Sustainability is a major discussion point in nearly every industry today, but there is no industry more affected by this discussion than the fashion world.
With a growing backlash against many artificial materials and the principle of fast fashion, people are exploring the clothes they have in their wardrobes and the impact their choices have on the environment at large.
As a result, many parts of the fashion and textiles industries are changing their way of doing things in order to improve sustainability and leather is no exception.
Here are some of the ways in which leather, through industrial movements and consumer choice, can be more sustainable.
One forward-thinking approach is to look back at how people used to tan leather before the advent of more efficient industrial processes, which means adopting a range of different materials found in nature and using a process that traces back to antiquity.
Typically this includes roots, fruit, tree bark, leaves and other parts of a plant and a process that in some cases can take as long as two months to create a usable, light-coloured vegetable tanned leather which goes darker over time and with use.
This approach helps to reduce the use of carcinogenic materials and ensures that less toxic waste enters the environment, albeit at a cost premium.
As much an approach as a specific method, organic leather works according to many principles common to other organic products, such as humane treatment of the animals involved in leather production and the use of techniques such as vegetable and smoke tanning.
Often this also includes pollution mitigation methods such as re-using water that is an essential part of the leather production process or treating water before it returns to the environment.
Leather is a unique material in terms of longevity, with leather repair kits ensuring that leather goods can last decades when taken care of.
This is why leather jackets and clothes are a popular part of vintage clothing stores and charity shops, as many of these outfits can enjoy a second, third or fourth life in the hands of people who will truly care for them.
Recycling and upcycling the materials we have is a more sustainable option, and so a key focus of many leather goods designers is to ensure that leather avoids landfill wherever possible and is effectively recycled and reused.
Long-lasting, rugged clothes also discourage constant and frequent purchasing of outfits.
The fast-fashion movement was based around disposable outfits that were worn once before ending up at landfill, but with this clothing movement slowing down, we can put a much greater spotlight on reducing consumption, reusing what we can for as long as possible and recycling at the end of its life.
Leather clothing often has a lot of character, and the older a piece gets, as long as it is taken care of, the more character it has, and the rise of the vintage fashion movement shows how much people value that character and providence.
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