Our final day in Italy, and it couldn’t have been more perfect! Even though it was supposed to rain all day, it held off during our morning activities. After having breakfast at the hotel (and having my final cappuccino from the espresso machine), we took the subway to Lineapelle.
Lineapelle is part of the UNIC group that includes New York, Milan, and London. They are an association that represents leather tanneries. Each season, they organize the go-to expo for leathers where fashion committees choose the styles and colors for upcoming years. Leather tanneries pay Lineapelle to be featured at the fair.
Lineapelle offers a large variety of leathers, and we had the opportunity to touch all of them! They have the traditional ones like: cattle, goatskin, and deer, but they also have very obscure skins like: snake, sting-ray, kangaroo, and frog. All leathers that were produced in the past are kept in the archives. Lineapelle has 13,000 samples of leather there for inspiration.
The tanning process is very complex, and can produce many different types of leathers. When possible, the hides and skins used by the tanneries are from animals that were bred for food. This accounts for 99% of the leather produced. Therefore, the majority of leathers are made from waste products of another industry. First, the skins are cleaned and then sent to drums for the chemical operations. 90% of tanning uses chrome salts, and the rest is vegetables. Vegetable tanning takes months and is typically only used for hard leathers like shoe soles. The finishing step makes the leathers unique. It can be shiny, beaded, braided and more!
The process of tanning can be a risk to the environment, but Lineapelle has made significant steps to becoming more sustainable. In the last 12 years, they have reduced water consumption by 17% and removed 98% of harmful pollutants from the process. In the tanneries, there has been a 58% decrease in employee injuries. To make sure that their suppliers of the skins and hides are ethical, Lineapelle only buys from farms that are accredited for animal rights.
Even though Lineapelle has made these steps towards sustainability, there is still some push back from environmental groups. For example, last month Greenpiece came to the building and covered their door with a bloody kangaroo. Yesterday during our guest lecture, the professor mentioned that research is being conducted to make synthetic leathers out of wine. This technological advancement would potentially put the tanneries out of business. When we asked the speaker at Lineapelle about this, she said that while synthetic leathers do not use animal skins, they are not environmentally friendly. Animal leathers are natural and sustainable, but synthetics are not. Therefore, it seems as though switching to production of synthetic leathers would not be a good thing. It will be interesting to see if these advancements are possible and how they effect the industry.
Since today is our last day, I have been reflecting on the last 2 weeks. This adventure has been the most amazing (and tiring) experience of my life. Everyday I saw or did something memorable. Coming to a new country, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was blown away by Italy’s history and beauty. (and also gelato!) My biggest concern about traveling here was the culture and language barrier. However, I did not have a problem adjusting. Italians, like Americans, are hard workers and are dedicated to their business. On the site visits, the owners were very excited to show us their companies, and some even gave us refreshments after! The language barrier was very low because most people spoke English and I learned some basic Italian, so communication was easy.
The biggest cultural differences were very subtle. The hotel rooms are smaller and to save energy, you have to put the key in a slot to turn on the lights. Also, at restaurants, water is not free, and you can’t split the check amongst people. Finally, meals are served in multiple courses and generally take longer. However, these differences did not take away from my experience!
Overall, my Plus3 trip to Italy has been the adventure of a lifetime, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be in this beautiful country with amazing classmates. I will always remember this trip and will use my new worldview to advance my career in the future. Ciao!