In this new blogpost about sustainability, we are going to address a topic that many are very curious about: why do we choose to use vegetable tanned Vachetta leather?
We work exclusively with a tannery certified by the Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium (Pelle al Vegetale). This certification, along with our relationship, ensures that our leather is among the most sustainable available.
It guarantees that no animal is killed for its hide, that circular economy is predominant in the process through wastewater treatment and waste recycling (for fertilisers or even construction materials) and that the tanning process doesn’t involve any chemicals or metals (such as chrome) that would harm the environment. These points are crucial in reducing the tanning process’ environmental impact and comforts us in our choice for more sustainable leather.
This tannery perpetuates the century-old tradition of vegetable tanning, employing only natural tannins such as Quebracho, Mimosa or chestnut trees, which contributes to a more sustainable process. This traditional method extends the tanning process to up to two months, in contrast to the mere weeks required for industrial tanning. Unfortunately, this explains why vegetable tanning accounts for only 10% of the leather produced annually, making us proud to be part of that 10%!
After this meticulous process, we obtain our beloved Vachetta full grain aniline leather finish. The term "aniline" indicates that the leather is dyed solely with soluble dyes, which retain the leather's natural grain and preserve its surface without covering it with synthetic elements. This approach allows the hide's natural beauty to shine through and facilitates recycling and clean disposal practices, further reducing our impact.
Moreover, the traditional process and use of natural tannins contribute to the leather's smooth texture, delightful floral aroma, and the development of a beautiful patina over time, adding to the charm of our cherished leather!our leather. Our commitment to considering the environment, as well as the well-being of our workers and partners, is of utmost importance to us. We are also actively exploring possibilities for CO2 compensation to address the broader impact of leather, which presents a significant challenge we are diligently working on.
Now let’s define some terms to be more familiar with leather crafting:
- Vachetta leather: is a type of high-quality, full grain leather that is known for its natural beauty and durability. It is made from cowhide and is commonly used in luxury goods, such as handbags and accessories. It is highly sought after for its rich, luxurious appearance.
- Vegan leather: is a type of leather alternative that is designed to mimic the look and feel of traditional animal leather without using any animal products. While the name might imply a sole reliance on plant-based materials, the reality goes beyond that. Vegan leather can be made from plant-based sources like cork or pineapple leaves, but it is also frequently produced using petroleum-based, synthetic materials such as polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
- Life Cycle Analysis (LCA): LCA is a scientific method used to study the cost and impact of a product, most times focusing on sustainability. It takes into account every life-stages of a product and all processes implied. This includes raw materials production and harvesting, treatments and machines used to obtain the final product, the product's lifespan (your use of it), and treatment or disposal at the end of its life cycle. Most LCAs regarding leather quantify water and energy consumption, as well as CO2 emissions, to draw conclusions and comparisons.
The leather industry
The leather industry is one of the oldest crafting activities of humanity. Currently, it finds itself needing to address many challenges in order to satisfy the expectations of modern customers who demand better sustainability practices. Scientific research, particularly through LCAs, is working towards achieving this and has found that the most polluting part of the leather production process is the tanning stage.
There are concerns regarding the tanning process as tannins are usually made from chemicals, the wastewater which comes from the tanning treatment and even the machine power consumption. The choices made during this phase are critical, as they can either create a significant environmental impact or greatly reduce it, as we will see later.
Animal leather vs Vegan leather
The term "vegan leather" as we saw is a broad and possibly misleading title which encompasses everything from synthetic leather (petroleum-based) to plant-based leather alternatives.
For this blog, I feel that the petroleum base and the very limited recycling-potential of synthetic leathers are enough to consider it as an unlikely sustainable alternative.
In the meanwhile, plant-based leathers are usually regarded as the best option. It is important to mention that, as much as animal leather, plant-based leathers are a by-product of the food industry. Thus, both are produced from “wastes” and valorise the energy and water consumed beforehand. This represents a great sustainable feat since these by-products from the food industry will always be produced. However, plant-based leather can sometimes be sourced from dedicated cultures which greatly increases its environmental impact. This demonstrates that plant-based leather might not always be more, or even as sustainable as animal leather.
Then, the key for a truly sustainable leather lies in what we mentioned earlier: the tanning process. And this is where our leather truly shines!
I should conclude with a brief addition: sustainability is a complex scientific subject and field of study. While we begin on our exploration, I have not gone into numerical analyses here, but I highly encourage you to continue personal research if you are curious enough!
Please continue to share your thoughts about our sustainability commitment, and feel free to ask us anything!