One of the oldest manufacturing process and a fundamental building block of developing economies is creating leather. It provides valuable, often essential employment to millions of people in the world.
Livestock systems and are a significant global asset valued around $1.4 trillion (Steinfeld et al. 2006). The livestock sector is organized in long market chains that employ around 1.3 billion people worldwide and support the livelihoods of 600 million poor farmers in the developing world (Thornton et al. 2006). Keeping livestock is an important risk reduction strategy for vulnerable communities, and livestock are providers of nutrients and traction for growing crops in smallholder systems. Livestock products contribute 17 per cent to kilocalorie consumption and 33 per cent to protein consumption worldwide (Rosegrant et al. 2009).
With the global populations expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, livestock will be essential for providing food and protein for this growth, therefore the hide and skin as a by-product will continue to provide a source of raw materials for the production of leather.
The manufacturing of leather is the best use to what would otherwise be a waste material from the livestock and meat industry. Defined as a by-product, hides and skins are a renewable resource derived from the increasing global consumption of meat. Recent research has proven demand for leather/hides has no direct effect on cattle production (Brester et al. 2021).
Each year, around 20 billion ft2 of leather is produced which creates around 3.5 billion pairs of shoes, 16 million car interiors, 2.8 million sofas, 40 million garments and 450 million items of leather-goods. Without leather, all these valuable items would need to be manufactured using other materials, such as petroleum-chemical polyurethane based coated fabrics or other synthetic materials. These are less durable and therefore require replacing more often.
When processed correctly leather can be an environmentally preferred, high-performance material, outperforming many other natural or synthetic materials with regards to of strength, flexibility, comfort and longevity (Meyer et al. 2021)
Some retailers now recognise that fast fashion PV, PVC and other synthetics has a negative impact on the planet and that materials such as leather that have longevity of wear, have a part to play in a sustainable story. Combine a leather made using environmentally preferred process with a timeless classic style you have a sustainable product that will last for years.
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Brester G. W., et al. 2021 Quantifying the relationship between US cattle hide prices/value and US cattle production.
Meyer M, et al. 2021 Comparison of the Technical Performance of Leather, Artificial Leather, and Trendy Alternatives.
Rosegrant M. W., et al. 2009 Looking into the future for agriculture and AKST (Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology). In Agriculture at a crossroads (eds McIntyre B. D., Herren H. R., Wakhungu J., Watson R. T.), pp. 307–376 Washington, DC: Island Press.
Steinfeld H., Gerber P., Wassenaar T., Castel V., Rosales M., de Haan C.2006 Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Rome, Italy.
Thornton P. K., et al. 2006 Mapping climate vulnerability and poverty in Africa. Nairobi, Kenya: ILRI; See http://www.dfid.gov.uk/research/mapping-climate.pdf