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Eco-leather, a misunderstanding, lots of research, and a promise

By January 26, 2021No Comments

Many of my vegan and vegetarian customers ask me if my handbags are made in eco-leather or alternative materials. I’ve been studying and reflecting on this for years; not as relevant for those who love leather, rather out of consideration for the demands of a broader and more sensible world, which I’d like to address. From the questions and requests I’ve received, I’ve learned that we risk to make mistakes, and I know this first-hand as I am part of the generation who was victim of this misunderstanding. The term “eco-leather” was created in the ‘90s to define a synthetic material with leather appearance, but nothing farther than eco-friendly, since it was produced with oil-based materials. It became a popular term in the fashion industry, even in the common language, and it became difficult to re-route this term to its original meaning. It would be more appropriate to refer to it as “faux leather”, but the fashion industry is smart and took advantage of the commercial value of the term “eco leather”, which has tricked millions of sensible consumers over the years.

This is not acceptable anymore; to be clear, since 2013, “eco leather” is meant to be genuine leather undergoing specific treatments aimed at minimum environmental impact by utilizing food chain by-products from controlled, non-intensive, animal farming. That’s the true meaning of “eco leather”, folks, no tricks whatsoever.

There is extensive research on alternative materials derived from pineapple, cactus pears, apple, orange, cellulose from vegetable sources.

In my opinion though, in the search of more “green” materials, we often make the mistake of underestimating the embodied energy and waste in the process of producing such green materials…one of many paradoxes in the world, what is eco-friendly in these green products? Green products are often perceived as eco-friendly, but green and eco-friendly products are inherently different. As a vegan, I would want to have the option of purchasing a synthetic material from vegetable sources, but if My desire is to be sensitive to ecological issues, I must carefully consider the source of the materials and the embodied work involved in production before purchasing a product.

I could possibly and (to some) surprisingly say that leather is indeed a sustainable material because it is a by-product of one of the largest industries, closing the loop of a product that would otherwise take up room in landfills.

Further, leather can be produced via sustainable methods, which are often very expensive but they result in very high quality products. Finally, durability and longevity are inherent characteristics of leather: a genuine leather handbag can last for life. There is nothing more eco-friendly than a long-lasting product. How many of us own one of grandma’s leather handbags? I own one of my great grandmother! In fact, it’s not surprising that cavemen used animal skin for a range of purposes given its peculiar properties, including its resistance, flexibility, and durability, hard to find in other natural products. Because I am fully aware that vegan customers are sensitive to no-animal products, I’m considering and reflecting on alternative materials: these materials, without the coverings applied to make faux leather, typically resemble paper products since they derive from vegetable and cellulose; I like the visual effect, but these materials don’t have the flexibility and softness that I look for in the handbags I create.

I’ve often considered creating a parallel product line; however, when I’ve approached alternative materials in the past, I haven’t found them satisfactory to the touch so I’ve not been able to continue my creative process. I have asked myself if this search for alternative materials is just a fashion trend, and we like fashion trends but not that much.

Perhaps the answer is in the use of fabrics in lieu of leather or eco-leather. However, I’m afraid that fabrics would not satisfy the customers who have requested handbags in eco leather. Nonetheless, fabrics do have the right properties without being covered in leather. I admit I still have to think about this further, and I won’t give up. Please forgive me if I haven’t been able to reach this objective yet. I do not intend to use commercial names of semi-synthetic products which would not respect first of all you and your choices. Therefore, I leave you today with a promise that, even though I love leather for a range of reasons, I wish to create an authentic product line, made of materials that have an authentic name, so that no-one has to give up the style of SPAZIOiF.

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