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Cradle to Cradle thinking is getting a lot of attention in the leather industry these days. It seems late in the day as I was sent the book over ten years ago by an old colleague and got so excited I now recognise I never sent it back. That book was written by a chemist Michael Braungart and an architect William McDonough in 2002, and they own the term Cradle to Cradle as a trademark.
Their concept is about the end of life of articles, requiring them to be designed so that at the end of life they can be easily separated into natural and chemical materials and each recovered; the natural used as a nutrient for the land and the chemical to be used again for its proper purpose, not recycled into some suboptimal end use as happens with general "recycling".
In fact, the cradle to cradle concept was first introduced by Walter Stahel in the 1970s. His starting point was not design for end of life, but rather using articles longer, and then keeping them in circulation even longer by repairing them. This approach, he still argues today, could reduce some nation's emissions by up to 70%.
Leather is a winner
Leather is an outstanding winner in this. A leather wallet is expected to last ten years, a car seat the same at a very minimum, an airline seat eight years - although the only ones I know about lasted twelve. I still wear a pair of Church's shoes I bought in the seventies for formal occasions, although they have been re-soled quite a few times.
I like having the life of my shoes extended by having them repaired: it feels like you are starting off with a new pair once again. They say that a retail price point of about €100 or above is the level at which consumers look for repair and that feels about right. One of the important extra point that Stahel makes about repair is that it employs people. It is work that involves skills and knowledge, which cannot be replaced by robots. He talks about an increase in workforce of about 4% through the extensive utilisation of repair, with the additional huge advantages of throwing less away and using up resources more slowly.
What is more, most leather items do not wear out; it is the zips, the rubber soles or the stitching which usually suffer first. So for many items, longevity would be further increased if components were chosen with greater care and then the design was such that repair was simple.
That way leather is not part of a throw-away society and, when it does finally end, its life it is replaced not by something from a fossil fuel but another piece of leather from a renewable resource.
Something to put into all your marketing messages.
27th July 2016
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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