According to recent studies, the fashion industry is among the most polluting in the world but increasingly more companies are adopting production systems based on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which in short means reducing the environmental impact and respecting workers’ safety and rights. In the same way the leather is subjected to continuous attacks by animalists and environmentalists who contest its sustainability. In reality, as experts know, leather is a sustainable material par excellence using food industry waste as raw material. But how can we counter all these accusations and improve the image of the leather-fashion sector among the final consumer? First of all it is necessary to bring out the best practices already in place among the top players in the sector. This and much more was discussed at the first “Sustainable Leather Forum – Towards a news vision for a responsible supply chain” held in Paris on 16 September at the initiative of the Conseil National du Cuir, the federation that brings together all French leather sectors. Yves Morin, Director and soul of the event, has set up a first-class conference attended by the biggest French fashion brands, by French and European institutions, along with researchers, tanners, leather traders, manufacturers of footwear, leather goods and distributors. All united in the effort to make fashion and leather industries an example of ethical environmental-friendly production.
As many as 270 people attended the auditorium, 31 speakers took turns at the microphone and there where three round tables that compared the speakers on the hot topics of social responsibility and environmental impact.
The conference was opened by the Secretary of State of the French Ministry of Economy Agnès Pannier-Runacher and the European Commission’s official Anna Athanasopoulou who illustrated the regulatory framework and encouraged the sector to bring about change by promising the full support of public authorities. The word then passed to the many speakers, including exponents of the certainly most awaited great luxury groups.
Christelle Capdupuy, Global Sustainable Development Director of Louis Vuitton, said that the label has been committed for years on issues of Social Responsibility and environmental sustainability and aims to be an example for all the other players in the fashion system. Great attention is paid to the search for less impacting materials and to the selection of certified suppliers. But it goes even further than that: “Today the goal is to reduce carbon footprint through the preliminary study of the life cycle assessment (LCA) of individual products”, said Capdupuy.
For her part, Marie-Claire Daveu, head of sustainability of the Kering Group (which we recall boasts brands like Gucci, Bottega Veneta, YSL, Balenciaga, etc.), reported a very sophisticated tool developed by the group within it precisely to measure the environmental footprint of products throughout the supply chain, demonstrating with this important investment how the topic of corporate social responsibility is a priority for the group, also considering the greater sensitivity of younger consumers. “We have seen that raw materials have an impact of 35% on the environmental impact of the product. That’s why we are working with our tanneries to develop less impacting tanning systems”, said Daveu.
The approach of an exclusive brand like Hermès is different. Emmanuel Pommier, managing director of craft activities, explained how the underlying philosophy in this case is focused on the “make it local”, that is to say realise production in very artisan factories (16 spread across France) located in small towns that employ entire communities. Among the key point of its environmental strategy: energy saving and innovative technologies to reduce carbon footprint of the producing plants. “We believe in leather because it is a modern and renewable material”.
Speakers also include Egbert Dikkers, president of Leather Naturally, the international leather promotion association, who urged luxury producers to do more: “Brands can drive change: buy leather from certified producers and invest more in the training of your employees. More generally, we need to educate consumers on the value of leather and shed light on the ambiguity of so many terms used in the fashion industry, starting from absurd words like vegan leather”.
Among the many topics of the conference, there is also the fight against deforestation. Rafael Andrade, head of the Brazilian tanning association CICB, wanted to clarify the groundlessness of the accusations made against the sector regarding the recent Amazonian fires which saw some brands block the purchase of Brazilian skins. Andrade explained the strong commitment of Brazilian tanneries towards the environment, which on the contrary represent a defense of legality compared to those who exploit environmental resources. Brazilian tanneries are companies that defend the territory and that in many cases obtained an environmental certification following a precise roadmap to improve their sustainability level. Mauricio Bauer of the Natural Wildlife Federation, an important Brazilian NGO that is working with the tanning industry to promote new leather traceability systems that can promote real transparency, also spoke too of Brazil.
David Grangeré of Bigard Group, a large French group of meat production, spoke of animal welfare and reported that companies should adhere to strict French and European regulations in this regard. Nicholas Butler of Covico spoke about respect for workers and reported on a research carried out in collaboration with the French Footwear Research Centre (CTC) to equip workers with devices to help them lift heavy loads like skins, starting from an exoskeleton that is worn to relieve fatigue.
The general manager of the Tanneries Haas, Jean-Cristophe Muller, told of how in his tannery they are implementing a traceability system developed precisely by the CTC, which involves laser marking of hides inside the abatement plants.
Gustavo Gonzalez Quijano, general secretary of Cotance, the federation that brings together European tanning associations, recalled the new European rules for measuring the carbon footprint of tanned leather starting from a raw material, as raw hide, whose environmental footprint is zero.
The final say is left to distributors, who are also increasingly attentive to the choice of suppliers to avoid false steps, as explained by Francisco Valente of Decathlon, who reported on strict procedures for the selection of producers and a global commitment to sustainability, also demonstrated by the fact that today there are as many as 25 people working on environmental and traceability issues within the group.