Today is our final day in Milan. While it is sad that our trip is coming to an end, I have learned so much through this experience and am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in it. We wrapped up the trip with one final business visit to Lineapelle, a company focused on the leather industry.
Lineapelle began around 1946 as a simple association between leather tanneries. About 20 years ago, Lineapelle officially became the coordinator between leather tanneries and fashion designers. It is composed of 200 tanneries that are a part of the UNIC group. Lineapelle provides services to these companies, much similar to the Consorzio we visited earlier this week. They offer research and environmental services, certifications, and most importantly contact with fashion designers. In order to bridge the gap between designer and producer, Lineapelle hosts three fairs each year showcasing what each of the leather tanneries can do. Designers can come to these fairs, choose what they like, and make direct contact with the tannery. These fairs occur in Milan, London, and New York City.
Not only are they helping designers communicate with potential producers, they are promoting the trends of each season. Designers and tanneries collaborate on what the trends of future seasons should be. Lineapelle displays these trends at its expositions.
Lineapelle’a business model is very similar to the Consorzio, but different because it’s members consist of only leather tanneries. Therefore, today we focused on mainly all the different types of leather and the production of leather.
Walking into Lineapelle’s archives was incredible. They have 13,000 samples of leather and 4,000 samples of leather accessories. The tanneries that are a part of the UNIC group can do nearly anything when it comes to leather. Not only do they have so many raw samples of leather, Lineapelle has a digital archive which includes all the technical information on the leather.
The tanneries associated with Lineapelle use about 99% of their animal skin from the food industry. Animals are bred for meat and their skin is a byproduct. They are reducing total waste by utilizing the entire animal. The hides that are most common in the tanneries are cattle, sheep, goat, pig, kangaroo, and deer. There are also exotic animals, as well as animals that are not traditionally turned into leather, such as toad, turtle, and frog. Tanneries only use the dermis part of animal skin, which accounts for 85% of the total thickness of skin. The flesh side is the inside of the leather, while the grain side conserves the natural pattern of the animal’s skin.
The characteristics for each type of animal skin is different; therefore, designers use different skins based upon their individual needs. Cattle is used for higher end fashion because it is both strong and workable. Lamb and sheep skins are softer and used mostly for clothing. Pig skin is much stiffer than the other skins, kangaroo skin has high levels of strength, and deer skin is very soft. Reptile leather (crocodiles, snakes, and lizards) has unique cuts. There is a front skin (part of the animal that moves along the ground) and a back skin (the part of the animal that does not move along the ground). The two produce very different textures. Fish skins are also used, for example tilapia and salmon. Even bird legs are used for leather!
The tanneries value tradition, quality, technology, design, and sustainability. All of these values have enabled them to receive high quality skins that are use in the tanning process. With the help of Lineapelle, tanneries have reduced both their water and energy consumption, while increasing their environment protection costs nearly 105%. They have reduced solvent consumption and the pollutants from the tanning process.
Lineapelle views the entire tanning process as sustainable because they are reducing byproducts. The use of synthetic materials to produce a synthetic leather produces byproducts. This is not natural. Lineapelle refers to the leather produced by its tanneries as ecological leather because they are using the residue of one industry for a useful purpose. We learned from our guest lecturer yesterday that leather made from wine may be on its way to production. Lineapelle does not see this as a viable alternative to natural leather because it is not sustainable by their definition.
Lineapelle has received backlash for its support of leather production. Animal activist groups have covered their building with blood, symbolizing animal activists’ belief that they are using the animals purely for their skin. Again, Lineapelle emphasizes the fact that animal skin is a byproduct of the food industry. The only way to truly stop the production of leather is for the world to stop eating meat.
Some may view technological advances in the leather industry to lead to synthetic leathers, but Lineapelle explained that the technologies of today have enabled them to produce any type of leather with any finish or style. They are able to be more environmentally friendly, efficient, and profitable. Technological advances continues the legacy of excellent Italian leather. The production of synthetic leathers would not only damage the business of Lineapelle, but according to Lineapelle, possibly the environment as well.
The future of leather seems controversial. Would it be better for synthetic leathers to be produced at the cost of increased byproducts but saving animal skin? Or would it be better for the entire animal to be used but at what cost to the animals? At this point in time, it seems only necessary that more research is done. It is logical to utilize the entire animal, but if something comes along that is more environmentally friendly and sustainable in the long run, then hopefully that will be practiced.