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England grew wealthy in the Middle Ages because of wool. With the merino breed not yet created English wool was sought after as among the finest available; for hundreds of years after the Norman Conquest exports of wool were a cornerstone of the economy.
The creation of what might be called a wool industry with large tracts of land fenced off for huge herds began with the arrival in the UK of the Cistercian Order of monks in 1128. They built a highly structured, vertically integrated business that some argue was the forerunner of capitalism. There were two key products involved. Wool, which was mostly exported via the powerful European Cistercian network, and milk. At that time the skins were used to make parchment.
Huge amounts of parchment were needed, even to produce one moderate sized book. So, it is a good thing that the Chinese worked out how to make paper and that we started to use it for everyday publications. With so many uses for leather in the past, from boats to armour, even gas meter leathers there is no way supply could have kept up with demand. Nowadays there is no sector where leather does not have competition.
It is surprising that we do not have better leather substitutes
Given we are now in the 21st century it is surprising that we do not yet have better materials available. In some uses, textiles do a good job, but they generally lack durability, so articles have very limited useful lives. In fact, most competitive materials for leather are plastic-based coming from a fossil fuel origin.
This is the part of the jigsaw that organisations like the Helsinki Fashion Week (HFW) choose not to see when they announce they do not want to have leather. One wonders if this is not merely a publicity stunt, as it certainly lacks logic. It mentions new materials like Zoa (from a manmade collage based in yeast), Piñatex (from pineapple leaves) and a mushroom based material none of which have yet reached commercial production. And none look like they offer real durability and longevity in use. If you do not want to use leather, then oil based plastics are going to be needed for many years. Consequently, Leather Naturally has spent the week battling with the nonsensical HFW decision.
Arguing against leather on environmental or sustainability grounds carries no logic. It smells of trying to find logical arguments to support an already held and fixed opinion. For sustainability, leather, as a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, processed responsibly, is one of the very top materials.
A thoughtful Fashion Week would headline leather as the best modern material.
Dr Mike Redwood
August 21, 2018
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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