With leather it’s not that easy. There is not just „eco-fair“ and „we don’t care“, on top there is also the vegan aspect: Those who reject animal products are searching for animal leather replacement that is eco-friendly. Regular fake leather is mostly polyurethane, so basically synthetic. And that’s neither comfy to wear nor ecologically acceptable.

Funny how values shift. In my grand parents‘ generation fake leather shoes were for poor people. Now they are marketed to be a great choice. Don’t get me wrong. This is a complex issue like so many things. The question that could be asked here is: What’s worse? Cheaply produced leather that involves a horrible impact on animals‘ and peoples‘ lifes and severe damage to the environment or polyurethane shoes that are made of a crude-oil material (crude oil industry: #1 environmental polluter; garment industry: #2 environmental polluter- ah shoot, double impact) that will pester the earth forever (no, not the slightest chance it ever composts…). Looks like a plague or cholera situation…

However today we want to concentrate on animal leather which is the material for most shoes, accessories, garments and also furniture.

Leather is a side product of the meat industry. Again, it’s not that easy, like: It’s there anyways, so we might just as well use it for bags… In the ideal world, one could say: It’s good, that we are using the whole animal, not just the meat. But as a matter of fact, the demand for leather fuels the whole business and makes it even more lucrative, pushing a sustainable approach in the leather industry even further away.

THE USAGE OF LEATHER THAT IS NOT CERTIFIED CONTRIBUTES MASSIVELY TO ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION AND WORKERS RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

The conventional leather production can be evaluated as especially harmful. Besides the obvious victims, the animals, also people and nature in the mostly south east asian production countries suffer. In this sector childrens‘ lifes are negatively affected, not only is child labor very common, but also precarious living environments. Situation has it that families who work in leather mostly live right next to the production sites. And these neighborhoods belong to the most poisonous ones in the world. The handling of dye stuff and toxic tanning agents that are able to develop the dangerous chrome 6 results in severe sicknesses and polluted rivers and soil.

By the example of Bangladesh which is one oft he biggest producers of cheap leather, a submission of the German TV series „37 degress“ of broadcaster ZDF, shows how holy cows from hindu India are illegally transported to muslim Bangladesh under cruel circumstances. If they survive the transport, their destiny is sealed: Low wage workers without protective clothing end their lifes. On top nature also gets its share: All chemicals used go directly in the river.

In Bangladesh or other poor production countries, people there are dependent on those badly paid jobs and accept to put their health in danger.

All the more we as consumers should request the leather industry to set healthy and fair standards and we should consume accordingly.

INKOTA: ADVOCAT FOR A CLEAN LEATHER INDUSTRY

Picture source: Inkota

Picture source: Inkota

INKOTA has been advocating for the improvement of environmental and labor conditions in the leather producing countries. With their campaign „CHANGE YOUR SHOES“ they request a mandatory commitment of the EU for the protection of human rights and labor law.

https://www.inkota.de/english/

They also inform in depth about the leather industry and offer many useful downloads for interested consumers and teachers (information material is only available in German):

https://webshop.inkota.de/?f[0]=field_pd_category%3A234&f[1]=field_pd_type%3A218

Even if empathy with the Asian workers isn’t enough to make a corresponding purchasing decision or to stand up for the cause with NGO’s as Inkota: At the end of the day one could be affected directly too by the impact of the toxic material, when developping allergies after wearing products that contain the dangerous chrome 6.

Attention! „Made in“ does not say, where the leather is from. It only says, where the product was made. So goods can be declared „made in Europe“, even if they are made of Asian leather.

IVN NATURLEDER: A CERTIFICATION THAT CARES FOR BOTH ECOLOGY AND FAIRNESS

It is recommended to watch out for the IVN NATURLEDER certification when buying leather goods:

„IVN Naturleder is a standard of the International Association of Natural Textile Industry, solely for leather. In the process of certification all stages of manufacture are taken into account, from the raw material to the ready-made leather (not the ready-made leather product!). They focus on saving resources, environmental and health protection. Only leather that comes from animals that are kept for meat production can be certified. Furthermore, no chemical preserving agents and no chrome or mineral based tannins are allowed for the raw hides. IVN reviews the environmental impact, certain harmful substances and the recycability of the leather. On top, strict social security standards are set for the whole production process, based on the labour standards professed by the ILO“.

ivn naturleder

RAPEX: A PLATFORM, THAT INFORMS ABOUT POLLUTED PRODUCTS

Europe-wide alert system RAPEX informs about hazardous products. Repeatedly they report about leather goods containing chrome 6. They can of course only make random samples, realistically seen there are many contaminated products, especially shoes and (working) gloves:

https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumers_safety/safety_products/rapex/alerts/repository/content/pages/rapex/index_en.htm

If companies insisted on a transparent supply chain and therefore pressured governments of the producing countries, they could be a game changer. For workers, for the environment. Also for the wholesale price though and now we know why the situation remains as it is.

IS THERE A DIFFERENT ROLE FOR LEATHER THAN THAT OF THE BLACK SHEEP? YES, NOY FROM HAMBURG ARE LIVING PROOF

Progressive startups keep proving the established companies wrong. They show, that the „ideal world“ doesn’t have to be idealistic.

NOY6

They make a point with sustainable production, from animal keeping to finish and they work with European partners with a transparent supply chain.

I talked to the founders of NOY , an eco-fair leather goods label that was launched in 2016 and I wanted to know how they managed to work transparently, still be efficient and to stay true to themselves.

NOY1

Designmob: When you decided to start an own label you are inevitably facing the decision how and where to source. Tell me about your approach.

NOY: Entrepreneurial responsibility is very much a matter of the heart. Therefore we try to keep our negative inluence on the environment and the society as low as possible.

We stand for:

  • high animal welfare standards – our raw material comes from grass-fed organic beef from Europe
  • environmentally friendly production– our leather is solely vegetable-tanned

Production plants and accessory suppliers in Germany and Europe guarantee short itineraries and save CO₂ emissions.

  • fair work conditions – we produce in a German manufactory, all materials are sourced from local companies and from Tuscany, Italy
  • quality– we have a strict quality policy and our materials are certified by cradle to cradle, Biokreis and IVN Naturleder
  • puristic, timeless design– with the goal to create durable, valuable products

 

NOY Backpack no. II

NOY Backpack no. II

Designmob: Your prices are not over the top in comparison to companies that offer similar, but not eco-fair products. Many companies argue that it is simply not profitable to source eco-fair. What’s your opinion about that?

NOY: It is our goal to support local family businesses, to benefit from their vast experience to offer the best product for our customers. That’s our priority. It’s not our priority to get the cheapest prices for the most profit. Producing eco-fair is definitely not a problem anymore, also not for the mass market.

Due to the increasing demand for conscious products, the supply of materials and production factories has increased as well. Therefore you’ll also find factories overseas that are part of associations that set a good standard for fair working conditions. These products are not massively more expensive than conventional products.

If you only produce in Europe though, there is a big gap in buying prices and these boost the retail price.

Then it’s more the question of consuming itself: Do you choose a product that stands for quality and that is meant to become a life-long companion or do you want to adjust the products to the current trends. Economically seen the latter is more lucrative of course.

Origami wallet

Origami wallet

Designmob: Was it complicated to find suppliers who work transparently?

NOY: Yes indeed. Building a network of good and reliable suppliers is one of the biggest challenges. It is existential though when you want to make the label work. Therefore this point is mandatory. A personal and trustworthy relationship with the suppliers is super important.

 

Duffle Bag

Duffle Bag

Designmob: Do you think, there should be a legal obligation to marking the origin of leather?

NOY: Yes absolutely. On top it should be the companies’s goal to know their supply chain, from the raw materials to the finish. It is sometimes hard to see through the structure, still, they should never stop asking and communicating.

01„Daily Pouch“ und „Spectacle Case“

Designmob: Shoes are the product per se people buy made of leather. Can you recommend a shoe label?

NOY: We are big fans of the label Trippen. They combine contemporary design with sustainability, longevity and social responsibility. We have a cooperation with there partner shop here in Hamburg where we sell a part of our accessories.

Designmob: What do you think about vegan leather (a broad term, I know)?

NOY: With vegan leather one should differentiate. If you solely use material that is made of chemical fibers, then it doesn‘ make sense. In these cases only the aspect that the product is animal-free is taken under consideration and animal-free is hip currently. But there are great innovative materials out there that are a real alternative, such as pineapple leather or leather made of mushrooms, etc.

Still, never forget, leather is a by-product of the meat industry. It has been an important material in our life and development for more than 5000 years. And it has the advantage, that it is a very long lasting product and for that reason it is very sustainable.

WE SAY THANK YOU FOR THE NICE AND INFORMATIVE INTERVIEW AND WISH LOTS OF SUCCESS WITH THESE REALLY NICE PRODUCTS 😊