Above: Leather bags from Sandqvist’s Women’s Classic collection.
We know that leather is generally a dirty, polluting, unethical and cruel industry. This is especially true for parts of the world where regulations for animal welfare, environmental safety and human working conditions are insufficient or even absent.
Leather products are however still the norm in fashion today, and (even though it does feel weird saying so after our previous statement) they do have their benefits, being highly durable and having the ability to age well — becoming more beautiful over time. Yet, there’s no escaping the fact that we’re all just walking around wearing pieces of dead animals. Neither can we deny that everyone (people, animals and planet) would seriously benefit from the deconstruction of the entire industry. Period.
Luckily, more and more fashion brands are waking up to the unsustainable and unethical aspects of conventional leather, following in Stella McCartney’s footsteps, and are making the switch to animal-free products or “vegan leather”. Unfortunately though, vegan leather often just means “another piece of plastic”, and historically these products have been lacking severely in quality and durability. But with the research that is currently done to develop new modern and eco-friendly materials, we’re definitely feeling hopeful.
Swedish footwear brand Flattered, for example, reached out to us the other week to let us know about their vegan shoe styles made from Bio PU — a material derived from bio materials instead of the traditional fossil fuels (so not just another piece of plastic then). However, the same time, they also wanted to tell us about their new sustainable leather sneakers (their words).
It is questionable if a virgin leather product ever should or could be called sustainable, but the Flattered sneakers do have several good traits: It’s made entirely by hand in Portugal with vegetable tanned Italian leather for one, meaning that there’s been no toxic or harmful chemicals involved in the tanning process (toxic chems is definitely one of the reasons why this industry is so incredibly dirty). In addition, the sole is made from natural rubber, cork and bio residue, and the cotton details and laces are organic and recycled. So all in all, they’re definitely way more sustainable than your average sneaks.
“If you’re vegan and you don’t want your consumption to contribute to the dairy and meat industry, you should definitely not buy leather.” Henrik Lindholm, Sandqvist
Bag brand Sandqvist is another Swedish company that has walked an extra mile or two in order to ensure their leather products are responsibly produced. (They also offer several vegan products in their portfolio.) Wanting to learn more about how, and if, virgin leather products can be made “more sustainable”, we reached out to their sustainability manager, Henrik Lindholm, with a few questions. First of all, we wanted to know whether he could explain the difference between conventional leather and the more sustainable kind they work with. Here’s what he said:
“In order to secure good animal husbandry and environmental concerns, Sandqvist started using leather made from Scandinavian hides in our full leather products in 2018. This means that the cattle used for the leather comes from the Swedish and Danish dairy and meat industry. In Scandinavia, we have some of the strictest laws protecting the welfare of farm animals, and these are also countries with a lower environmental impact of cattle rearing.”
“The first, and from an environmental point of view most critical, tanning is done at a tannery in Denmark, before the hides are shipped to the factory where the re-tanning and the sewing of the bag is done. Throughout the production, we only use tanneries rated gold for their environmental work by the Leather Working Group.”
“Most other brands will know where the bags are sewn and where the re-tanning is done, but not often where the first tanning is done or where the animals came from.”
What does a certification from the Leather Working Group guarantee?
When a tannery is audited according to the Leather Working Group (LWG) protocol, they check the tannery’s management of chemical, energy and water use, waste and effluent treatment, as well as air and noise emissions. This is a thorough check of the environmental impact of the tanning process.
For Sandqvist’s full leather bags, we only use gold-rated tanneries that have the highest rating by LWG. It means that they have scored higher than 85 in the LWG audit on a scale from 0 to 100. For us this is a guarantee that the tannery has a comprehensive management system to reduce their environmental impact. Or to put it in a simple way: it means that the tannery we work with is using less energy, less water, less and better chemicals, as well as taking care of waste and effluent in a responsible way.
How do you defend leather products and production from an ethical/environmental point of view?
This is a very relevant question, and I often struggle myself with the subject of how to defend consumption of fashion goods in general from an environmental point of view. But looking specifically at leather, I actually think it has qualities that can make it a good environmental choice. All our leather is a by-product from the dairy and meat industry. Since we know where they come from, we also know the standard of animal welfare. I think, if you’re comfortable using Swedish milk products, you should be okay with using a leather bag from Sandqvist.
This is of course a question of your own ethical convictions; if you’re vegan and you don’t want your consumption to contribute to the dairy and meat industry, you should definitely not buy leather.
Finally, what is your best advice on how to make leather products last?
All leather bags and details should be treated by applying a leather grease or balm. I recommend Sandqvist Leather Care, which is perfect for all leather bags and details. But there are many varieties of products available, and any colorless leather grease or conditioners will help protect the product. Leather care products make the bag more weather resistant and keeps the leather moisturized too.
Most people know this, so maybe the most important advice is what not to do: Drying your leather bag in a hot place, like in the sun or in front of an open fire, is not a good idea and will make your leather dry up.
In our Sandqvist Repair Shops, we repair used bags. In many cases, the leather has aged beautifully, but another part or detail must be fixed, like a zipper.
Another timeless advice for how to make your leather bag last is to not overstuff it.
Sum up: If you’re going to wear leather, choose products that are made in a responsible way. And if you’re okay with wearing leather but don’t want to contribute to the industry, we strongly recommend the second hand market (always the best option!). Or you can give the eco-friendly vegan alternatives a go. Finally: Care for and repair the leather goods you already have to make them last longer.
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