If You Like Leather Bags Then Try These Sustainable Options

If You Like Leather Bags Then Try These Sustainable Options

 

There’s a reason your mom’s leather jacket from decades past is still a staple in her closet (or maybe yours now). And what about your sleek leather shoulder bag that goes with every outfit? Simply put, leather never goes out of style.


Leather is a durable, timeless material that is perfect for creating classic, wearable pieces. But like other materials, the leather industry, as it is today, is harmful to the environment. It contributes to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.


Luckily, there’s still a way to enjoy leather goods and do your part to reduce your environmental impact. Read on to learn more about the benefits of sustainable leather bags along with some of our favorite styles.


A Brief History on Leather Bags

 

While it may be hard to imagine, leather has been used for hundreds of thousands of years, with the evidence of tanned leather dating back 400,000 years and the first leather bags dating back to the 16th century


Over time the number of uses for leather has grown and the way in which leather has been processed has changed. Chemicals were introduced to add softness and dyes were added to create unique colors. With more information becoming available on the leather industry and its practices, a lot of people wonder, “Is leather bad for the environment?” 

 

leather dye baths

 

The environmental impact of the leather industry is undeniable. The grazing of cows contributes to deforestation and, believe it or not, cows’ farts contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. While over 97% of the emissions of cattle can arguably be attributed to the meat industry (According to the US Department of Agriculture, 97.7% of the economic value of a cow is derived from non-leather components while 2.3% of the economic value comes from the hide), animal agriculture is not the only aspect of leather production that is harmful to the environment.  The tanning process often uses lots of water and toxic chemicals, and the cutting process yields lots of waste due to the odd shapes of skins and their inherent imperfections as a natural material (more on waste in the fashion industry here). But is there a way for leather to be sustainable?


Sustainable Practices in Animal Leather Production

 

Is it possible for animal leather to be sustainable? When analyzing the impact of any material, we like to look at as much of the lifecycle as possible, from sourcing/ manufacturing to use to the afterlife of the material (recycling/ disposal).


Sourcing


As we mentioned earlier, leather is a byproduct of the meat industry. While this fact is often contested, the truth remains that, according to the United States Department of Agriculture,  if cowhides were not converted into leather, 33,000,000 would end up in a landfill annually, likely resulting in a significant increase in emissions. It’s critical to keep these waste materials in circulation and out of landfills by reutilizing them.


Manufacturing

 

From water use to chemical use and emissions released, leather’s impact on the environment can vary from product to product. Because the leather industry varies in its processes and practices, third party certifications are a great way to verify sustainable practices as well as ethical sourcing in leather bag production. The Leather Working Group is known for its efforts to increase supply chain traceability & transparency as well as reduce hazardous chemicals, environmental impact and emissions, so leathers with its certifications have been verified to be created using sustainable practices. 

Another way to reduce the impact of the manufacturing process is to source deadstock or abandoned leathers. Deadstock leathers (sometimes referred to as leftover leathers) are leathers abandoned by their owners. These can be the result of canceled orders, overproduction or imperfections. We believe that the most sustainable leather is the one that already exists.  Sourcing deadstock leather enables us to create durable and long-lasting leather bags without the land, water and energy consumption needed to create new materials. This ensures our leather bags have a lower carbon footprint. 


Use


Durability is one of the biggest reasons to buy genuine leather. According to Maxine Bédat in Unraveled, “wearing a garment twice as long would lower greenhouse gas emissions from clothing by 44%.” The average leather bag lasts upwards of 30 years, versus 10 years for cactus leather and 5 years for pineapple leather and 4-6 years for PU/ PVC. When determining the most sustainable leather option, one can therefore compare the impact of 3 cactus leather bags or 6 pineapple leather bags or 6 PU leather bags to 1 real leather bag. Because durability is so critical when analyzing sustainable practices, and because leather is SUCH a durable material, we only source the highest quality luxury leftover leathers, ensuring that your leather purse will last in your wardrobe.

Just like we clean and care for our bodies, product care is extremely important. With proper leather care, your leather handbag can remain in circulation for generations. It doesn’t have to be time consuming- a small amount of effort can go a long way. For example, to keep the natural shape of your bag, store it in its original protective dust bag, re-stuffing it with the paper included in-between wears to help items keep their original shape. Avoid storing your leather in direct sunlight (any day to day exposure is great!). Keep it away from humidity, heat and chemicals and avoid extreme moisture and rough surfaces, which can scratch and damage it. Some leathers can benefit from a leather cream or leather conditioner now and again. Always test any product on a hidden part of your bag, like the underside of the strap, before applying all over. 



Post-Use


When, eventually, your leather item is beyond care, resale and repair (hopefully after generations of use), it will likely end up in a landfill. Leather is known to biodegrade in a landfill in 10-50 years, depending on the type of lather and the tanning chemistry used. A typical plastic-based material like PU, for comparison, will take over 500 years to biodegrade.



Are Leather Alternatives Sustainable?


Leather alternatives have been growing in popularity, but are they more sustainable? There are many different kinds of leather alternatives, which tend to be blanketed under the term vegan leather. Vegan leather is really just marketing for synthetic leather, which indicates a lack of animal derivates, but vegan does not necessarily equate with sustainable.  Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of some popular leather alternatives through the lens of a brief lifecycle analysis.


Synthetic leather can be made from a variety of raw materials. The most common materials are PU (polyurethane) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride). While both are marketed towards animal welfare activists, they are both are fossil-fuel derived materials (plastic) that deplete non-renewable resources and use a ton of energy to create. PU and PVC have an estimated lifespan of 4-6 years. They don’t wear well over time and can take over 500 years to biodegrade when they end up in a landfill.

 

Recent innovations in alternatives to traditional leather and fossil fuel-derived vegan leather include leather alternatives like cactus leather, fruit leathers like pineapple leather, and mushroom leather. While all of these natural leather alternatives have a similar look and purpose, the raw material is different in each one. Cactus leather utilizes cactus as its primary ingredient, which needs very little water and energy to create. Pineapple leather utilizes waste from the pineapple industry as a resource. And mushroom leather is grown in a lab, leaving farmland for food crops. While we applaud these innovative approaches, these alternatives also have one thing in common: plastic binders and/or coatings. Because they are less durable than leather, with a lifespan of anywhere from 4-10 years, it’s important to remember they will not last as long in your wardrobe, and because they’re not recyclable with current technologies, they’ll likely end up in a landfill where the plastic will affect their ability to degrade over time.


Conclusion


It’s difficult to discern what is the most sustainable leather option out there. Certainly there are advantages to different kinds of leathers and leather alternatives. Nothing is perfect, which is why we’re always aiming just to be better. 


Our main goal here at HYER GOODS is carbon reduction through minimizing waste.  We prioritize materials that already exist and avoid plastic due to its affect on our natural resources and its inability to biodegrade. Real leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, and our real leathers are also a byproduct of the fashion industry. The advantages of sustainable leather bags made from deadstock materials is that we keep waste like cowhide leather in circulation and out of landfills, reducing the amount of material sent to landfill while also reducing carbon emissions. Furthermore, we offset the emissions created from shipping our product to your door, making us one step closer to carbon neutrality. Whether you’re looking for a leather crossbody bag, a leather belt bag or the perfect sustainable leather shoulder bag, if you like all the quality of leather without the impact, shop our sustainable leather bags.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.