome VI in leather products, and a large number of companies has added this version of the chemical on their black list.
Companies have to make sure that the tanneries in their supply chain are complying with the regulations in force, that they use the allowed substances efficiently, and that every kind of production waste is properly disposed.
Vegetable-tanned hides, with a better environmental profile, may be the breakthrough the industry is looking for. As innovation in chrome-free tanning keeps on growing, viable alternatives such as wet-green leather, processed with olive leaf extract, could represent a milestone in the search for entirely biodegradable hides.
Caring for cattle is a key point to improve leather’s impact and reach out to those consumers who, despite not being vegan, expect their products to be made with the hides of cared-for animals raised under environmentally-friendly conditions.
Actions such as actively supporting forest protection and animal welfare reassure consumers that animals get to live lives free of pain, sickness, and distress, making the narrative that surrounds real leather more reasonable and much less disturbing.