Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Monday, 14 October 2019

For the love of Leather

 Welcome back good shoe folk and forgive us but we're on the campaign trail, fighting the corner for sustainably sourced, naturally tanned leather. 

Why? Because the consumer and media frenzy around non-leather alternatives is undermining all that is good about leather (assuming you accept the fact that it is a by-product of the meat industry).  

Don't get us wrong, we believe that climate change is real and the meat/leather industry is definitely a contributing factor, but it's a complex debate. 

We firmly believe in buy local, buy better, buy less. 

We don't believe that switching the same consumer shopping habits to a new product because it's marketed with eco credentials is the solution...

Eco, sustainability, environmental, 'green' are not only critical drivers in improving the planet, but also marketing / sales tools used to good and bad effect.

For instance, whilst most “eco-friendly” products are “animal friendly”, not all “animal friendly” products are “eco-friendly” because of a carbon-intensive footprint or lack of biodegradability. In some instances synthetic leather may actually be more hazardous to the environment than genuine leather and even plant-based leather alternatives often use plastic-based adhesives to glue the fibres together.

So we're here to speak out in favour of leather and its sensuous, tactile, familiar qualities.

In favour of leather:

Byproduct: Over 99% of hides used in leather production are a byproduct of cattle raised for milk and beef production which would otherwise equate to 7 million tonnes of waste

Leather and the environment: Globally leather manufacturers strive to produce leather sustainably using reverse osmosis to treat effluent; converting solid wastes to energy; and applying state of the art technologies such as gasification of waste to produce power and reduce the carbon footprint

Leather and cancer: The majority of leather tanning is not carcinogenic; it uses a chromium III salt which is an essential nutrient and has the toxicity of table salt

Sustainability: Leather and leather products are more sustainable as they are still found to be attractive and usable as they wear/patina, leading to longer use and recycling. 

Faux leather does not breakdown like real leather and is subject to “down recycling” meaning that it cannot be made into another item of faux leather.

Leather's carbon footprint: Leather has a carbon footprint lower or equal to synthetic materials 

Leather alternatives:
Leather alternatives that may prove to have the edge are those which are an agricultural by-product, such as “Pinatex” made from waste pineapple leaves, which has the strength and flexibility needed for manufacturing. 

+ Climate Change
From a climate change perspective, by taking a waste product and “upscaling” it into something of value, no additional land, water, pesticides, or fertilizers are necessary in the initial production phase...the question remains what is the environmental impact as production phases intensify? 

Other developments on the horizon include lab-grown or cell-cultured meat and “biofabrication”, lab-grown leather. Their long-term growth and success depends on consumers preferences, companies’ abilities to scale up their production and the environmental and sustainability issues that accompany the materials. 

As makers, yes, we'd love to explore non-leather materials to understand and compare their properties with leather, but until they become available to us we'll stick to the familiar - supple, naturally tanned leathers - whose sustainable properties we know and admire.  

Take Bakers' oak bark leather, where hides and oak bark are all locally sourced; the millstream turns a water wheel which gently moves water in the pits; and the water is so clean at the end that it goes back into the millstream. 

So if you work with naturally tanned, quality leather please do your bit to tell its, more than ever leather needs good marketing and it's up to all of us to tell its story. 

Until next week, happy shoemaking.