Première Vision Leather : Eco-responsible leather sourcing
Première Vision Leather is convinced that leather has a great potential as an eco-responsible material and continues to work to define eco-responsible leather sourcing, in order to help buyers with their research and support the sustainability efforts of our exhibitors.
After having discussed in previous articles the extrinsically circular potential of leather, which is the result of upcycling a waste product, and exploring the various tanning methods through the prism of their environmental impact, we are now focusing on the upstream sector and this crucial element: the traceability of the skins and hides.
Being able to trace the origin of the raw hide, the conditions in which the animal has been farmed and all the stages in the transformation of a skin through to the finished product is essential in order to certify a leather as eco-responsible.
A demand for transparency that is shared by the end consumer, by buyers and by tanners, for whom it is currently one of the key areas of investment and innovation.
Controlled origins: the challenge of traceability
Ictyos Cuir marin de France
A large number of tanners have decided to build their DNA around the issue of sustainability and a clearly-expressed desire for transparency in the means of production and the origin of materials.
An example is Ictyos Cuir Marin de France, a French tannery created by a trio of young entrepreneurs in Lyon in 2018.
This company has developed an innovative product based on the upcycling of a previously little-used by-product of the food industry: fish skins.
By building a network of local partners, including restaurant owners, filleters and fish farmers, and by prioritising those with MSC* or ASC* certification, the tannery can cut out the middle men and control the supply chain of their salmon and sturgeon skins, thus forming part of a virtuous ecosystem.
The entire supply chain is taken into account in their approach. They have adopted sustainable production methods: vegetable tanning, re-use of water, processing and re-use of waste, in order to achieve the most neutral ecological footprint possible.
More established tanneries have also invested massively in developing an eco-responsible approach in their industry by controlling and promoting the origin of the skins they use.
For example, Rial 1957, a tannery based in the Tarn region of France and a specialist in sheepskin, has always favoured a variety of sources in order to benefit from the specific characteristics of each species. This is because the origin of a Merino, Lacaune or Entrefino lamb is decisive for inventing creative developments and enhancing the variety and unique features of their wools and skins.
Today, Rial 1957 has cemented its eco-responsible approach by developing a range of products entitled “Trace” that are both Made in France and produced sustainably. The merino sheepskins come from French farms and the combination of vegetable tanning and a choice of metal-free natural dyes guarantees a sustainable approach from A-Z.
Developments in the sector
To generalise this transparent communication around the origin of skins, changes are needed across the entire sector. Because, while in France and most European countries, it is required by law to ensure the traceability of the animal from the farm to the abattoir, it is currently difficult to preserve this data on the raw hides and the finished product.
At the abattoir, the skins are collected by brokers who are in charge of selecting and classifying the skins in batches. They are grouped by quality and by size, and with the current methods of marking it is impossible to individually trace each hide.
For the tannery, it is therefore difficult to know the exact origin of the raw hide. As Jean-Christophe Muller, member of the board of the French Federation of Tanners (FFTM) and owner of Tanneries Haas, explains: “If we are unable to know the origins of the skins that are sold in batches combining skins from different countries, we will not make progress. There are two issues: one is animal well-being, meaning ensuring that the farming and slaughter were done in good conditions, and the other is improving quality.”
It is with this goal in mind and at the request of French tanneries that CTC* has tested and developed a number of solutions in situ in order to identify those that best correspond to the industrial constraints and the pace of the abattoirs.
The method of using a CO2 laser to engrave a code (that was previously shown on the animal’s ear tag) onto the shoulder of the skin seems to have achieved unanimous approval. The number remains visible to the naked eye throughout all the stages of the tanning process and through to the finished leather. An affordable code-reading system can be used to enter the number into a database and find all the traceability information.
The system is currently being installed in a number of French tanneries, who have succeeded in mobilising the upstream elements of the sector – farmers, abattoirs and brokers – around this project.
Initially designed to encourage an improvement in the quality of hides at each stage in the transformation of the skin, the system can also be used to identify defects such as scratches or parasites and inform the farmers and abattoirs about them in order to act on their causes. But it will also offer a guarantee that the code of best practices established by the tanneries and the order givers has been respected. Expansion of the system should make it possible for labels to support farms that are committed to animal well-being, respect for the environment and the fight against deforestation.
Controlling the source of the hides becomes a tool in this paradigm shift, making it possible to choose the conditions of production, farming and agriculture. It creates the conditions for the world to which the consumer aspires. But traceability remains a real challenge in which all the stakeholders in the sector have an important role to play, at an international level.
ASC stands for Aquaculture Stewardship Council, and is an international label created in 2010 to identify fish raised in sustainable fish farms. This certification guarantees that the fish have been produced in a way that respects the environment and under good working conditions.
MSC stands for Marine Stewardship Council, and is an international label created in 2000, certifying that sea products have been fished sustainably, respecting fish stocks and marine ecosystems, in a principle of sustainability and respect for the environment.
The result of the merger between the Professional Committee for Economic Development (CPDE) and the Industrial technical centre (CTI), CTC is the technical body for the leather, footwear, leather goods, glove and apparel sectors. CTC is tasked with a public service mission of assisting French companies in the leather sector.