Sustainability is a term used in forestry to describe that the amount of limber taken from the forest should correspond to the amount which is regenerated. Sustainability means careful and long-lasting use of all ressources.
Leather is a material made of the hides left over from the meat production. Unlike plastic fabrics leather is very sustainable because instead of disposing the hides they are transformed into a valuable material.
According to our experience many people often develop a longlasting relation with their leather bags as a daily companion for business and leisure. This longevity is another important aspect of the sustainability of leather bags. Leather bags are sustainable if the production follows social and environment friendly principles.
To offer leather bags as sustainable products our production has to consider the following 4 principles.
- Animal welfare standards
- Environment friendly leather production
- Manufacturing of sustainable leather bags
- Maximum in social responsibility
Animal welfare is an important aspect of the protection of the environment. Grazing cattle does not need additional feed such as soja or corn. Soja is produced in monocultures for which huge areas of forest are cut down. This way of use contradicts all efforts to protect the environment.
Also, the environmental pollution is much higher if cattle is kept in stables.
Hides may also be damaged by insect bites or scrapes from hedges. These however occure more frequently if the cattle is kept on pastures.
Environment friendly production of leather
The production of leather is done in several steps. Each of them has a different impact on the environment.
Recycling of water
Hides normally are not tanned immediately after the slaughtering of the cattle. For storage or transport the hides have to be protected so that they do not rot. This is done with salt which has to be washed out before the tanning. The washing out needs a lot of water that has to be cleaned afterwards. Modern methods allow to use the water to be used again.
Cleaning of the hides
Before starting the tanning process, the hides must be cleaned. The hair on the upper side and remaining flesh on the lower side must be removed. To facilitate this process the hides are treated with a bath of sodium sulfide and calcium hydroxide. Afterwards the remaining bath must be cleaned in special sewage plants to avoid any impact on the environment.
Mindful tanning and the use of vegetable tanning agents
The transformation of a raw hide to leather is done with vegetable, mineral or chemical tanning agents. Attached to the fibers of a hide they prevent rotting and determine the mechanical features of the leather.
See Moog, Gerhard: Der Gerber – Professionelle Lederherstellung; second edition Stuttgart 2016, p. 74 ff.
Nowadays most leather is tanned with chrome. It is important to make sure that only chrome III agents are used, and chrome VI can be avoided. Chrome VI can be harmful, and the tanning should be controlled carefully.
Synthetic tanning agents
Synthetic agents are products following the structure of vegetable agents. Synthetic agents are often used in combination with other agents to achieve certain features of the leather.
Vegetable tanning agents
Vegetable tanning agents can be the extracts from wood, barks, or fruits. In former times the choice very much depended on the regional availability as for instance the wood or the barks of oak trees in Germany. A very simple method was to use their crushed pieces as layers between hides which were soaked in drums. In these the hides would stay for weeks so that the tanning agent could slowly penetrate the hides. Later the tanning agents were leached out from the wood or barks in extraction batteries.
The most sustainable way is the use of fruit pods or leaves. The pods of the tara tree can be collected every year without damaging the tree. Also, the leaves of olive trees can be used. These leaves fall during the harvesting of the olives. They are burnt if not used as tanning agent. These pods or leaves are a 100% biological agent which cannot have any negative impact on the environment.
See: Heller GmbH, Werkprospekt, Blattwerk
Chrome tanned leather has a bluish colour, vegetable tanned leather a slightly brownish shade. The final colouring is done in drums or with spraying machines. The disposal of the remaining waste must be done in special plants in order to avoid any pollution. In Germany the environment friendly disposal is documented with the “Blauer Engel” issued by the German ministry of environment.
Production of sustainable leatherbags
Many steps of the production of leather bags are still done by hand.
Emission free production
Normally the production of leather bags is free from any emission, some precautions have to be observed when glue is concerned, because certain types of glue may emit fumes which could cause health problems if inhaled.
Use of material
The shape of hides is irregular and differs from hide to hide, which complicates the cutting especially of bigger parts. This must be considered already when a bag is designed, so that the cut components are not too big. Main parts might consist of two or more sections.
Many manufactures offer small leather goods together with bigger bags in order for make best use of a hide and to reduce the waste.
Longevity of leather bags
Leather bags are very sustainable because they can be used for many years. The time of use also depends on the type of bag. Businessmen often get very fond of their bags and don not want to miss or change them, especially if the bag has been a present for an examen or a certain event the owner does not want to forget,
But not only business bags, also lady bags can be used for a long time if the design is classic and does not follow a fashion trend. So also, the design is a factor of sustainability.
Sustainability today means not only to consider the environment but also social aspects.
We produce our leather bags in Germany and in India. In Germany standards for working hours and conditions exist for a long time. In India, these standards had to be introduced when we started the production. Today they are regularly controlled following national and international guidelines.
This concerns the working time, holidays, and the prohibition of child labour.
Transferring part of our production we help to create jobs and improve the standard of living in India.
In Germany we continue a tradition in the production of leather and leather bags dating from 1842.
In India, the creation of jobs is fundamental for the economic situation of the population and a stable political development of the country.
- Moog, Gerhard: Der Gerber, 2nd edition, Ulmer Stuttgart 2016
- Blattwerk, Werkprospekt der Fa. Heller, 3/2019