The Complete Leather Guide: Sustainability, Longevity and Care
We brand ourselves as leather daddies and skin fetishists since Rosalia’s release of Moto Mami, but which leather type is the best choice for a sustainable wardrobe?
This article was written for FARFETCH's Dutch Fashion Feed. You can find the original piece here.
During fashion week in Milan, we saw style icon Kim Kardashian rock up in Prada's green leather tailoring and grey leather trench coat by Raf Simons. From that moment on leather hasn't left our minds –– the same goes for all references to Rosalia, leather daddies and skin fetishists. At night we can only dream of draped calf leather, suede jackets and faux leather bags, but most of all we dream of a perfectly tailored leather co-ord.
Of course, we question the ethics of leather. Cause if we are honest, we don't know how sustainable and ethical natural leather is, and would a faux option actually be the answer? We've found that every leather kind has its pros and cons, so we set out on a mission to get all information regarding leather on paper. In this article, we will help you choose between the enormous variety of materials. But before we start our deep dive, it is important to note that FARFETCH does not sell any exotic leather or furs.
We could fill an entire book with all the information on faux leather. The material is often associated with veganism, animal welfare and climate neutrality. How sustainable faux leather is, depends on the kind that you choose, because there are many –– and we mean MANY –– kinds of faux leather.
The most common faux leather types are Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polyurethane (PU). Both are produced by connecting a layer of plastic to a textile such as polyester, nylon or cotton. PVC isn't used often for clothing; however, we recommend not purchasing it when you do find it. We say this because the production of PVC is highly damaging to the climate and toxic for the garment workers that make the fabric. PU on the other hand isn't toxic for textile labourers and less damaging to our climate. The texture of PU is very similar to natural leather. The material can be thinner and has fabric inside. One of the biggest advantages of faux leathers is that they are produced on the meter, which means that patterns can be cut more economically which leads to less textile waste.
However, you should always keep in mind that PU is indeed plastic. We do not know how long it takes for the material to biodegrade. Furthermore, is the production of oil extremely detrimental to our climate. Luckily for us, the development of natural faux leather is in full force. You can already have your pick between leathers made of cork, paper, waxed cotton, tree bark, apples, pineapples, mushrooms, and cactus. Products made of these materials are still rare, but a couple of beauties have been released in recent years. Bottega Veneta made a 'leather' paper bag in 2020, and you can find many products out of Mylo™️ leather –– made from mushrooms –– by Stella McCartney.
Faux leather doesn't have the same lifespan as its natural predecessor, yet there are a few things you can do to keep your faux leather in excellent shape.
Remove stains using warm water, baby shampoo or a mind soap. Dab a cloth on the stain until it's gone. Make sure all soap is removed, otherwise the material could dry out.
Can you smell an unpleasant odour in your faux leather items? You've got several options to remove the smell. 1) Air out the item, by hanging the piece outside and giving it some fresh air, smells will soon be gone. 2) Put the item in the fridge, this kills bacteria. 3) Spray a melange of water and vodka on the inside of your smelly item, the alcohol will kill all bacteria and all smells will be gone when the item dries.
You can use a leather conditioner on faux leather. By using one you prevent the material from ripping or fading.
As an alternative to leather conditioners, you can use baby oil or coconut oil.
If we can write a book about faux leather. Then we can surely fill an encyclopaedia with information on natural leather. As you know, natural leather is made from animal skin. Every skin can be made into leather –– we've even seen leather made from moleskin, rats, and crocodile. The process of conjuring skins into hides is called 'tanning', and the word 'conjuring' isn't really used in the right sense here, for leather tanning is known to be an extremely intensive and long process.
Leather is produced in several places within Europe; however, nowadays many tanning practices have moved to other places. Most leather tanneries are now in, Italy, Spain, England, France, Turkey, Morocco, India, and Pakistan. There are strict climate regulations for leather tanning within Europe. In Asian countries, however, there is no to little regulation on tanning practices. As you might imagine this has severe consequences for people and the planet. Tanning waste leads to extreme pollution of water and affects the health of textile labourers and people living in the vicinity of leather factories.
At the moment, nappa leather is one of the most luxurious leather kinds. It is known for its soft texture. You'll find that the leather sort is used often by luxury brands for bags and clothing.
Nappa leather can be sourced from calf-, lamb-, and goat skins. The hides are tanned using a special tanning technique, which preserves a lot of the skin texture. Through a preservation process, the skin will stay beautiful for ages. The downsides to nappa leather are that the material fades when it's exposed to sunlight, and that rips cannot be repaired (meaning they will always stay visible).
If or when you choose to purchase nappa leather, keep in mind that you must take good care of your item.
Impregnate the nappa leather item using a water-resistant spray before you start using it. This will avoid the material from staining.
Use a dry cloth to clean your items.
Remove stains by dabbing a damp cloth on the item. Make sure the material doesn't get wet.
Avoid wax-based cleaning products, these will damage the surface of the leather.
Use a leather conditioner regularly.
Keep your nappa leather items in a dry place without any sunlight. The best option is to hang nappa leather clothing in a garment bag, this way, the item will keep its shape, and won't fade.
Loved for its supple and buttery texture, lamb leather is seen as one of the most exquisite leather kinds. Sometimes the leather has a woolly inside, this is simply the wool of the lamb. An item made from lambskin will surely keep you warm in the coldest temperatures.
Lamb leather has a light weight and is relatively thin as opposed to traditional cow leather. A jacket or coat made of the material will not weigh you down. If you are determined on choosing lamb leather for your next purchase, we have some important considerations for you. Lambskins are – naturally – small. Thus, for larger items – such as coats, trousers, or skirts – multiple lambs will have to be 'used'. Not very animal friendly or ethical.
Several kinds of lamb leather are known for their cruelty. We're mainly talking about 'karakul' leather. The hides are sourced from sheep embryos, and both mother and lamb are killed in the process. FARFETCH does not carry any karakul leather, so you don't have to worry when shopping.
Are you determined on buying an item made from lambskin? Fair play, just make sure that you take good care of your item, this way it could last you decades.
Lamb leather should never be soaked in water. Use a silicone-free protective spray to protect your lambskin items from water and staining.
Store lamb leather in the garment -or dust bag.
Use a leather conditioner to keep your items supple, this also reduces the chance of the material ripping.
To clean your lambskin items, you can use some leather conditioner on a dry cloth. Carefully apply the conditioner to stains until they're gone.
It is the best choice to get your lamb leather items professionally cleaned.
Like lambskin, Calfskin is classified as one of the softest, most luxurious leather kinds. What sets calf leather apart you may ask? Well, the skin is much more delicate compared to leather from grown cows. As a rule of thumb, we can say that the older an animal is, the tougher the hide. Calf leather is thicker when it's compared to lamb leather, which also makes it more durable. You can identify calfskin by its distinctive 'matte sheen' and elasticity. Due to its supple yet durable qualities, calfskin is mainly used for clothing, shoes, bags and even book covers.
You probably won't find many larger garments made of calf leather, due to the hides being small. There is a big chance, however, that you purchase a pair of calfskin gloves or wallet. This is how you keep your items in a good condition, for a long time.
Clean calfskins with a damp cloth, but make sure the material isn't soaked.
Use a leather conditioner to keep the leather supple. Your best choice is to use 'mink oil'. The oil will waterproof the item and protects it against ripping.
Suede is made from the insides of an animal skin and has a soft, fibre-like texture. The material can be derived from keep-, cows, goats- and ever deerskin. De exact traits of the material naturally come down to the kind of animal skin you're working with. Suede is a unique material, and you most likely won't find amazing imitations. The material is generally thin and supple in comparison to other leather kinds.
With its unique appearance and all the pros attached to the thin and supple material, there are a few cons. Suede can be easily damaged due to its thickness. This doesn't mean that suede is fragile, the contrary is true, however on this list, it is the most fragile material. Next to that is suede hard to clean. Its fibre-like texture makes it easy for dirt to get stuck. Be careful with your suede items and take good care of them. By using these tips you'll enjoy your suede items for a long time.
Protect the material by applying a 'suede spray'
Clean suede by brushing the material with a soft, dry brush, this will remove most dirt and dust.
Talkin powder works wonders on wet stains. If a stain has dried, you can try using vinegar.
Try to avoid rainy weather.
If the thought of cleaning your suede items makes you anxious – no worries, happens to the best of us – you can drop them off at a professional leather cleaner.
Different tanning processes result in different coloured hides. Yet most skins are dyed after the tanning process is finished. Dying leather is done in a dyebath. Hides are soaked in large barrels of dye and rinsed with water (which causes the water pollution we mentioned earlier). Many hides are touched up after with spray pigments, these make the leather water-resistant.
How you care for a coloured leather item depends on the exact material of your item. But here are some general tips for caring for your colourful leather items:
Protect leather items by using a water-resistant product. Which product you should use, depends on the hide.
Clean the material with a damp cloth. Make sure not to soak the leather.
Use a leather conditioner to keep your items supple. Choose a colourless product or try to match the hue of your item.
Call upon the help of a professional cleaning service when your item is stained.
Coloured leather can transmit pigments.
Leather: The Best Choice
After all this information you're probably wondering what the best choice is: faux, nappa, lamb- or calf leather, or should you pick suede? Unfortunately, we cannot tell you which material is right for you, it all depends on your personal criteria. Animal welfare, climate neutrality, longevity, care, durability, weather resistance and comfort should all be considered when you pick your next leather addition.
If animal welfare and climate neutrality are most important for you, then we advise you to pick a faux leather item. If longevity and durability are your main concern, or if your think that fashion should be compostable, then you might opt for a natural leather kind.
It is hard to choose between the different materials, whatever your choice is, you should always take good care of your items. Make sure you reuse, resell or gift your leather items when you don't wear them anymore. And if they are not in the condition to be worn, you must make sure they end up in the right place by bringing the item to a recycling bin or clothes collection point. You can read everything on FARFETCHE's views and sustainable activities such as 'FARFETCH Fix', in the Positively FARFETCH edit.
This article was written for FARFETCH's Dutch Fashion Feed. You can find the original piece here.