For years some of our most popular products are our leather bags. As we have been analyzing what it means to be eco-friendly and how to make large and small decisions that increase sustainability in our business, we have been bringing leather into question.
Two things have come up as we have researched this:
The first is that leather itself is a natural substance. It breaks down when put into landfills (not as quickly as it would b/c of the tanning process, but faster than synthetics), in many cases it lasts a very long time for use before it is ever discarded.
That being said, the way that leather is processed may bring up some environmental and health questions that need to be considered. Farming animals, processing them and the chemicals required to tan a hide so it will last can come at great cost to the environment. The Ethiopian leather that we use IS a byproduct of the meat production industry, which helps. It is all vegetable dyed but does use a traditional tanning process.
In Ethiopia, leatherwork is a traditional craft and in many places, it is worked in small factories. Check out THIS sweet post about the story behind the leather factory that sources most of our leather goods. In this case, the social sustainability and cultural connection to leather work have merit.
Lastly: what is the alternative? Having a bag that is functional, fashionable and will last a long time is part of living (especially a professional) life. If the alternative to a leather bag is a plastic bag (most vegan leather on the market is plastic), leather may be more sustainable. Check out THIS really fascinating article listing some great alternatives to leather (including tree bark leather, mushroom leather and products made from recycled paper!)
So, in the end…it is hard to know. Owning less, keeping things longer and making educated choices is probably the best decision. As for us, our preference is leather over synthetic at this point. But let’s hope for more vegetable sourced products that last,coming to market soon!