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Is leather neglected by the fashion industry?

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ILM Commentary

Posted: September 02, 2021




Credit: Mohamed Abdulraheem


Legitimate or not, eco-responsible campaigns in the fashion industry have often overlooked leather, but what can we do about it?

Almost daily here at ILM, we post and chat with industry experts who reiterate that leather is the right sustainable material for an eco-friendly fashion industry, and that an evolution towards Plastics do more harm than good, but it’s clear consumers aren’t paying attention. Indeed, their attention may be drawn elsewhere by global campaigns focusing on plastic-based materials.

ILM recently reported that the Advertising Ethics Jury in France ruled that an Adidas ad violated advertising rules and misled consumers about its plastic recycling messages and, although this type of behavior focused on greenwashing is a real concern when the other hand chastises leather as a material of the past, I’m not sure that’s the crux of the matter.

It is true that the plastics used in clothing and footwear, which come from fossil fuels, are not good for the planet or for us. Despite many sincere efforts to recycle these products and materials, a catastrophic amount ends up in landfills. Statista reports that Nike generated 4,846 tonnes of waste at its sites around the world in fiscal 2020, down 7% from the previous fiscal year. A decrease that runs counter to the dramatic upward trend in these numbers over the past decade, and likely only caused by restrictions around the Covid-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Synthetics Anonymous A report by the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF), which assesses the sustainability claims of brands in the fast fashion, luxury fashion and online retail sectors, found that 39% of products came with ‘Sustainability claims such as’ recycled’ and ‘green’ but a whopping 59% failed to meet Market and Competition Authority guidelines on greenwashing.

In addition to verifying the sustainability claims of these brands, the report also looked at their use of virgin synthetics (those first produced and used, not yet recycled) and the majority of the 49 brands fell into the worst category, the “Red zone”, some being classified because they did not disclose any information.

Some have disclosed. Adidas revealed that nearly 90% of its products contain virgin synthetic materials, mostly polyester, while Nike’s latest impact report found that it used more than 152,000 tons of polyester and 111,490 tons of rubber in fiscal year 2020. CMF’s February report found that virgin polyester production generates 700 million tonnes of CO2 every year.

Another report, from the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), looked at 10,000 recently listed items sold online by Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing, Missguided and ASOS and found that on average 49% were polyester, acrylic, nylon and elastane. RSA accused these brands of greenwashing by focusing on small, sustainable ranges when the majority of their products are bad for the environment.

So why is leather being excluded from these sustainability campaigns by big fashion brands and High Street retailers? The answer is quite simple: perception. The rise of the vegan movement and animal welfare campaigns targeting the meat industry have had a ripple effect on leather. It does not matter that leather is a recycled product and that it is “buy it for life”, rather than “buy it for the landfill”, consumers have the image of leather as worse for the environment than shoes. plastic, and it’s not easy to change that perception.

It is clear from the above data that many fashion and retail giants produce massive amounts of plastic waste and are criticized for the way they distract customers by focusing on development efforts. relatively minor, yet their impact on consumer perception has been effective.

In our most recent survey of tanners, we found that although 77% of tanners believe there is still a chance to improve the image of leather as a natural material over ‘fake’ alternatives, 80 % don’t think enough is being done to market leather to consumers.

We spoke to Steve Sothmann and Tim Lewis from Real Leather. Stay different. campaign in our most recent ILM podcast episode and it is clear that the effort is there. Campaigns like Real Leather, Stay Different and Leather Naturally take the best parts of leather as a material and bring them to consumers in the right way, but they are on the back foot when they’ve been beaten to the knuckles by the world. fashion brands with endless marketing budgets and greenwashing programs.

So what can we do as an industry to break through and prove that leather, while not perfect, is the best choice for the environment and for the consumer? It’s hard to come up with a definitive answer and we might just be forced to do our best and hope the public wakes up to the brands and retailers filling their world with plastic.

Tom Hogarth, Associate Editor

September 2, 2021

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