|OPUS MIND Circular Backpack | AZURA BAY Organic Cotton Tshirt | KEMP GADEGÅRD Trousers|
THE POSSIBILITY FOR CLIMATE BENEFICIAL™ LEATHER
Though the issues of conventional animal agriculture have been well documented and agreed upon, when it comes to fashion, it assumes that if people stopped buying leather, farmers would stop raising cattle. Instead, U.S. consumers are eating more beef than they have in a decade, but due to misinformation on the ‘sustainability’ of ‘vegan leather’, animal hides are piling up, sending the durable material to the landfill or incinerator unused.
Fortunately, the rise in awareness of regenerative agricultural practices offers a solution to both the dastardly deeds sustained by conventional agriculture and the unnecessary waste from food production and consumption.
In a recent carbon footprint evaluation of the beef produced through regenerative grazing at White Oak Pastures‘ zero waste farm, it was revealed that White Oak Pastures’ beef stores more carbon in the soil than the cows emit during their lives, with the carbon footprint of their meat coming in 111% lower than conventional agriculture. In addition, White Oak Pastures’ beef has a smaller carbon footprint than other non-beef protein sources, including Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger (based on their own LCA). Indicating the ‘sustainability’ of beef, and by proxy leather, is a result of how an animal is raised, not if the animal is raised.
|OPUS MIND Circular Backpack | BON HOPE Recycled Silver Bracelet|
WHY VEGAN LEATHER ISN’T A SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE
Unfortunately, instead of investing in regenerative fashion systems built from regenerative food systems, or even in circular fashion, shoppers who once chose to purchase durable products built from ‘waste’, are choosing synthetic alternatives instead.
What these consumers don’t realize is that for every kilogram of plastic-based synthetic material produced, 1.1kg of oil is extracted and used. In vegan leather, the most common types of plastics used are dangerous and pollutive. To create PU for example, a highly toxic chemical solvent is used to create a liquid which can be painted onto the base material. Similarly, PVC, which vegan brand Matt & Nat use in their products, is considered by Greenpeace to be the “single most environmentally damaging type of plastic” ever created, and is a known carcinogen.
In addition, the dying process for vegan leather is also extremely pollutive, as plastic materials cannot be dyed with plant matter (only natural materials will take plant dye), so chemicals and toxins are applied in the form of toxic dyes and chemical fabric paints.
Like all plastics, synthetic fabrics and ‘vegan leather’ (even Piñatex and Apple Leather are primarily plastic) take upwards of 1,000 years to biodegrade. When they breakdown they release phthalates, which can enter the food chain and the atmosphere causing respiratory problems, breast cancer, hormonal disruptions and birth defects.
Synthetic leathers also produce further pollutants in the process of being downcycled (vegan leathers cannot be recycled because plastic breaks down to a lesser material each time it is processed), and cannot be recycled indefinitely – meaning every plastic item produced will end up in the landfill eventually.
Conversely, wool and leather (and any other natural material) can be recycled without further harm as a part of the closed-loop system created by mama nature. In addition, programs like RecycLeather™ add nearly infinite regenerative loops to already (potentially) Climate Beneficial™ materials. Because leather is a natural material, it can be tanned chemical-free using traditional hide tanning practices like ‘brain tanning‘ combined with being soaked in tannins from plants, oak, willow and chestnut.
We’ve seen this sort of soil saving circular story emerge from Fibershed‘s Climate Beneficial™wool, and Pela Case‘s upcycled agricultural waste to make phone cases and sunglasses which biodegrade. Leading the way for a future for fashion which is truly conscious and spectacularly sustainable because it is regenerative at its base.
|OPUS MIND Circular Backpack | BE FOR CHANGE Upcycled Leather Shoes | AZURA BAY Organic Cotton Tshirt | KEMP GADEGÅRD Trousers|
NOT ALL LEATHER IS CREATED EQUAL
Therefore, conventional leather is a byproduct of this harmful industry and is more than often processed using harmful chemicals. That said, we should not be wasting animal hides no matter how the animal is raised; so, if the option is available to you financially, you should be more concentrated about where the food you are eating is produced and how it is farmed (whether you are vegan or not). Cow skins represented 6% to 8% of a cow’s total value than your vegetable tanned leather consumption.
RECYCLED LEATHER INTEGRATES INTO REGENERATIVE FASHION
Despite leather’s bad rep, some brave brands, like Opus Mind, are creating luxury recycled leather bags and accessories with waste reduction and circularity in mind. Upcycling industrial off-cuts that would otherwise end up in the landfill and extending the life and appreciation of durable materials.
Opus Mind helps close the loop with current leather wastage with the help of RecycLeather™, minimizing the production’s carbon footprint and waste. Reclaiming and recycling, redirects some of the 23.22 million tons of leather yearly which would otherwise end up in the landfill, buried, or burnt.
The future of ‘fashion’, in my opinion, is a series of systems which leave the planet better off for the fact that they’ve occurred, rather than worse. Circular design, paired with natural materials, which integrate easily into potentially regenerative fashion systems, creating designs like Opus Mind, which will last a lifetime or two. Putting plastic into the past and building soil for the future.