Today was our last day in Milan. We spent the morning at Linea Pelle, a major player in Italy’s leather industry. Linea Pelle is built around a similar model to the consortium. Leather tanneries pay membership fees to join Linea Pelle, in turn Linea Pelle connects their leather products to producers. However, that is not all Linea Pelle does. They work with a panel of designers and important players in the fashion industry to help determine the colors and textures of the season. These colors and textures are then released at Linea Pelle’s International Leather Fair. This occurs in three cities: London, New York, and Milan. It is at this fair that the colors of the season are unveiled to the fashion public and designers are able to plan for this season. Seasons are planned very far in advance. This summer the colors for the 17-18 Winter season are being announced, but the decision process started over a year ago. Because of this fair Linea Pelle is a major influencer in the fashion industry.
Linea Pelle has a very exotic collection of leathers. They also specialize in the accessories that accompany leather products, such as purse clasps. Only a very small amount of their product is synthetic (less than three percent). The majority of what Linea Pelle does is in the leather industry. They are associated with the UNIC leather group, who works to create quality leather and make the leather industry more sustainable. Because of this Linea Pelle has worked to reduce water usage in the leather making process. They also remove toxic chemicals from wastewater and recycle as much water as possible in the leather making process. Additionally members of UNIC have all made great strides towards improving worker safety and reducing worker accidents.
Despite the popularity of leather synthetic materials are becoming more and more popular. There is even leather that can be made from wine products. However, Linea Pelle doesn’t see synthetics overtaking leather in the near future. Due to organizations like UNIC and Linea Pelle the leather industry is heavily regulated and able to have more sustainable initiatives. Even though synthetics do not use animals and therefore don’t have the waste associated with raising animals, they are still environmentally harmful. Synthetic leathers are made of plastics which are made of petroleum. Due to this the manufacturing process has many harmful byproducts. It is also heavily unregulated. Because of this Linea Pelle feels that leather is still the best choice for consumers. Additionally the common bovine leather used comes from cows that are carefully slaughtered for meat purposes. Because of the way the cows are butchered their hides are able to be recovered and repurposed for leather usage. This means that the common leather Linea Pelle uses is removing an otherwise existing waste product from the world. While leather production is still extremely environmentally damaging, it is only thank to recent technologies that Linea Pelle and other leather organizations have been able to reduce their waste. The hope of Linea Pelle is to remain around for a long time. I think that as long as they keep striving to make the leather production process more sustainable real leather is the best choice. Synthetic leather is made from a nonrenewable resource and is also highly unregulated. In the near future it does not seem that there will be regulations on synthetic leather and it seems like the best choice is to optimize the production of real leather. Additionally real leather is sturdier and simply more elegant.
Coming to Italy has been a surreal experience and there are many things I have had to adjust to as an individual in a new country. The largest of which was the language barrier. None of us came into this country knowing Italian. While English is taught to everyone in school here people’s’ skills vary. There were many company visits where the owner of the company did not speak English or their English was very weak. Due to this we had a translator. Our translator was very skilled, but you could tell that something was lost in translation. Abstract concepts took twice as long to grasp due to the complexity of transferring these ideas through languages. It seemed to me that Italian business culture was very based in both tradition and innovation. It was very unique to see this combination. Almost every company we visited had an archive where they could view past projects and see all that those before them had designed and accomplished. However, it was also the goal of these companies to constantly create new and contribute to these archives. I admire the respect Italians have for their history. Many people that we passed on the streets would watch us as we walked past. According to the university students we met our group looked distinctly American. Towards the end of the trip I even found myself able to spot tourists from Italians. To the outside world the prints we wore were much bolder, but even more noticeably we rushed around much more than Italians do. It didn’t help that we were also in a big tour group. Generally Italy was very different than the US. It housed its past with reverence and filled its streets with culture. While the US is certainly innovative, I greatly appreciate the Italian mindset of reflecting on the past as well.