No one can have failed to notice the growing concerns about the impact of fast fashion on the environment. In 2017, Greenpeace reported that between 2000 and 2014, global clothing production doubled, while the average amount consumers spent per item and how long they kept it, both declined. Producing this much clothing uses up huge amounts of natural resources and has a massive negative impact on the environment.
The report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, ‘A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’, found that the clothes themselves, increasingly made of polyester, are putting dangerous amounts of microfibers in the oceans - about half a million tonnes per year - and too often wind up in landfills after little wear.
Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned and less than 1% of material used to make clothing is recycled into new clothing. Throw-away garments contribute more to climate change than air and sea travel and if nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.
The contrast with leather, undeniably a material for slow fashion, is stark. Regardless of the final application, leather is made to last, often improving with age.
This durability is one of the characteristics that make leather such a wonderful material. A pair of leather shoes might last 20 years, whereas a pair of synthetic shoes is likely to be thrown away after less than one.
Leather products can be repaired, a central requirement to achieving the circular economy. As noted in the Leather Naturally White Paper on the Sustainability of Responsibly Made Leather, ‘using resources for the longest time possible could cut some nation’s emissions by up to 70%, increase their workforces by 4% (repairing items) and greatly lessen waste’.
It seems that in our ever-faster world, the value of the durability of leather seems to have been forgotten, lost in the quest for cheap, disposable materials now, without any thought for the consequences down the line. In her book, ‘Craft of Use’, Kate Fletcher describes true materialism as “a switch from an idea of a consumer society where materials matter little, to a truly material society, where materials—and the world they rely on—are cherished.” In our fast world, materials have no value and the damage to the world they rely on is increasingly evident. In contrast, leather goods last, improve with age and may see years of use before repair or disposal is required. And this is to say nothing of the renewable and sustainable raw materials from which leather is made.
Leather is a material that is cherished by those still wise enough to see its virtues. Durability is one of them.