Can Leather be Eco-Friendly?

excess leather materials

Leather has consistently been one of our favorite materials to work with due to its durability, beauty and how it continues to look better after years of use. It is a very popular material utilized in clothing, accessories, furniture, luggage and shoes, and we utilize leather in many of our products. But is it eco-friendly?

There is no denying that the tanning and manufacturing of leather has an environmental impact. Leather is derived from the skin of dead animals, most often made from cow hide, and whether or not you eat meat, raising cattle contributes to a host of problems. It takes a significant amount of land for animals to graze on; they need to be fed, which means even more land and resources are used in order to create the feed. 

And depending on the process used to tan the skins, it is treated with chemicals, many of which pollute land, water and air and can be harmful to the workers. 

Knowing this, are we better off choosing to use alternatives to leather?

Leather vs. Vegan Leather

Some claim that “vegan leather” is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than genuine leather. While there is no argument on which is more animal friendly, when it comes to sustainability, it isn't as clear cut as you might think. There are a few problems with that claim, which makes the marketing around “vegan leather” misleading. Here’s why:

  • Vegan leather isn’t leather (including “leather” is inaccurate and uses the long-standing quality of leather to propose vegan leather has the same quality, which it doesn’t).
  • Some types of vegan leather are petroleum based products, which can be argued has a greater environmental impact.
  • Vegan leather isn’t biodegradable.
  • Vegan leather is typically used for cheaper fast fashion, and is poorer quality that will often need to replaced every few months. Leather however, lasts a very long time (especially if treated properly) and is therefore more sustainable due to its durability.

There aren't easy ways to to learn where the materials your leather (vegan or animal) came from, which makes it even harder to determine if your leather product is as eco-friendly as the manufacturer claims it to be.

Southwest Airlines blue leather duffle bag upcycled from seat covers

Upcycled Leather is always more Eco-Friendly

Reusing and recycling a material and working towards a closed loop is the most sustainable option available to us today. While we have a way to go before we'll be able to reach a circular economy, here at Looptworks, our mission is to use what already exists. Whether we start with pre-consumer or post consumer materials, upcycling leather is as sustainable and eco-friendly as we currently can get.  

The products in our In Flight and Alaska Airlines Carry-On collection come from post consumer materials. We recycled the leather from retired seat covers that would otherwise be destined for a landfill, or worse, an incinerator, and upcycled the materials.

In rescuing those used seat covers, we contributed to the local economy by partnering with a company that employs adults with disabilities to clean and disassemble the materials. We then cut, riveted and sewed that leather into beautiful products that we hope will last a lifetime. When you make a product from excess, you minimize any impacts you would otherwise make.

For the Loopt Classics and Moto Collections, we partnered with Langlitz Leathers, and upcycled their high-quality excess leather, turning them into beautiful, durable products.

By employing the practice of upcycling, we avoid creating new materials which minimizes waste and saves natural resources such as energy and water.

For example, the rugged Moto Backpack saves an estimated 5,397 gallons of water, and 2.82 pounds of excess waste. So, not only is the backpack made out of high-quality, long lasting and durable excess leather, but with our Loopt4Life guarantee, it’s a backpack that you can keep with you forever. In terms of sustainable fashion, that’s hard to beat.

Looptworks upcycled leather moto backpack and duffle bag

From a Sustainable Fashion Standpoint

Ethical Fashion Forum defines sustainable fashion as “fashion that maximizes benefits to people and minimizes impact on the environment.” The process of upcycling high-quality leather benefits the consumer because the product will last, and minimizes an impact on the environment, as no new materials are created and waste is reduced.

That's not to say we're opposed to making versions of our products with vegan leather; if we located a source of high quality vegan leather materials, we would be opening to turning it into something. The reality is that it wouldn't last as long, and that's our quandary, as we offer a lifetime guarantee on everything we make, with our goal to do anything we can to move towards sustainability.

In the end, the choice is in our hands, as the consumer, to choose sustainable products that use minimal natural resources to create. Know what you’re buying + love what you’re buying.

1 Response


August 13, 2016

We here @ agree 100% that Upcycled Leather is always more Eco-Friendly. It take between 25 and 50 years to completely decompose leather. Longer if the leather has been tanned with chemicals. Like your product our bags are upcycled from leather clothing into women fashion bags. Due keep up the good work Go Green.

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