The world needs materials that are sustainable, renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, and most importantly, do not add to the burden of atmospheric carbon.
Natural fibres, such as leather, cotton, wool, mohair, alpaca, silk, hemp and mycelium, are part of the biogenic carbon cycle and as such are comprised of carbon that has been in the atmosphere for a millennia.
These readily available raw materials, when ethically and properly produced, are an important replacement for fossil fuels, reducing the need for its extraction and retaining more carbon in the earth.
Furthermore, at the end of life, properly produced natural materials will biodegrade, limiting their impact and mitigating harmful emissions, such as microplastic pollution, often associated with the synthetic materials that they replace.
With particular reference to leather, the leather manufacturing sector upcycles an unavoidable waste from the food industry, to produce a versatile, durable, unique material, ideal for the circular economy that the world must move towards.
Leather is animal hide that is cleaned of hair, treated (or ‘tanned’) to preserve it and then finished with a specific colour, embossing or feel. Manufacturers then turn this into footwear – the primary use – as well as clothing, fashion accessories, interiors and car upholstery.
Most leather comes from bovine animals – chiefly cows, but also sheep and goats. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that around 3.8 billion cows and other bovine animals are used in leather production each year1– around one animal for every two people on the planet.