The article is based on an interesting research project from US based Chemist, Dr Richard Wool from the University of Delaware. Wool is also connected to a company called Eco-leather Corp.

The project looks very interesting and in fact Dr Wool has been awarded the “2013 President Green Chemistry Challenge award for developing chemicals safer for public health and the environment” along with commercial partners Dow Chemical, Cargill and Life Technologies with whom he is collaborating on this project.

Reports in the media (including some well known leather industry trade media) report that Wool and his team are developing “breathable leather” from chicken feathers, flax and soybean oil and is already collaborating with sportswear giants Nike and Puma to develop an athletic shoe created from non-toxic materials, and prototypes are already being rigourously tested.

Wool makes bio-composites using aerospace techniques of heat and pressure to process the discarded, downy fibers from chicken feathers mixed with natural fibres and plant oil resins to make durable shoe soles.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a top scientist but I am familiar with the International Council of Tanners’ (ICT) definition of what does and does not constitute genuine leather. Leather comes from an animal hide or skin, which is made up from collagen. Clearly, chicken feathers are largely keratin based and any mashed-up and reconstituted product made from this animal by-product cannot be called ‘Leather’ let alone ‘Eco-leather’.

At the last Global Leather Coordinating Committee (GLCC) meeting held in Bologna last October the matter of official leather labelling was discussed and in a press release the GLCC put out the following statement: “The ICT continues to compile its database of leather labelling standards and regulations by country, which will soon be made publicly available on the revamped ICT website. To date, there are over 60 entries to the database, which also provides standard definitions for the correct labelling of leather products. The GLCC is asking the global leather industry to promote the standard definitions for leather labelling in order to protect leather’s image in the marketplace.” Nowhere in those 60 definitions will you find that chicken feathers or ‘Feather Leather’ as it has been called will be the basis of genuine leather. Call it “Chick-Sole” or something but don’t call it leather, because it isn’t and never will be.

Last week ILM also published an article inviting the leather industry, particularly in Europe, to contribute its opinions to the EU survey on leather labelling that is currently open. The survey closes on January 31, 2014. It is available in 7 languages. If an EU wide law goes on the statute books then misleading naming of products that are not genuine leather will be much easier for the industry to enforce.

While I commend Dr Wool on his interesting work and wish him every success he will have to stop calling his product “breathable leather or eco-leather” and he will have to come up with another name and stop trading off of the back of genuine leathers unique history and affection from the consumer.

Martin Ricker

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