I have previously written about what different aspects to keep in mind when considering whether to buy leather or fake leather. In this post, we established that cow leather is a by-product of the meat industry (roughly 7.9 billion kilos of green hides come out of abattoirs per year, more than what the leather industry can cope with - source). We also took into consideration the chemicals used in the tanning process and how it fares against fake leather alternatives (they both have a huge environmental footprint). But at the end of the day, by choosing leather you are actually diverting waste from either landfill or incineration, it lasts much longer than the alternatives and nothing out there ages half as gracefully.
But the leather industry itself generates a good deal of waste, mostly in the form of defects and off-cuts: an estimated 805 million kilos per year, as calculated in this report (year 2000). All off-cuts are of finished leather (on average 25% of each hide is wasted), and a lot of defects are likewise only spotted at quality control after processing, meaning that a fair amount of this waste is leather that already has an environmental impact in the form of water, energy and chemical usage, as well as logistics. I’ve been unable to find what percentage of leather waste is fully processed leather, but even if we take the very conservative estimate that maybe 40% of waste total is finished leather in the form of defects and off-cuts, that represents 322 million kilos a year.
The majority of this leather either goes to landfill or is incinerated, with only a small amount being recycled into the manufacture of other products, such as leatherboard - a compound material formed by pressing scrap leather with paper and wood pulp.
Armed with the belief that waste is a failure in creativity, our new products aim to put a dent in these numbers.
Luckily for the environment, we are not the only company diverting this precious material from an untimely end!
Here are a few others championing leather upcycling and recycling:
Dutch designer Pepe Heykoop has tackled waste in a variety of mediums, and we couldn’t love him more for it! I am not ashamed to admit that I wish I had coined ‘Waste to Wonder’ myself… Pepe has a few different collections of objects made with waste leather, each of them more innovative than the former.
The amount of leather scraps shocked me. In reaction upon that I started to collect the offcuts. Randomly putting them together applying them as a new skin to existing objects. I have had the habit ever since to collect damaged or discarded furniture from the street and flea markets and collected them at my studio. Skin Collection makes use of merging these types of frames for its skeleton, a skin of leather leftovers growing as a cell like structure covering the objects.
Young fashion designer Aurelie Fontan has been making waves in the fashion world with her designs that are built for circularity (meaning that they can be disassembled for reusing or recycling) and out of sustainable materials - such as leather that was being discarded of. Her new collection will focus on the subject indepth, and in the meantime her first retail product are the below bags made out of recycled leather. This is the kind of approach that could become a trend ;)
Jake has taken fine leather waste and given it an innovative use close to his heart: amazing footwear. Not only is this a practical use within an industry renowned for using leather, but it looks fantastic and we want to see it hit the market!
This waste-fighting duo started off by upcycling old hoses from the London Fire Brigade and have now started incorporating leather off-cuts into their design. Elvis and Kresse offer ‘Sustainable Luxury’ pieces, with a focus on accessories (handbags, wallets and belts) but they also do a few home products.
If you love great minimal design, the Walk With Me products made out of recycled leather will catch your eye. Functional and practical, they are great everyday companions. This small studio operates out of Madrid and their products are made out of a unique blend of waste leather and natural latex, meaning they are fully natural and compostable at the end of life.
And then of course…
Our very own upcycled leather collection is also putting a dent on what goes to waste, and what gets a second chance at life. Our new products have just launched and we are keeping track of how many kilos of leather we’re rescuing - something we will keep you updated on.
Which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below or on our social media channels!