The article, titled “Leather’s carbon footprint is immense, but this plant-based alternative could be the way forward”, published by Vogue on February 5, points out how sustainability is expected to be the big theme of the autumn 2020 season, and how “leather’s environmental impact is the elephant in the room”. The article tells readers to reconsider the amount of leather sitting in their wardrobes and cites a quote from British vegan designer Stella McCartney; “An animal decomposes when it’s natural, but after all of the chemical treatments [applied] to a leather handbag, it isn’t going to decompose in your wardrobe. That product is staying alive because of the chemicals that have been put on it, because if you just had a dead animal in your closet, it would be a very different situation. The animals [leather] kills, the toxins, the chemicals, the cutting down of rainforests, the food and water and electricity it takes to make a leather bag…. It’s way more than a synthetic bag.”

Reacting to the article, Egbert Dikkers, Global Director Sustainability at chemical manufacturer Smit & Zoon and Leather Naturally Chairman, said “It is a pity that the article in Vogue is so biased, incorrect and positions non-leather materials as the best thing in town. As long as people eat meat, the hides and skins will become available as a by-product, and upcycling this into leather is the best thing to do to prevent landfill. The article is writing about ‘vintage’ and ‘designing products that last’. Brands choosing leather as their favourite material make the right choice as leather articles last way longer than alternative materials of which most of are oil-based with the waste, largely ending up in our oceans and landfill. Leather is all about longevity, the first and preferred way to be more sustainable as a consumer.” He also lamented that the article also describes the use of ‘chemicals’ in producing leather as something bad. “By stating this, the author seems to believe that consumers lack the understanding that almost all materials we daily use are made with the support of chemicals. The leather industry is using chemicals that are strictly controlled by organisations like the ZDHC, while leather manufacturers are professional companies with a big portion certified on environmental stewardship by the Leather Working Group”, added Dikkers.

Building on Dikkers’ reponse, Kerry Senior said that Stella McCartney “has reached a new level of inane” with her quote. He said the designer is quite correct in her interview, but the wardrobe won’t decompose either. “However, assuming that wardrobe is made of wood, it will biodegrade when disposed of. So will leather, which will at worst, leave a residue of synthetic finish components but that will be considerably less than residue left by one of Stella’s non-biodegradable plastic bags. There is a massive difference between the conditions of use and disposal”, said Senior. “We see again the tired, ignorant trope that animals are killed to make leather, when all the evidence shows this is not the case. Animals are killed for meat and are still being killed for meat at a time when hide prices are at an all-time low and some are being thrown away. In the real world, people eat meat and this produces hides and skins; the only ethical choice is to use those hides and skins, and leather is the best option. Finally, the laughable cognitive dissonance where chemicals used in leather are bad but using the same chemicals to tan and finish Reishi is apparently OK. Veg tans are chemicals, just like chrome and, just like chrome, are no hazard if used properly”, added Senior.

To read the Vogue article, click here.