While the number of sustainable alternatives to leather is multiplying at a rapid pace, British brand Mulberry is making a different choice, seeking an eco-responsible approach without giving up leather's natural qualities. Based on the expert know-how of the Muirhead family business, a new collection of leather goods from the British luxury brand features "the lowest carbon leather in the world." It may be a gamble but it could also help restore the reputation of a material that is increasingly on the hot seat in the fashion industry.
Leather or not leather, that is the question. While some see the use of leather as encouraging animal abuse, others single it out for its heavy impact on the planet, in particular the processes of breeding and tanning. It's a sensitive issue and one that brands are increasingly concerned about, as they weigh the pros and cons of using leather or a leather alternative in order to make informed decisions. Because although leather production can be harmful to the planet, its resistance and longevity make it an essentially sustainable material, especially since the industry is now confronting the subject head-on in order to reduce its carbon footprint.
Can leather be sustainable?
That's the case with Mulberry, which today presents a collection of handbags created from the leather that is claimed to have the world's lowest carbon footprint To achieve this feat, the British luxury house chose to produce the collection in partnership with Muirhead, a family-owned company known for its high-quality, eco-friendly leather, and to have it manufactured by artisans in its carbon-neutral factories in Somerset, England.
This capsule collection is created from raw hides sourced exclusively from the UK and Ireland, tanned and processed in the Muirhead production site located in Scotland, before the bags are therefore manufactured in Somerset. A "hyper-local" and "hyper-transparent" process, according to the luxury house, which results in a leather with a very low carbon footprint -- 1.1 kg of CO2 per hide. The use of a thermal power plant that produces heat from waste, as well as the filtration and recycling of 40% of wastewater to produce the leather, contribute to making this low footprint possible.
"We are delighted to form a strategic partnership with global British brand Mulberry, to support their sustainable and responsible business goals. Muirhead developed the lowest carbon soft and supple leather for the fashion industry to reduce carbon intensity even in the high luxury segment," explained Muirhead managing director Nicholas Muirhead.
The boom of vegan materials
The leather industry in France has also been looking at environmental and sustainable development issues related to the production of this material which is increasingly being upstaged by new materials based on ingredients straight from our plates. Mushroom, pineapple, apple, grape, sugar cane, and cactus, now make up items in the wardrobes of consumers looking for sustainable and vegan materials. Many brands, including fashion giants like adidas, are working on collections based on these fruits and vegetables, which are not only less polluting but also more environmentally friendly.
But for the French Leather Council, ( Conseil National du Cuir ) these new fabrics should not be referred to in the same register as leather: "These days, many emerging materials are wrongly called 'leather' because they are visually similar, and thus benefit from the qualitative image of the latter. The term 'leather' refers to a material with specific properties and qualities and should therefore be reserved for the sole designation of the leather material resulting from the transformation by tanning of the skin of an animal," they said in a statement last March.
The council outlined at that time that the results of a study conducted by the Filk Institute, comparing the physical properties of ten materials -- leather and nine materials considered alternatives (mushroom, apple, etc.) -- demonstrated the "superiority" of leather. It remains to be seen whether the efforts made by the industry will be able to rehabilitate the material's image, which has been weakened over several months. Mulberry's collection, available online and in stores, is undoubtedly a first step.