The environmental consequences of the leather industry
The universe of the objects that surround us and the space we inhabit have a history that we often ignore. The story of what we wear, and which allows us to play our role in society, is a story of production that involves multiple sectors.
The narration of a pair of shoes with which we plow the roads of the world starts from the head of cattle that provides, in spite of itself, the necessary leather, binding itself to the sector of livestock and crops destined now.
Buying a piece of clothing made of leather has the same impact on the environment as eating a steak, since the tanning industry is a direct consequence of animal husbandry.
In some ways it seems that the tanning industry can offer an ecological solution to the disposal of farm waste by reusing the waste, but it is clearly a solution that has little ecological.
the tanning industry does not use all the farm waste. The skin is selected, and only a few types of animal skin are used.
In particular, cowhide is used, coming from the livestock sector which is the cause of the highest rate of pollution and change in the landscape.
Supporting animal breeding means implicitly accepting the elimination of biodiversity, not only for the degree of pollution emitted in terms of greenhouse gases and incorrect disposal of industrial waste, often freely released into the environment.
cattle breeding causes an irreversible change in the landscape due to the large space intended for intensive farming, the reduction of the animal’s living space does not guarantee reduced exploitation of the territory.
Entire territories teeming with life are destined for agriculture, which allocates 70% of the crops to intensive farming.
For its part, leather processing is responsible for a high rate of pollution due to the necessary chemical processes of tanning and production of the necessary cuts for the individual items of clothing.
The reduction of production costs involves the relocation of industries to developing countries where low controls and risky disposal measures endanger the health of workers in the sector.
Let’s wear a new skin
In the fashion industry in recent years the use of plant alternatives, specifically vegan, to animal skin has been depopulating.
Access to vegan branded accessories has certainly improved in the last decade, thanks to the use of e-commerce which opens the door to immediate purchase.
There are many alternatives to animal skin and the research behind these products is amazing, which not only allows us not to exploit any animal product, even glue but also guarantees an all-around ethical production.
More and more companies are resorting to ruelty-free and eco-compatible alternatives to animal skin, which produce accessories of entirely vegetable origin, and which guarantee simple, safe and low environmental impact disposal.
Several Italian manufacturers are involved in the vegan fabric revolution, such as Alberto Volcan from South Tyrol, producer of pellemela, a high-strength fabric produced by processing dried apple peels and cores, or the Milanese company Vegea which has put clothes on the market and accessories made from the processing of pomace.
The cactus trend
One of the design inventions that most attracted the attention of international investors was the cactus skin born in Mexico by the Desserto brand.
Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cazárez used a symbolic plant of Mexico, whose cultivation requires a reduced use of the land and water resources.
Desserto’s leather is with low environmental impact and totally vegetable, as well as biodegradable.
In the Zacatecas region there is the Desserto ranch where the Nobal cactus is grown, an extremely resistant cactus, as much as the resulting skin, elastic and durable more than animal or synthetic skin and with significant benefits for the environment.
Given its hygroscopic nature, Nobal absorbs the water present in the atmosphere, optimizing photosynthetic activity even at extreme temperatures. Therefore, its cultivation, renewable every 8 years, does not affect local water resources, making the most of rainwater.
The cultivation of the cactus has been fully integrated into the natural landscape in which the ranch stands, guarantee the two inventors, without the cutting down of trees. Nobal is native to the region, its cultivation respects the local biodiversity, it stimulates the development of the soil’s microflora and microfauna, supporting the proliferation of wildlife.
Only the ripe leaves are destined for the processing of Desserto. Once cut, they are dried in the sun, without further consumption of artificial energy.
The final product is extremely competitive, guaranteeing great resistance and breathability, but its strong point lies in its being environmentally friendly. The production of Desserto makes the most of natural resources by adapting to their timing, without causing any damage to the ecosystem.
After winning the LVMH award in July 2020, Desserto officially entered the fashion world thanks to a fruitful partnership with the luxury brand.
For some time now, high fashion has given way to a change of direction towards more sustainable solutions, at first with timid steps by individual houses, such as the well-known Stella McCartney.
The British brand cannot boast the use of the all-around vegan appellation, since it uses wool and cashmere, but contributes decisively to the path of circular fashion, thanks to the use of recycled materials.
It also provides for the use of organic wool from controlled farms, a much more appreciable alternative than the purchase of completely artificial synthetic products produced without adequate environmental protection measures.
Being aware and completely ethical buyers is definitely difficult, particularly when the items of our purchases are not at hand and within reach of your pocket.
If luxury fashion is not for everyone, innovations in the textile sector are rapidly growing, and once again nature comes to our rescue.
From olive trees to tofu, passing through corn and mushrooms, the possibilities of choice are enormous and increasingly ready-to-wear, for a future of environmentally friendly clothing.
Roberta is graduated in philosophy at the University of Naples Federico II, she is currently a scholarship holder at the IISF in Naples. Interested in research for the development of new technologies and environmental protection, she is happy to collaborate with Atmosphera lab.