I was scrolling through Vogue Business the other day when I stumbled upon an article by George Arnett about biodegradable lingerie. I thought the topic was interesting. You see, unless you want to wear only simple cotton underwear, there’s not a high chance you’ll find …
I’ve wanted to write about leather for quite some time. It’s needless to say that this topic is very controversial. And, when it comes to sustainability in fashion – it’s even more so. Without further ado, here are some facts you should take into consideration when working with or buying leather.
THE WELLBEING OF ANIMALS
Obviously, problem number one with leather is the fact an animal has to die for us to wear its skin. According to PETA, every year, the global leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals and tans their skins and hides.
Some might argue that leather is actually good since the skin is a co-product of the meat industry and would otherwise be thrown away. That’s a fair point but the meat industry is a huge problem for the environment itself and making leftover skins into leather instead of throwing them away isn’t quite environmentally friendly as it might sound. According to PETA, “until the late 1800s, animal skin was air- or salt-dried and tanned with vegetable tannins or oil, but today, animal skin is turned into finished leather with a variety of much more dangerous substances, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, mineral salts, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of which are cyanide-based.”
These substances are harmful to people who work with them, they make the previously biodegradable skin into a non-biodegradable one and eventually, as Tansy Hosking wrote in her book Stitched Up, they end up in our rivers and pollute our drinking water.
Also, when we talk about skins as co-products of the meat industry, we think of cattle skin. And what about exotic animal skins?
Last year Prada bought 700 young alligators and 26 full-grown alligators to make bags, shoes and other items from their hydes. (The Fashion Law) And that’s just one brand and one type of animal. Snakes, ostriches, kangaroos, yaks, sheep all get slaughtered for their skins or even worse, are skinned alive.
How can we avoid this? Stop buying leather or buy it second hand. But what if you really want a piece that at least looks like its made of leather?
YOU’VE BEEN FOOLED BY VEGAN LEATHER
Going vegan is the number one thing to do today. Everyone’s drinking oat milk, they’ve ditched meat and are promoting so-called vegan leather. But do they even know what vegan leather really is?
When you say something is vegan people will often think it’s also environmentally friendly because, well, vegans love nature and animals and don’t consume anything of animal origin. That might be true but it doesn’t make vegan leather environmentally friendly.
Vegan leather does not harm animals, and that’s a good thing. However, vegan leather is in most cases made of a polyester base with a PVC or polyurethane coating. According to CSIRO honorary research fellow and leather expert Robin Cranston, “they’re usually manufactured from fossil fuels and take a long time to break down once they reach the end of their useful life. (…) So you go from one industry which is traditionally based on skins that come from the meat industry to another industry that’s heavily dependent on petrochemicals.”
Besides being dependent on petrochemicals, the whole process of making PVC or polyurethane leather is also extremely harmful to the environment. British Vogue‘s writer and editor Ellie Pithers wrote about that subject and stated the following: “Both polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride must undergo chemical processes to make them flexible enough to mimic leather: the former involves painting liquified polyurethane onto a fabric backing, which requires a toxic solvent to render it fluid; the latter requires plasticizers such as phthalates, which are also toxic. Both derive from fossil fuels which, when burnt, release materials such as ash, nitrogen, and carbon into the atmosphere, which contribute to acid rain (as well as lots of other horrible things).”
CAN VEGAN LEATHER EVER BE GOOD
Absolutely yes. You can find many amazing alternatives out there that are sustainable, not harmful for the animals, and are biodegradable. There is Mylo, a vegan leather made from mushrooms’ underground structures developed by Bolt Threads. You’ve probably already heard of Piñatex, a vegan leather made from pineapple leaves in Spain by Ananas Anam that even H&M used in their sustainable collections. There is a company in Bolzano, Italy, called Frumat that makes leather from apple skins. And then there is Desserto, a new vegan leather developed this year in Mexico, made from the nopal cactus.
Leather can also be upcycled which is a method that a lot of designers have embraced in their work. Sarah Burton, Vivienne Westwood, Marine Sere and Price On Request (Croatia) are just a few of them. If you know any other leather alternatives, do let me know. And just stop buying leather.
Photo from “Friends/S05E11/The One with All the Resolutions” (1999).
When I started this blog I didn’t think there was a need to write an article that explains what is sustainable fashion. Sustainable energy, sustainable food, sustainable fashion – it’s all everybody talks about these days. Well, as it turns out, people don’t talk about …
It’s Okay To Re-wear Your Clothes (And A Few More Tips On How To Have A Healthy Relationship With Your Closet)
I recently saw an old episode of Seinfeld where Jerry can’t date a woman because she keeps re-wearing the same dress. Honestly, this got me kind of mad. Why wouldn’t she re-wear a dress? You can clean and dry your dress in a day but even …
When talking about sustainability in fashion we rarely talk about washing our clothes. The truth is washers and dryers use a lot of energy and the detergent we buy at supermarkets can be harmful to the environment. Actually, sustainability expert Steve Richardson found that 65 percent of all greenhouse gases are produced during the use of a product (ISPO). That made me ask myself is there even a sustainable way to wash our clothes?
To answer this question I contacted Anne Cathrine Lind Ceni. Anne is a Danish living in Switzerland, she works in marketing and is the manager of a webshop for concept store Krug. Krug is a store located in Split, Croatia that sells clothes and accessories made by Croatian brands Dott., Chicks on Chic and Little Wonder. Anne visited the store while on vacation in 2012 and then came back the year later before asking the owners if they’d be interested in her setting up and managing their webshop.
Anne and I exchanged a couple of e-mails where she told me she was then, and still is, so convinced about Krug’s concept and absolutely loves everything about their way of doing business. They made a deal and the shop went online in 2016. My favorite part of the website is a blog Anne writes for Krug. It was there that I found a piece on sustainable ways of doing laundry that really got to me.
“There are a lot of ways to wash your clothes more sustainably,” Anne tells me. She got interested in sustainability in fashion after watching True Cost. “I was so stunned about the whole industry. Most people, including myself at that time, just close our eyes for what is really going on. A T-shirt can’t cost five euros without having cost some kind of sacrifice on its way of becoming a T-shirt. After watching True Cost I read a lot of articles and looked at designers who actually do try to make sustainable fashion. Stella McCartney is one of them and also a lot of small Danish brands who I follow. One of them is Aiayu, they’re focused on zero waste. Fonnesbech is another brand that makes fashion that lasts more than just one season. I also get a lot of inspiration from Copenhagen Fashion Summit which is the world’s largest event on sustainability in fashion.”
I was particularly interested in sustainable ways of washing our clothes to which she suggested visiting Treehugger and told me about a few tricks she uses to make doing laundry more sustainable. “What works for me are the natural soap berries, hanging the clothes out to dry instead of using the dryer, washing full loads and washing on as low temperature as possible.”
I already read about natural soap berries on Krug’s blog and learned that “they are the fruit of the Sapindus Mukorossi tree, which grows in several different regions around the world, but is most prevalent in the Himalayas. The shell of the fruit is then collected, dried and packed for use. The shell is exceptionally high in saponin which is nature’s soap. This saponin content reduces the surface tension of the water so it will remove dirt and leave fabrics, soft and clean.” (Krug, April 2017) I also found out that you can order them online from brands like That Red House or NaturOli and am now very excited to try them
“I wash all my clothes with the natural soap berries and I find that they work just as good as normal detergent. I bought mine online, but I found them as well in a store in Denmark, so maybe you can also get them somewhere in Croatia.”
Photo from “Suffragette” (2015).
According to the Oxford dictionary greenwashing is disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. We can’t discuss anything here at Stitch before explaining what greenwashing really means in practice. Most brands greenwash their customers in a way that they …