For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been concern with the amount of leather waste that is being produced by the entire leather industry. Because I am a fashion student my interest have always been with fabrics. It has come to my attention before that the clothing industry produces a lot of waste but I’ve never noticed how much of this waste is being produced within the leather industry. 23 billion square feet of leather is being produced every year. Worth over 77 Billon us dollars. More than 600.000 tons of solid waste worldwide.
What this means for the people, the planet and the profit, I tried to explain in these diagrams:
Current Leather Industry
This is how the current industry works: From every piece of leather that goes into production, only 40% of the patch is used fort he actual product. The other 60% of the patch will become waste. For the profit this means that companies who produce leather goods will miss out on more than half of their earnings. So they could be making half as much by reusing the waste and creating new sellable products.
Something else that is going terribly wrong is the way the companies get rid of the waste. This is effecting not only the planet put also the people and profit. The way they get rid of the waste is by burning the pieces of leather. Because these pieces have already been chemically treated the are not able to putrefy. But while the leather goes up in flames, all of the chemicals that have been used in production will evaporate and cause a lot of pollution. This harms not only the environment but also the people. There has been proven that there is a much higher risk for people working in the factories to get cancer because they breath in the chemical gasses all day.
Besides the fact that this is a horrible thing to begin with this is also costing the big companies a lot of extra money. Sick employees mean less production, which means less products to sell.
Future Leather Industry
In this diagram I tried to show an example of what would happen if the leather producing companies would start using the waste and tried to make a new sellable product out of it.
Obviously no more (or a lot less) waste will mean no more chemical pollution. So the environment becomes healthier and the people working in the factories no longer have to breath in the chemicals and have a higher risk of getting cancer.
By reusing the waste and making it into a new product het companies will be able to dubbel their production. They already own the base materials and only have to spend a minimal amount on extra production costs.
Waste within Leather industry Quality of Leather
Diagram 3 Diagram 4
After doing a little bit more research i found some digits that represent the waste within the industry and what kind of products produce the most waste. A big part of the waste comes from the actual leather making. When they take the leather of the cow only a small part of the patch is actually being used for the production of leather goods. I found out that is was mostly the shoe department that is most wasteful. They only use part one and twee (see diagram 4) Of the leather because this is the strongest, thickest and most consisted in quality. But the rest of the patch will most likely become waste. So I asked myself the question: is it possible to decline leather waste in the shoe industry
The inspiration for my research came from a project I found on the internet. It’s a project called “structural skin” by Jorge Penadés. He is an Spanish artist who makes wood-like material by combining leather waste with resin, puts this substance in a mold and compresses it into a strong, solid material. from the beams he produced he makes small pieces of furniture to actually make the leather waste sellable again.
An other project i came across is called “presious skin” by Victoria Ledig. She has designed a accessoire line from the parts of the patch that are not even concidered as actual leather within the industy. She has zero waste and uses parts like ears, tailes and legs to create the leather goods. Because of the quite shocking apperance of the accessoires she also creats awareness by showing how we got so used to leather without realising it actually comes from animals and she shows how much pretty decent leather is wasted without het industy even concidering to use it.
after seeing these projects i got inspired to try and make something out of leather waste myself. I went to a little store in Rotterdam were they sell big patches of leather as wel as a part of their own waste. I spoke with the owner of the store about my finds and asked him a couple of questions about my project:
I want to see if i can create a new product out of the leather waste. What would you think is a good product to make of it besides the standard leather goods?
“I’ve heard many times about product like this but it was never really successful because the products were never really strong enough. If you want to make a product that is already being made out of leather, you have to keep in mind that it will never have the same quality.
Something I would recommend is more like something decorative. Maybe something to put on your wall. As long as it doesn’t have to hold a lot of strength”
It was really helpful to talk tot his man because I never considered the difference in quality and the amount of strength hit could handle. Making an actual product out of the waste will cost me a lot more time and I will have to do a lot more research. I wanted to continue my research one a smaller bases and try and see what is possible with the leather waist to give it an new consistency or structure. I wanted to create a new kind of material out of the little patches of leather instead of thinking of an actual product to make.
I decided to try making a bit of a replica of “structural skin” and mixed little pieces of leather with polyester resin. The resin that soaked into the leather stayed a bit sticky but I can really see this working if I would’ve done more research into the resin I used. And if it’s not for a product then maybe just as decoration. It doesn’t have much strength it looks rather pretty if I may say so myself.
after these couple of weeks doing research a came to the conclusion that there are still a lot of innovations to be made within the leather industry. The amount of waste relative to the leather used for production is way to high and there must be a lot more ways to use the waste. Especially because leather is taken from animals we should be much more aware of how we use it. I am glad to see so many people already got up and tried to do something about it. Even though is is not a world threatening problem (for now) I hope more people will become aware of this problem and seek for ways to innovate.
By Bente Nissingh, 2th year fashion, 0891429