Today we began our last day by going to LineaPelle which is a company that manages all of the larger Italian tanneries. They showed us many different types of leathers and all the possible procedures that the hides could go through in order to arrive at the final piece of leather. We learned about different innovations that have changed the leather industry throughout the years. Most of them have to do with being able to get different appearances that aren’t natural out of the leather. The first and most obvious is dying the leather, which at this point in history isn’t exactly a new innovation. Rather than just having simple colors, nowadays that also have silk printing and digital printing in order to get more complex designs printed onto the leather itself. One can also put a thin film of metal on the surface of the leather in order to get a metallic finish to it. These all allow patterns that weren’t able to be put onto leather products in the past now be put onto the leather. More complicated designs such as floral patterns or patterns with different colors can now be put onto the leather itself. Additionally, in order to get some three dimensional changes, the leather can also be embossed with designs or have holes put in it to simulate elasticity. Another interesting innovation is that you can print fake designs from animals onto other animals. For example, you can print alligator skin onto normal cow leather in order to make it so that less alligators have to be raised. This could be important if there are animals with unique hides that are in danger of overhunting or are going extinct.
One interesting innovation that we learned about yesterday was the concept of making leather out of wine. We asked the woman representative at LineaPelle how she thought synthetic leathers like this would affect her company and the leather industry as a whole. The idea is that if you make it out of something other than animals it would be better for the animal rights activists as well as for the environment because you wouldn’t have to spend time and resources breeding these animals or hunting them. The problem that she said is that all of the synthetic leathers right now are actually much less environmentally sustainable. They’re making much more pollution than the leathers and they don’t have the same strict environmental laws places on them at the current moment. Perhaps there’d be more competition from the synthetic leather industry if the products were under the exact same environmental regulations as the normal leather industry. Some people will always be against leather because it’s made of animal, but right now at least it doesn’t make much sense environmentally to be supporting the synthetic leather industry. Normal leather has spent decades trying to minimize their environmental impact through various recycling techniques and changes in practice. If the synthetic leather industry managed to match the actual leather industry in terms of minimizing their carbon footprint, there’d be a big problem for the leather industry. The only way that they could compete is on a basis of quality only. Currently, there’s so many different types of leathers that all have different uses based on pattern or appearance. In order to be able to perfectly replicate all kinds of leather, the synthetic leather industry would have to make some serious strides from where they are right now. Right now you can still tell the difference between pleather and leather.
If all of these concerns were addressed though, the leather industry would be extremely stimulated to try to innovate. If they didn’t do something to make themselves separate and better than the leather industry in some sort of way, they would die. The leather industry is inherently flawed because they have to use animal products in order to create their product. This is going to hold them back forever to some degree meaning that they have to maximize their quality so that people can overlook this fact. This is why the synthetic leather industry has a good outlook for growth in the future so long as they are able to lower their environmental impact.