Environmental Ethics in the Leather Industry

Article by Dr Peter Laight

We want to continually improve our environmental impact in as ethically sound way as possible; differentiating good intentions from focused plans and results.

Leather has been part of nature, part of the development of human beings for thousands of years. It can be produced humanely taking the fundamentals of nature into account.

The Identity Store manufactures and sells leather and things that are needed to make great, long lasting products out of it. We continually aim to improve what we do and what we sell. The base reason is, it is common sense and feels right to do it this way. If our actions help prevent global warming that’s great. This applies to all aspects of our business and is best explained by practical examples.

Our Leathers

We have and can obtain one of the widest selections of leathers commercially available. We sell it as sensibly sized pieces that minimise wastage. One square foot pieces for falconry, four square foot pieces to general leather workers, bags of pieces for numerous uses.

We make it our aim to source wherever possible primarily in the UK and then Europe in order to reduce our carbon footprint.

Over 75% of the leathers we sell are tanned with vegetable tannins. Surprisingly vegetable tanned leather is under 5% of all the leather produced in the world.

All our leathers are produced in factories that have an explicit policy to continuously reduce their environmental impact. Chrome leather can and is produced responsibly.

Identity Surface Decoration

We use techniques such as digital printing to decorate the surface of the leather and reduce impacts by up to 50% compared to the direct application of colour by spraying. This enables leading edge looks and fashion effects to be produced on organic type leathers. The Identity Store was part of the Fashion Fringe winning team of Bruno and Brooke and have worked with several other leading designers since.

LFW Shoe by Basso & Brooke, London Fashion Week [Image LFW Shoe by Basso & Brooke, London Fashion Week]

Specific Examples

British Identity Bushcraft Leather

British Identity Bushcraft Leather
At The Identity Store making and selling natural sustainable leather is our identity and passion so it matters how we do it. Let’s take as an example the cradle to cradle approach we’ve used for our British Identity Bushcraft range of leathers.

Bushcraft leather has to be mouldable (eg: knife sheaths), dyeable, protective and strong with exceptional performance during use outdoors. Where the animal hides originate and how the leather is made have more meaning than ever.
The foundation steps are:
Animal Welfare – our hides are from UK or Irish farm assured cattle or horse. Giving cattle 100 days of grass grazing a year doesn’t seem too much to ask. Not all the farms are certified organic but with time this is a choice we hope to offer. Our research director has been involved for 45 years in work equating animal feed and treatment with meat and leather quality.

The journey time between farm and abattoirs is minimised and conditions of transport given careful consideration. We are members of Compassion in World Farming

Abattoir Welfare

Hides are obtained as a by-product of the meat, milk and wool industries. Making leather from these hides is practical common sense and minimises the environmental impact.

Conditions at our abattoirs and during killing, meet EU regulations 1099/2099, and include an animal welfare officer present on site. A small point but our main abattoir has rubber floors which have been shown to help reduce stress.

Abattoirs are the place between life and death which we believe should make them more revered and respected than they tend to be. The more massive and impersonal they have become, particularly in the US, the greater the chance of inhumanity and cruelty. This makes traceability impossible in the case of 95% of leather.

To get traceability The Identity Store uses locally sourced hides at local abattoirs. In fact we are getting a little extreme to make out point. We believe all animal skins should be taken from their donors with the same dignity and respect you would use if you were skinning your Grandmother.

Hides are things of practical beauty for the animal that have had direct contact with the beating heart during life. They are intricate meshes of millions of miles of collagen fibrils. Properly treated they make beautiful, functional, leather, and have done for millennia. The Identity Store wants to explicitly demonstrate that this can be done with pride in the modern world.

Oil Tanned White Leather

There is so much to learn and enact from older, indigenous ways of making leather. Plant and animal oils have been in use for over 4,000 years in making leather. Under development at present we have a leather using stream water, salt and rape seed oil. This will enable people that love nature to make their own beautifully soft leather.

Our work on organic tanning and colouring continues together with sample systems of third party contractors.

Leather Manufacture

Our main leather manufacturing unit is in Derbyshire, England and has a policy of continuous environmental improvement. All their waste systems are treated and recycled. The tanning process involves traditional vegetable pit tanning acknowledged to make the best leather of its type in the world. Its resilient mouldable structure makes it ideal for knife sheaths and other uses.

Leather Surface Decoration and Aftercare

We now have a complete range of our own water-based leather stains, edge finishes, finishing waxes and lacquers to give the most aesthetic performance available.

To help you make the best choice for the environment look for our green symbol next to relevant products.

The Future

We are trying to keep improving – come with us on the journey, throw in your own improvements and together we will make the world a little more humane, and respectful of nature.

Further Reading

Farmaggedon – the true cost of cheap meat by Philip Lymbery