Let’s start with an assumption that is not yet so clear to many: using leather in the world of clothing, leather goods, and footwear is a form of recycling. No one would ever feed an animal just to make a jacket or a pair of shoes. It would not be even remotely profitable. The leather that is used in fashion is a waste product of the meat-food industry, and if there were no tanneries capable of processing it, tons of hides would end up burdening already overflowing landfills, with decidedly nefarious repercussions for the environment.
To be clear: if one wanted to avoid killing animals, one should not oppose those who use leather in fashion, but rather convince people to stop eating meat. That would represent a more than respectable point of view.
But, until then, those who tan leather render a useful service to the environment, net of how much impact the production processes related to that activity, like any other productive activity, have. Here, then, is the focal point to focus on: thoroughly analyzing the leather supply chain to understand how much and how production processes related to the tanning world can be improved.
A sector, mind you, that in some parts of the world, including Italy, is highly regulated, innovative and that for decades has been improving the state of the art of its industrialization in order to be less and less impactful on resources and cleaner and cleaner in waste, in the face of huge investments in research and development.
And where does this revolution start?
From an Italian region. Piedmont is a genius loci suited to doing business while respecting and capturing the best of the natural resources the area offers. Some have made their fortunes worldwide with hazelnuts and others with chestnuts.
“I would say that the king of hazelnuts for now far surpasses the king of chestnuts,” jokingly comments Antonio Battaglia, patron of Silvateam, a company founded in 1854 that, over the course of the 20th century, has grown to become a world leader in the production and marketing of plant extracts and their derivatives, as well as being recognized internationally as a producer of chemicals for the tanning industry.
The leather world is going through a crucial phase of self-reflection in which sustainability, care for production processes, and attention to communication and image are very importantAntonio Battaglia
“The leather industry in the last 15 years has been able to consolidate and strengthen itself, invest in disclosure, and establish a privileged relationship with fashion and automotive.
I believe that leather is winning the battle that, despite itself, it has had to undertake to defend itself from frontal attacks by veganism.”
Let’s start with the most important aspect of the whole issue.
What is Ecotan?
Ecotan is a concrete demonstration of how high quality, durable leather can be produced safely, cleanly, green and in accordance with the dictates of the circular economy, with a view to green chemistry. A product that is up to 96 percent bio-based, made from plant tannins and safe bio-polymers, free of metals, aldehydes and hazardous substances, versatile and, above all, recyclable.
Ecotan, in fact, can be used in various fields – from footwear to leather goods, from apparel to automotive – to obtain products comparable and even superior in quality and durability to traditionally tanned leather, and can be easily recycled as a fertilizer. In footwear, in particular, Ecotan is superior to traditional leather in terms of breathability, freshness, and foot well-being, promoting the formation of an environment inside the shoe that inhibits the proliferation of bacteria and the formation of odor.
What, in your opinion, is the most outstanding merit of the Ecotan project?
Hang subverted the way the entire leather industry works. Unprecedented is the network we have made between us, the technology developers, and the tanneries. With our partners we have created a joint marketing plan that represents a very different way of working than in the past. A way of working necessary to demonstrate to a sophisticated world like fashion that there are alternatives to traditional tanning that are scientifically sound and appealing for communication.
The other aspect to emphasize is purely technical. In just two years, we have been able to achieve a close collaboration between our experts and the technicians of the various tanneries that has enabled us to go from the first 5 prototype leathers to entire Ecotan-tanned collections. A variety of leathers that now covers 90 percent of the references of the leather world.
Are there any markets that have welcomed the emergence of the Ecotan tanning system better than others?
We are very happy with the excellent reception that the Ecotan has received particularly in Korea, Pakistan and Mexico, in addition to the Italian market; therefore, we are investing and will invest a lot in these markets that we believe will be able to give us not a few satisfactions. Of course, we cannot neglect two other crucial players in the leather market, such as China and India. Although China in 2022 has totally frozen, it remains without a doubt an indispensable interlocutor.
You are optimistic about the success of the Ecotan project. Does this positivity come only from good feelings or also from objective feedback?
Obviously from the findings obtained in the field, but also from objective situations that are emerging. European legislation, for example, is moving toward a systemic approach to sustainability issues. Ecotan fits perfectly into this context since it already enables tanneries today to meet the legislative obligations of tomorrow.
A curiosity to conclude: how did Ecotan come about?
Back in 2010, when few people were talking about sustainability yet, we started the first studies aimed at evaluating our natural tanning system, made through tannins. So, we started several researches with universities and many laboratory tests to put down on paper the potential of our system. During the lockdown we collected all the data we had and systematized our proposal. Thus Ecotan saw the light of day.
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