Decodings SS25 Sustainability: Leather

The Spring-Summer 25 season is themed around mutation, with a major transformation underway for many of the processes in our industries and societies. The leather industry is reshaping itself to adapt to environmental and social issues, consumer expectations and regulatory requirements. After several years of ecological transition, tanners are combining in their DNA a drive for responsible innovation, adaptability to a turbulent economic climate and the liberating force of creation. A vital metamorphosis is in motion to meet the challenges of the future.

Committed Proactivity

This season’s initiatives aim to increase compliance. Pushing beyond traceability that starts at the slaughterhouse, tanners are sharing information on the unit traceability of hides, and are tending to opt for traceability down to the farm level to guarantee breeding conditions as well as the absence of any link with deforestation. Laser marking and digital traceability platforms are key tools for ensuring the circulation of this data.

Equipped with this essential evidence base to meet European regulations on deforestation scheduled for 2025, the leather industry continues to restructure itself to improve environmental management. The objective is to redefine specifications to minimize the use of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, maximizing safety for tannery workers and consumers alike. When it comes to monitoring chemical substances, tanners are anticipating regulatory changes, with a reduction in concentrations of bisphenols, glutaraldehydes and chromium. Chrome-free tanning is based on e-tanning solutions free of heavy metals, notably aluminum tanning which has physical performances similar to chrome and offers versatility in terms of hand rendering.  

Metal-free tanning ingeniously combine synthetic tannins and water-saving processes and offers a wide range of colors, from the subtlest halftones to deeply saturated hues. Initiatives are aimed at reusing water and active substances to minimize the impact on resources and optimize existing treatments. In turn, elements such as chromium, present in residues from shaving or production offcuts form the basis for new formulations, thanks to skilful processes for extracting the active ingredients.

Ingenious Transformations

While circularity is integral to leather development, given that this raw material is a co-product of the agri-food industry, tanners are taking circularity one step further, from the supply of tannins right through to the product’s end-of-life. Vegetable co-products such as olives, grape pulp, tea or barley and wheat spent grains from beer brewing are finding new uses as tanning agents and ingredients in bio-sourced finishes. They also have the virtue of being able to color skins naturally over the course of treatments while eliminating a coloring step. Recycling is further enhanced by the reuse of deadstock for responsible capsule collections. Production offcuts are transformed into new resources to develop recycled leather panels with natural binding agents or innovative yarns with leather particles, a new ingredient for knitted sneaker uppers. Biodegradable qualities find a new outlet as compost to nourish the soil in the final stage of the product life cycle.

New Possibilities

The development of new low-impact tanning formulations, free from chromium, heavy metals or hazardous substances, goes beyond environmental and health aspects, building on the exploration of behaviors offered by leather.

By adjusting parameters such as pH and astringency, vegetable tannins are moving away from the classic dense, natural colors that tan over time and are undergoing a makeover for garment leathers. More supple and bouncy, and declined in a palette sliding from light to more vibrant shades, they are also adopting new looks for leather goods. Fine skins using new-gen vegetable tannins are geared to pantsskirts or jackets, and offer pure comfort when laminated to fine mesh to obtain an elasticity.

The developments made possible by mixed tanning combining plant extracts and synthetic polymers, and free of bisphenols or glutarhaldehydes, create ultra-light skins with soft handles. Thin, washable and available in an infinite range of summery shades, they catch the eye and lend themselves perfectly to clothing.

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