Mike Redwood

Columnist

International Leather Maker


If there was one headline I did not expect to read in my favourite weekend newspaper, it was “Catwalks of clothes made to last”. Yet, that was what the Financial Times Fashion Editor Lauren Indvik chose as her top line two weeks ago for a thorough report on the Paris fashion shows.

For a while during the pandemic, the extravagant fashion catwalk shows with their enormous footprints looked like they might be replaced by more accessible digital editions. But the reverse has happened, and we have returned wholeheartedly to the pre-Covid scenario. But, despite this, there has been an increased enthusiasm to try and reduce the environmental damage being done by the fashion industry without going to the ideological extremes promoted by designers such as Stella McCartney.

The value of longevity has taken some time to be recognised, not helped perhaps by the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, putting its emphasis on the management of natural and chemical elements at the end of life, sometimes giving the impression that a short useful life does not matter as long as the “afterlife” is correctly handled.

This concept is anathema to leather makers, as it is ingrained in the minds and hearts of tanners that leather is a material that lasts and lasts, and that leather products should be looked after and repaired or refurbished as required. We like the fact that upholstery, in the home or the automobile, takes some years to wear in and that when it does it looks better than when first purchased. Our leather goods are friends, blemishes are reminders of life moments and we know that leather wears in rather than wears out. Some older tanners still look out for leather patches to sew onto the thinning elbows of well-loved woollen jumpers.

So, perhaps it is understandable that something so obvious has only recently become top of mind for leather industry communications, despite the original circular concept coming from an architect who argued that buildings should be restored and updated rather than destroyed and replaced with new material and huge amounts of CO2 produced with newly made concrete.

In this regard, plastics have made it worse. While their longevity in landfill is 500 to a million years, their useful life in articles is rarely more than 20 years. However, it is their use in making low-cost synthetic fibres that has helped accelerate the consumer tsunami of buying cheap, throwaway goods that are hardly worn or cannot withstand more than a couple of washes.

Although we are 30 years late, the message is getting through that a better choice of materials is required and the quality of manufacturing counts. Fashion cannot afford to be a race to the bottom, driven to high levels of plastic content by influencers with ulterior motives. With that in mind, we should congratulate Lauren Indvik for her decision to drastically reduce her clothing purchasing this year, and for being willing to talk clearly about leather’s involvement on the catwalk despite being a committed vegan.

Most fashion weeks contain amounts of leather that offer hope of a revival of leather in everyday fashion, but when Chloe’s Gabriela Hearst is quoted describing her polished leather and shearling coats as “meant to be passed on”, this is a stronger tale. The various collections showed more leather jackets, coats and trouser suits and it sounds like across the board more natural materials were being used. The Leather Industry’s COP26 statement has clearly not been wasted but has actually helped with the accumulation of messages getting through to the press, consumers and designers about the need for honesty and education in materials.

So, as everyone meets this week in Dubai, there is reason to be optimistic. To keep up the difficult, steady task of helping the industry educate the consumer with material that is only based on truth, and to work on making leather and articles made from them even better. We should also remind the modem automobile industry that renewable energy needs renewable, sustainable upholstery.


mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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