Prior to launching LOM Australia, we did a sizeable amount of research into the fashion industry, with a focus on the leather industry, and the impact these industries are having on our planet. We discovered a horror show of statistics that became the impetus for developing our first range of vegan ‘leather’ handbags.

 

The United Nations says, “livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems”.

 

We’re not asking you to throw away your animal leather handbags, shoes, and apparel. That would be a waste. We’re big believers in the most sustainable fashion being the clothes that are already in your wardrobe. So, keep your animal leather products, in fact, wear and repair them until they fall apart.

What we are suggesting, is that you look at the whole picture before continuing to buy animal leather products in future. Here is what we found when comparing the environmental impacts of animal leather with cactus 'leather' by Desserto

 

THE BIG, MEATY STATS

The following statistics come from Desserto’s early life cycle assessment, which follows the ISO 14040 and 14044 LCA guidelines.

The breakdown compares cactus ‘leather’ to both animal leather and PU polyurethane synthetic leather demonstrating their respective environmental impact within a number of important categories.

 

CED (MJ) Cumulative Energy Demand

Key results - Cradle to gate (per m2):
  • Desserto 34.33
  • Animal leather 335.84
  • PU 92.93

GHG CARBON (KGC02-EQ)

Key results - Cradle to gate (per m2):

  • Desserto 1.39
  • Animal leather 27.30
  • PU 4.81

EUTROPHICATION (KGPO43-EQ)

Key results - Cradle to gate (per m2):

  • Desserto 0.0005
  • Animal leather 0.0030
  • PU 0.0031

WATER USE (M3)

Key results - Cradle to gate (per m2):

  • Desserto 0.02
  • Animal leather 32.95
  • PU 2.93

GHG CARBON WITH WASTE INCINERATION (KGC02-EQ).

Key results - Cradle to gate (per m2):

  • Desserto 1.80
  • Animal leather 27.30
  • PU 5.85

 

To help put these statistics into perspective, Collective Fashion Justice has summarised the information with the following percentage breakdowns:

  • Desserto cactus leather saves 1,864.02% of carbon equivalent greenhouse gas emissions compared to animal leather, and 77.69% compared to polyurethane (PU) synthetic leather.
  • Desserto cactus leather saves 164,650% of water compared to animal leather, and 190% compared to polyurethane (PU) synthetic leather. Why? Because the cacti require little water, and is rain-fed.
  • In only 14 acres of organic cactus plantation, Desserto can absorb 8,100 tons of CO2 per year, until soil carbon equilibrium is reached, while the farm only generates 15.30 tons of CO2 annually. This means the farm is carbon negative.

Desserto cactus ‘leather’ is far better for the planet than both animal skin leather and conventional synthetics. It is also made in an ethical, transparent supply chain.

 

Still not convinced? We get it. Historically ‘pleather’ and vegan leather have developed a bad rap for so many reasons, poor quality, plastic texture, etc. To help you out, we've explained the most common questions customers ask us before purchasing our products.

 

THE MOST FREQUENT QUESTIONS WE GET ASKED ABOUT CACTUS ‘LEATHER’

 

How long does it last?

Over 10 years. Desserto has been rigorously tested to survive extreme temperatures. It is accredited by Oeko Tex Confidence in Textiles Standard 100. Many reputable brands are now adopting Desserto due to its premium, long-lasting quality. For example, the latest Mercedes EV is using Desserto for its interiors.

 

How is cactus ‘leather’ made?

After cutting the mature leaves of the organic cacti, they are cleaned, mulched, and dried under the Mexican sun for three days until achieving perfect humidity levels for the next stage. There is no additional energy used in the drying process. The organic, raw material is then processed into powder form and a bio-resin is created by extracting the cactus proteins and fibres. The highly sustainable biomaterial is finished using Desserto's patented formula.

Any remaining organic biproduct from the cactus material is exported and sold nationally in the food industry.

 

Is there any PU used in the cactus material?

No, Desserto create their own biopolymer which is partially made from organic, renewable compounds. Desserto materials are free of toxic chemicals, phthalates, and PVC.

 

What are biopolymers?

Environmentally friendly biopolymers are produced from renewable, raw materials such as cactus or materials that are biodegradable or compostable. The difference between a polymer and biopolymer is that biopolymers are degradable. Use of biopolymers also reduces the demand for fossil fuels during the manufacturing process.     

 

What is used in the dying process?

Desserto materials are coloured during the creation of the bioresin. Organic pigments are used along with the natural cactus chlorophyll.

 

Is Desserto biodegradable or can it be recycled?

Yes. Desserto materials are biodegradable under anaerobic thermophilic conditions. The biodegradation percentage varies from material to material depending on its formulation. 

It can also be either chemically or mechanically recycled.

 

What does it smell like?

We think it smells just like leather, only sweeter. But you’ll need to buy one of our beautiful LOM bags to find out for yourself.

 

Does the cactus 'leather' feel like animal leather?

You would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Desserto and animal leather.

Desserto is a beautiful, sustainably-made material that is designed to last for many years. It has the texture of an animal leather without the harmful environmental and animal impact, and is created in an environment that is not stressful or dangerous for workers.

 

Still want to have your animal leather and eat it too? We feel you, breaking up with the ones you love can be hard. So, we've pressure tested some of the most commonly raised points people share with us in defense of animal leather.

 

PRESSURE TESTING THE MAIN ARGUMENTS WE HEAR FOR ANIMAL LEATHER

 

Leather is a biproduct of the meat industry.

Leather is a co-product of both the meat and dairy industry, not a biproduct. By definition a biproduct is a secondary or incidental product in a process of manufacture – the result of another action, often unforeseen or unintended. Whereas, animal skins are very much an intentional and highly lucrative commodity, produced jointly with the meat and dairy industry.

As the team at Good On You point out 'Whether a cow whose skin is turned into a wallet came from the meat or dairy industry, their skin is sold for a profit. It follows that buying leather is financially supporting the slaughter of animals, just as buying meat or dairy is.

In other words, if consumers were to stop buying veal and calfskin products, the dairy industry would lose profit. If people were to stop buying cow skin leather, the meat industry would lose profit. More consumption of these products means more profit and more production.'

 

Huh? But the cow is going to be killed anyway!

In some countries that may be the case, however, a larger percentage of leather does not even come from cows that are being used for meat or dairy. In India and China, where around 80% of the world’s leather comes from, cows are specifically grown for their skin. Producers in these locations are often less concerned with the quality of their meat, so the animals are malnourished and live in very poor conditions. 

It is also important to think about what constitutes an ethical way of killing an animal. The majority of today’s meat and leather is mass produced and their lives end in abattoirs, which is not a happy ending for the animal, but the humans involved also suffer greatly. Studies show that a form of PTSD exists for abattoir employees which includes depression, suicidal tendencies, panic, and dissociation.

In buying animal leather you are supporting an industry that is doing terrible things for the the environment, the animal, and the people working in the industry. A change in demand is the only thing that will result in a change in supply. If consumers keep creating demand, suppliers will continue to supply.

 

What about certified 'sustainable' and 'ethical' leathers, or eco-friendly leathers from cows grown on regenerative farms?

Leather is the skin of a sentient being who has been killed at the hand of a human, which begs the question, how can animal leather be ethically certified?

The Leather Working Group is a not-for-profit organisation that assesses and certifies the environmental performance and compliance of leather tanneries. In the past it has focused soley on the tanneries and their immediate environmental impact such as chemical use and effluent management, ommitting traceability and social compliant aspects and therefore not taking Amazonian deforestation or the health & safety of workers into consideration. Whilst recent improvements to their audits have been made, green house gas emissions and animal welfare are not areas covered by the certifications.

Regenerative farming provides a more holistic approach to animal farming, however according to the Oxford University's extremely thorough report Grazed and Confused, it still has detrimental outcomes for the environment due to methane production, carbon emissions, water usage, and soil degradation.

 

Leather is biodegradable, so it is better than vegan 'leather' which contains plastic.

A natural, untreated, raw hide is biodegradable, but the leather used for your clothes and accessories is always treated through the process of tanning. Without tanning, the leather would (over time) disintegrate in your cupboard.

The tanning process changes the chemistry inside the leather fibres to make it more difficult for the enzymes from bacteria and fungi to break them down. This also decreases the biodegradability of the material.

90% of leather is tanned using chromium and other noxious chemicals like formaldehyde and arsenic. Chromium-tanning makes the leather very difficult to break down. It is also detrimental to worker’s health and causes environmental damage and eutrophication from the untreated water-waste that runs into surrounding land and waterways.

There are chrome-free tanning methods, some that use vegetable tanning from sustainable sources, and some that use chrome-free chemicals. These methods still hinder the hide’s ability to biodegrade as the process is used to increase the longevity of the skin. They are not necessarily available to purchase in mainstream avenues.

 

Leather lasts forever.

This is true. Quality leather is a durable material and if properly cared for can last for decades (which is kind of ironic given the previous argument). However, it is not impervious to damage and if not protected properly it can crack and decrease in quality.

If purchasing animal leather products, we encourage you to do the research first, find out where the leather comes from, and of course, consider the huge environmental damage, the health and safety of workers, and the animal cruelty before handing over the cash.

 

Vegan ‘leather’ is just plastic, so that’s no better.

Research shows that the total negative environmental impact of a synthetic alternative like PU is still one third lower than animal leather. Results are based on PU using significantly less water, fossil fuels, energy, chemicals, and land (deforestation) and producing significantly less greenhouse gases.

Plant-based ‘leathers’ are the best possible choice. Desserto is now producing varieties of cactus ‘leather’ that are 90% biobased!

 

WHAT'S THE VERDICT?

We know how you feel. Mourning the fact that you may never buy leather again. We hate good-byes as much as you do, but if you truly care about our planet and all of its inhabitants, leather is a 'no go zone'.

In our opinion, we should be avoiding the purchase of brand new leather goods and opting for vegan ‘leather’ products with an emphasis on plant based. If you can’t give up your animal leather, choosing pre-loved animal leather products is a good option.

 

Got a question or comment?

Let us know at hello@lomaustralia.com

 

We use a variety of resources to research our blogs. Here are some we used for this one:

Research Outreach

Biopreferred

Textile Today

Common Objective

Good On You

The Urban List

PETA

GREEN MATTERS

Oxford University

World Resources Institute

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