Leather is more sustainable than its plastic alternatives

Following the 2022 Portuguese ban of the term “Vegan leather” to protect real leather companies and their products from misleading denominations of fake plastic leather, Germany has decided to make a similar move. Germany joins other European countries, such as Belgium, France, Italy, and Spain, in providing legal protection to authentic leather Production. The Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community (Cotance)’s German member VDL, Verband der Deutschen Lederindustrie e.V., has been added to the list of qualified trade associations under the German Unfair Competition Act and is now authorised to issue legal warnings to companies using the word “leather” misleadingly in their advertising. The aim is to ensure transparency and to fight against unfair claims, as affiliated companies are harmed when others misuse the term “leather”, resulting in consumer deception.

Eric Liedtke, former Adidas marketing executive, published an interview in “Brand Eins about microplastics, mostly present in leather substitutes, as they are “becoming an omnipresent killing machine”. He said the term “sustainability” needs to be explained and only makes sense if companies outline exactly which measures they are taking for the environment. Liedtke describes polyethene terephthalate (PET) as an eternal material that never completely disappears. It decomposes into microplastics and enters our food chain, bloodstream and lungs via soil, air and water. He believes that recycled plastic will eventually no longer be considered sustainable. Moreover, he estimates that it is difficult for a consumer to understand the difference between compostable, regenerative or recycled, advising a shift to plant and mineral materials, which do not turn into waste at the end of their use but return to the earth.

Many buyers of jerseys made from recycled PET would be surprised to learn that they pump more microplastics into the environment with the recycled jersey than those made from new PET fibres. While Liedtke attests that customers are interested in environmentally friendly products, he notes that recycled plastic is still plastic. Indeed, there are no simple solutions. His brief description of marketing is also interesting: “How do you make an object of desire out of a random product that ultimately nobody needs? Through good storytelling“. Often, the term leather is used to describe other materials, and this is misrepresentation. This is where Cotance and its members can step in to make sure that real leather is defined correctly and understood.

“Leather is made from a renewable, natural, sustainable and environmentally sound by-product of the meat industry. It is absurd to replace it with plastic to make, for example, car components”, says Gustavo-Gonzalez Quijano, secretary-general of Cotance – “The interview with Eric Liedtke in the magazine Brand Eins is an insightful article, showing that there are many ways in which we can make the world a better place. No one way is easy or perfect, but some can actually be deceptive and use incorrect or misleading means. Although Liedtke did not mention leather in the interview, using this raw material is one way to ensure sustainable products as it is a natural material used since the dawn of time”.

We recommend watching “Real Leather. Stay Different. Rewind Documentary Series” for further information.