AN UNHEALTHY APPETITE FOR LEATHER

gucci bag held by woman in gucci shirt with fur coat

International leather brands are scrambling to source products in the wake of China’s economic boom. The country’s demand for luxury leather goods means that in 2016, the imported finished products surpassed imports of raw leather materials in value.

The global market for leather accessories was worth 43 billion euros in 2015, and demand continues to grow. Because of this, brands that haven’t previously made leather products have entered the market. Almost every brand under LVMH, Kering (Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta), and Richemont (Cartier, Piaget, Montblanc, Alfred Dunhill, and Chloé) now sells leather goods.

Questions have arisen regarding whether or not luxury brands can maintain their standards in the face of this unprecedented demand – and at what cost to the environment and animal welfare?

LMVH has attempted to secure its future in leather by partnering with Tannerie Masure in Belgium, and by taking control of Heng Long and Tanneries Roux. Hermes, Kering, and Chanel have made similar moves by acquiring further European tanneries and leather producing businesses.

Ethical alternatives for both leather and fur are also on the rise, due to both fast fashion and a growing conscience about animal consumption. Although leather is largely a by-product of the meat industry, this demand – combined with the rise of meat alternatives – could mean leather will eventually come from animals bred expressly for the purpose.

Due to this concern, luxury brands are guaranteeing they use ethical, traceable sources of leather instead of alternatives. New Zealand Light Leathers produces deer nappa for the Chinese market, and for global luxury brands. “A lot of the brands now want to know where the skins have come from,” said Barry Parsons, international luxury sales manager NZ Light Leathers. “I see that as such a positive for New Zealand-farmed deer as the animals are farmed to a very high standard of care.”

Designers like Stella McCartney might call “ethical leather” an oxymoron. McCartney, who uses no animal products in her garments, has partnered with biotech firm Bolt Threads to produce silk from yeast. Lab-grown leather is also promising, with U.S. company Modern Meadow producing Zoa, a bioleather that can be grown to any shape and take on any texture.